Kokoda's incredible perspective
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Kokoda's incredible perspective

Nine East Gippsland 16-17 year olds have just completed the Kokoda Trail, walking in the footsteps of the East Gippslanders who served in World War II.

Taj Corben, Maggie Anderson, Gabby Bailey, Andrew Chapman, Angus Davis, Abi Gladstone, Meg Perry, Bess Smith-Entink and Lily Townsend had the experience of a lifetime having won Arthur Grassby Scholarships.

They were also joined in on the trip by Darren and Daniel Grassby, the grandson and great grandson of Arthur and visited the locations on the Kokoda plateau where Arthur, as a 16-year old, was part of a 100-man company that faced a wave of 2,000 Japanese. Also on the journey were six scholarship winners from Baw Baw and Wangaratta areas.

Following the eight day trek, which included a hair raising dawn service at Isurava, the group visited Bomana War Cemetery and the graves of the soldiers from the local area who died on the trail.

Alone with “their” soldier, the scholarship winners knelt with one hand on the headstone and made a personal commitment to that man on what they would do with the rest of their lives, which was a very personal and powerful moment.

Grassby scholarship coordinator, Tim Bull, said it was about giving our youth some perspective on life and understanding that these men gave their lives for them.

For the trekkers, it was a lifechanging experience.

Andrew Chapman, from Swift’s Creek, said “it was the most memorable trip of my life, to learn so much about the history of Kokoda and what our soldiers went through, and you also develop what will be life-long friendships. The best part was learning about the history of the war at each battle site location.”

Maggie Anderson said “the Trail is mentally and physically challenging, but it is all worth it. It’s good to gain a deeper insight and know they gave their tomorrow for our today. It was also amazing to see the different lifestyle and how happy they were with barely anything but each other. It was the best experience I could have asked for.

“The second the scholarship caught my eye in Year 7 at one of our assemblies, my heart raced as a surge of excitement boosted my mood. It’s the most amazing scholarship I have ever seen, and the history astounds me,” she said.

Bess Smith-Entink added “it was the best experience with the most amazing people. I feel so grateful to have been part of this beautiful and emotional experience, it is the best thing I have ever done.”

Apart from learning about the military history and the local connection, the students also experienced the challenges of life in Papua New Guinea and some of the best jungle scenery in the world.

The warmth of the Papuans was evident and the scholarship winners formed bonds with the native carriers (many descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels), and the interactions between the trekkers and the youth of the different mountain villages was a delight to see.

Now in its sixth year and having sent close to thirty students to date, the Arthur Grassby Scholarship will be open to Year 11 secondary schoolers in 2024 to apply for this lifechanging experience when applications open next year.

The scholarships are organised by a local committee with the generous support of a range of local sponsors who make it happen and the committee acknowledges that without these sponsors it would be impossible to have the students undertake this adventure.

The organising committee said it had received great support from the secondary schools in the East Gippsland region with only one not having had an applicant to date.

12 July 2023