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Active Retirees : Active Retirees April-May 2012
Active RetireesTM | 19 B omana War Cemetery on the outskirts of Port Moresby is eerily quiet in the sticky heat of a tropical afternoon. Set up by the Australian Army in 1942 and containing 3779 graves, 3069 of known Australian soldiers who fought in the region in WWII, it’s the largest war cemetery in the Pacific. Many of our group wander off to find graves of relatives or to use the stillness to contemplate the enormity of war. About 40km north-east, Owers Corner marks one end of the Kokoda Track, which runs 96km to Kokoda Station. The track, originally used by locals to travel between villages and coastlines, connects the north and south coasts. During the Kokoda Campaign that ran from July 1942 until January 1943, Australian soldiers fought a relentless battle along this track to prevent an almost unstoppable Japanese Imperial Army reaching Port Moresby. Although outnumbered, 1500 allied troops managed to hold the defensive until November 1942 when, completely depleted, the Japanese retreated. The track today Now, almost 70 years on, I’m here with 12 trekkers aged 23 to 50-something, learning about battles fought at Imita Ridge, Isurava, Brigade Hill and Ioribaiwa. Although these battles are unfamiliar to many Australians, this trend is changing, with increased interest in Australian military achievements including those in Papua New Guinea, and the number of trekkers along the Kokoda Track has risen from just 70 in 2001 to between 3000 and 4000 in 2011. Brigade Hill and the surrounding Mission Ridge region witnessed one of the most horrific battles of the Owen Stanley Ranges. This is where the Japanese forces put an end to Maroubra Force’s Kokoda defensive and scattered several other battalions. Our guide tells us that the place is packed for the dawn service on Anzac Day, but today we have it to ourselves. Our local crew of 27, including cooks and porters, joins us in a moving commemorative ceremony, finishing with The Last Post, and there isn’t a dry eye. Each trekker finds a rhythm during the eight-day trek but it doesn’t take long for emotional and physical exhaustion to kick in. The rollercoaster ride of muddy steep ascents and descents takes its toll early on a Gen-Y male trekker who is the first to fall apart, but everybody has their day for one reason or another. While less experienced trekkers struggle with the heat and tough terrain, age isn't necessarily a barrier in itself. Our guide, who’s done the trek 12 times, says his oldest client was 72 years old. Before dropping down to the Kokoda plateau we pass through the Isurava battle site, where a memorial commands spectacular views of the Yodda Valley. These days it shows no signs of the bloodbath that almost destroyed the under -trained 39th Battalion. Local help The locals too played an important role during the campaign, acting as porters carrying supplies and the wounded. During our stay in Naduri village we’re fortunate enough to meet Ovoru Indiki, one of the last remaining locals who helped the Australain troops. At 106 years old, Indiki, who still commands respect as the village chief and elder, tells his story with a little help from his son, Andy. Proudly displaying medals for his war efforts, Indiki recalls near bullet hits and the horrifying effects of war on the local villages and people. While it’s all ‘one foot in front of the other’ on the track, the monuments and war remnants make it impossible to miss the overwhelming sacrifices made by the diggers. It is clear why trekkers claim to have ‘life changing’ realisations here among the beauty, solitude, mud and spent cartridges. •• TRAVEL GUIDE Getting there: Air Niugini flies daily from both Cairns and Brisbane to Port Moresby, and twice weekly from Sydney. W: www.airniugini.com.pg T: 1300 361 380 Trekking: Back Track Adventures runs small- group escorted treks from Australia to the Kokoda Track from April to November. Trek-only packages depart Port Moresby, while flight and trek packages depart Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney. Trekking Kokoda is no mean feat and not for everyone, so Back Track Adventures also runs free information sessions for those considering the challenge. W: www.backtrack.com.au T: (07) 3850 600 On the track: Find your own rhythm, watch where you walk, keep hydrated and look after your feet. Get match fit: Back Track Adventures provides a three-month pre-trek training guide. Otherwise, do hill training and bushwalking in the boots and clothing you’ll be wearing on the trek and the weight you’ll be carrying in your backpack. Of course, anyone thinking about doing the Kokoda trek should consult a doctor first – this is no walk in the park. The place is packed for the dawn service on Anzac Day, but today we have it to ourselves. TRAVEL INTERNATIONAL Active RetireesTM | 19
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