PNG: Your Next Challenge

This article was first published on http://www.kokodachallengeevents.com/

In a world of abundance, excess, demands and deadlines, many of us might find ourselves looking for an escape from the stresses of day to day life. Running away to the jungle might seem a little extreme, but it sure is one way to decompress.

This is a story of Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice. This is our story.

Trekking the Kokoda Track allows you to step outside your current world and enter another. It is a world of culture, mystery and beauty. It is a world where Australian soldiers stood tall against overwhelming odds. It is a world where excess is confined to the few, and poverty finds the many.

On 21 July 1942, the as yet undefeated Japanese Army landed on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Their eyes were on Port Moresby, a port previously identified as a naval target. The Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Battle of Midway caused a change in plans, the northern beaches landings preceding a planned overland assault along the Kokoda Track, until then used as a supply route. The Japanese believed they would reach Port Moresby in 2 weeks, and set off with supplies for 16 days.

In an era when Australia had a two-tiered military system, with many of our trained forces supporting the Empire in Europe and North Africa, it fell to a Citizens Militia Battalion (CMF) to defend against the Japanese assault. The CMF were not to be deployed on foreign soil, an obstacle overcome by the Australian Administration of PNG at that time. Their time in PNG had, until their instructions hastily changed, been spent on garrison duty and portside labour.

But the Japanese were coming. And a young CMF Battalion was the only available unit standing in their way. The 39th, a battalion raised in Victoria, was commanded, in large part, by returned servicemen from WW1, who for a variety of reasons, were unable to re-enlist. Its rank and file were predominantly a youthful lot, many still in their teenage years.

Their training was scant, practising with wooden rifles and indeed, many had never fired a shot in a live situation. They were issued with uniforms designed for the golden sands of the Syrian desert, providing no protection against mosquitoes and many went down with malaria before any engagement at all.

And so it was that the young Australians were sent up the Kokoda Track to face the might of the Japanese Army. Undermanned, undertrained and under resourced, it was a battle that – on paper – they had no right to win. But nobody told them that. They were defending their country and their families. And they were defending their mates.

The concept of mateship is one that has become enshrined in the Australian psyche. It is as sacred as Vegemite, BBQ’s or beating the Poms in the Ashes. Perhaps it would be a stretch to say that mateship was born on the Kokoda Track. It is no stretch to say that mateship was as important in this campaign as strategy, the quality of field command, or the ability to re-supply.

For those Australians who have taken leave from their overly connected lives where mobile phones and email demand immediate attention, and have immersed themselves in the history of the Kokoda Campaign as they traverse the track, the impact has been profound.

No outside communication provides the ability to be present. To listen, to talk, and to get to know new friends, both Australians and PNG nationals. To become immersed in Australia’s history. To commemorate the courage and sacrifices of our soldiers so many years ago. To become acquainted with a rich and colourful culture, so very different from our own. Little wonder that many previous trekkers have said goodbye to their new friends through tears.

After a protracted and costly campaign, the Australians held on to eventually starve the Japanese of supply and to push them back down the track. This was a victory against all odds, a victory supported by the national carriers of the time – the renowned Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Trekking the Kokoda Track will directly benefit the Kokoda Youth Foundation, with 15% of all sales benefiting youth programs facilitated via the KYF.

The Kokoda Challenge is Australia’s toughest team endurance event and is run in 4 locations across Australia… why not extend your challenge to Papua New Guinea and trek the original Kokoda Track.