The people who lived in the villages along the Kokoda Track knew little about the war until it came to them. They had lived a traditional life, with only occasional contact with Australian patrol officers. Then Australian troops began moving over the tracks, some occupying huts and trampling over gardens. As the fighting came closer, most villagers ‘went bush’ to camps away from the main tracks. While they were away, Australian and Japanese troops wrecked many huts and, when villages were occupied by the Japanese, Allied aircraft bombed and strafed them. Hungry soldiers raided the village crops and shot their pigs. With villages wrecked by the two armies, and dead often lying in the vicinity, the villages were no longer habitable and were not reoccupied after the battle. New villages had to be constructed nearby.
Many of the villagers also worked in support of the battle, carrying supplies forward for the troops. Teams carried seriously wounded and sick Australian soldiers all the way back to Owers’ Corner. Their compassion and care of the casualties earned them admiration and respect from the Australians, who dubbed these men their ’fuzzy wuzzy angels’.
After the battle for Kokoda ended, many villagers continued working for the Allies, carrying supplies and building tracks, bridges and huts. Others joined the Papuan Infantry Battalion or the New Guinea Infantry Battalion. Gradually life returned to normal after the war but the friendship between the people of Australia and Papua New Guinea has continued to this day.
In his well-known poem,‘The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, Sapper Bert Beros praised the work of the carriers.
Many a mother in Australia
when the busy day is done
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
for the keeping of her son
Asking that an angel guide him
and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
on the Owen Stanley Track
For they haven’t any halos
only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos
with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded
just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
and as gentle as a nurse
Slow and careful in the bad places
on the awful mountain track
The look upon their faces
would make you think Christ was black
Not a move to hurt the wounded
as they treat him like a saint
It’s a picture worth recording
that an artist’s yet to paint
Many a lad will see his mother
and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy
carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire
or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors
at the bottom of the track
May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels
with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.