Zak Cao-Kelly trekked with Getaway Trekking in October 2015, as part of the Cairns Corporate Challenge group. At the service held at Isurava Battlefield Memorial, Zak was asked to talk about war from the perspective of a young man. The following is a transcript of what he wrote and delivered.
This is a photo of my grandad when he was 18 years old. In 1 year and 17 days I will be 18. Every time my father has shown this photo to someone they have seen me. And after 1000 times of being told I am the spitting image of this strapping young Reg Kelly, I’ve started to see myself in this photo.
I take away his uniform. I see him in his high school blazer in his graduating year, ready to move on to great things. Things he dreamt about when he was a kid. The close mates he eats with, he plays rugby with, he drinks with. The mates that have become close to brothers. The mates who know every mistake he’s made and all aspects of his character, that no one else would know.
His family, parents who provide for him, who care for him, who love him. His brothers and sisters who hate him but really love him and would destroy anyone who would cross him.
A family bond stronger than anything.
I look at myself.
A family who loves me, provides for me. A strong relationship with my sister. Mates who love me and would care if something happened to me.
Dreams bigger than a world to make them come true. A life, a future.
I compared granddad and myself and although times have changed and things are a lot easier for me. We are still both teenagers going through our adolescent period. Looking at the world from the peak of our youth.
Within the blink of an eye, the world begins to change. Greed that poisons men’s souls, barricades the world with hate. The speed that developed nations shut them in. The machinery that gave abundance left the people in want. Knowledge made people cynical, their cleverness hard and unkind. The bitterness of powerful men turned the world against itself. So much to the point that the human race had lost its humanity. Children being sent to fight men. Families forced to seek refuge and leave their homes. Towns of people fearing every day of their lives. An entire race of humans being eradicated. The value of life had officially been lost.
The fear of death and invasion had become a reality for my granddad. Every dream he had was put on hold.
It was expected that he was to put on that uniform and be ready to die.
I look at the photo. I see myself in that uniform. I put myself in that position. I’m not ready to die. I’m not ready to see my best friends die, let alone anyone. I’m not ready to leave my family. My dad, my mum, my sister. There is no way I could see myself taking another’s life. All these thoughts must have been going through his head.
But once again we are in a different time and that was considered his duty.
My eyes are open wide one minute. I look at my fortunate, fortunate life. The life I take for granted. I close my eyes, open them and I’m in a jungle terrain trudging through sludge, sleeping and waking in the wet, defecating out of a hole in my uniform. Carrying a machine designed to kill another human being of a race I’d never seen before. And I make it out of here …..
If …. I am expected to go back and function as a normal human being to forget anything happened. To automatically get back the humanity that was taken from me.
I understand why grandad never told us stories about the war. It was because he was trying to forget them! Because that was what he was expected to do.
I can remember the first time granddad ever talked about his time in Papua New Guinea. It was around Anzac Day, April 2009. He came to my school and sat in a chair in front of my whole class. He spoke about how all of the diggers were fresh to the Milne Bay battlefield. He and a young man were hiding behind a trench. This young man had never seen a real Japanese face before and was trying to look over the trench to see if he could spot one. As he exposed himself from cover he was shot between the eyes right next to my grandad. He fell straight to the ground, lifeless. At this time grandad started to become emotional, it was the first time he’d seen someone die.
What I don’t understand is how he ever forgave the Japs he was trained to kill. But I guess he was just expected to.
I look at my grandad and see a man.
A man I respect.
A man who passed on his qualities to his son, Brent Kelly.
A man I respect dearly, the man who raised me.
Two generations of extremely respectable men who are guiding me through my life, thank you Reginald McVicar Kelly.
The journey created memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. I am so pleased I chose Getaway Trekking, a great team of people, both from Australia and PNG. They made the trek something very special (Vanessa on left – post trek!)
I just completed the Kokoda trek with my 16 yo son with Wayne and his Getaway Trekking Team. I have travelled Europe and Asia and Australia and usually seek a bit of adventure in everything we do.
I would have to say this was one of the most rewarding trips / holidays I have ever done. At the start I wasn’t sure whether to call it a holiday. I was walking 96 km after all. But it was a holiday and much more.
Wayne’s team of local men to assist us were fantastic. They were warm and helpful beyond the any typical service you would expect from a hospitality service provider. They were proud and cared for us all.
Wayne’s knowledge of there trek, surrounds and PNG was excellent and his historic knowledge was also good. I was wanting to be emersed in the war time history and I was, more than what I expected. It was truly touching.
12 days with out radio and any technology was incredibly scary at the start but something I will be seeking regularly. Better than any therapy.
Many people before me described completing the trek as ‘life changing’. I couldn’t understand why they would say this, but I agree with them.
The negatives would be the post trek. PNG is an unpredictable and dysfunctional place. In a way all part of the experience I suppose.
Thanks Wayne and his team.
I cannot thank Getaway Trekking enough for what was, truly the most amazing, unforgettable and special experience of my life to date… From the Day of my first enquiry right through to now (6 months after my trek), I have felt part of the getaway family. Deb has been amazing to deal with right through the experience, then to Sue in Cairns, and Wayne and Russ whom were our leaders on the Kokoda Track. Professional, Caring, thorough, helpful, insightful, knowledgeable and friends, That’s just a few words to sum Getaway up. The bond they have with the PNG boys is unquestionable, and the rapport they build with clients is truly remarkable. Easily, the only company to go with. Thanks guys, look forward to my next trek with you.