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30 April 2017

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Thank you Paul and Chris for the comments. I wrote the article in response to comments made by Acting Minister Kulang in a national newspaper last month.

He was questioning why there are decreasing numbers of tourists to the Kokoda Track, perhaps also as a way of justifying some of the recent changes he's been trying to make in the ministry.

What I'm trying to show instead is that the popularity of the Kokoda Track will peak at it's centenary and that despite the apparent lull in tourist numbers, it will no doubt increase as the event ages.

Anzac Day was and remains significant for the reasons given in Gregory Bablis' excellent article and Paul's comment.

Gallipoli was the place where a collection of colonies was forged by the heat of battle and terrible shared sacrifice into a single nation, united in both pride and grief.

The battle on the Kokoda Track doesn't enjoy the same degree of veneration yet, to my mind at least, it should. A relative handful of under trained and under resourced Australian reservists fought a full division of highly trained and experienced Japanese troops to a stand still.

This achievement was desperately under rated at the time and, to a large extent, still is.

The support provided to the Australian troops by Papua New Guineans is, I am pleased to say, widely recognised in this country. The "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" have been effectively immortalised in the public mind.

However, the wider impact of the war upon the lives of those Papua New Guineans who lived through it has not been the subject of a great deal of research or writing.

It must have been incredibly disruptive and traumatic for many people.

By way of example, I recall a conversation with an elderly villager at Oro Bay where he recounted his amazement as a small child when, upon arising from sleep one day in 1942, he beheld an entire US invasion fleet anchored in the bay.

He and his fellow villagers then had to endure the "shock and awe" of a complete US Army landing and going on to build a series of large airstrips from which, in due course, they began large scale operations.

Presumably, there was little or no discussion about land rights or compensation payments as the Americans busily carved out their bases.

Of course, 18 months later the Americans departed pretty much as rapidly as they arrived. I would assume that this was, in its way, just about as disruptive as their arrival.

I can only guess at the impact of the mass movement of men and machines upon a people totally unused to seeing more than a handful of Europeans at any one time.

So, it seems to me that this is a potentially fertile area of research for any Papua New Guinean historian interested in putting together an account of how the war may have influenced the development of the country.

In the meantime, I think that Gregory is on the right track (so to speak) in seeking to develop a uniquely PNG understanding and narrative about Kokoda and its significance.

It's fairly easy to assess the results of each individual battle without looking at the broader context of the 'what if' aspect that the war could have been lost by the victors of won by those who suffered defeat.

In the case of PNG and specifically Kokoda, the initial battles were fought when the Japanese were about to break through to Morseby which would have effectively divided TPNG and created major consternation among the Allies. Yet in the overall context of the Second World War, would that have effectively changed the final outcome of the war? Who can really say?

On the other hand, the Allied defeat in the Gallipoli campaign, effectively helped lead to the creation of Modern Turkey under the victorious leader Mustafa Kemal.

The combination of a combined ANZAC force also led to an enhanced recognition that the Australian states were finally united as a single nation. Australia also recognised our close relationship with New Zealand through our joint military action.

Both modern Germany and Japan finally emerged from World War 2 into very strong and powerful nations through economic and not military action.

If something positive can be made out of any war it's that human history has unfortunately often been shaped by conflict but only after immense misery and loss of life. Why we can't learn from the lessons of the past is the real question?

Contrast today's two Koreas as a classic example.

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