BY LT COL DARYL CAMPBELL
THESE DAYS it is considered a major feat just to walk the now peaceful [Kokoda] track, and we have celebrities and politicians grand-standing on TV about their great achievement in making the journey.
But they are not carrying a 70 lb pack and weapon, with poor, inadequate equipment and a dysfunctional supply and medical evacuation system reliant on unreliable air drops and native carriers – as magnificent as those native carriers usually were. And, of course, no-one is shooting at them either!
But even now, the journey up the Kokoda Track is still measured in gruelling hours rather than distance and is now marked by the places where these men fought. It remains enervatingly hot by day, bone chillingly cold at night, constantly rainy and enveloped by seemingly endless inhospitable jungle.
Today, we all acknowledge that just surviving the conditions on the track was a titanic struggle against the environment that imposed very great physical penalties on our men for every ignorant, thoughtless mistake made by the inexperienced staffs in Port Moresby and Australia.
There is no good place to fight a war, but New Guinea is indeed, a bastard of a place. It is a place that our veterans still know well, for the hardships there are engraved in their minds and hearts. They remember going up the “golden stairs” to Iori-Baiwa, slogging onto Menari, over Brigade Hill, through the searing heat in the kunai grass on the way to Efogi.
They well remember climbing 3,000 ft in five miles up to Kagi, and clinging to saplings and roots on the way down to Templeton’s Crossing. Then into Efogi village and two hours more to Isurava – where they were later to turn the tide against the Japanese in a major battle.
They remember the ups and downs to Deniki and the first glimpse from up there of Kokoda down in the Yodda Valley below. Gruelling, enervating, exhausting work – and that was just to get up there to fight the Japanese.
The battles these men fought are these days quite well recorded, and we now marvel at how incredulously well they fought with little support and under heart breaking privation - against a well trained and experienced, fanatical, and vastly numerically superior enemy who was previously undefeated.
These were perilous days. Malaya and Singapore had fallen, the Japanese advance through the Pacific seemed invincible, and Australia lay open to invasion. So Australians were uplifted in spirit and admiration when our brave diggers faced the overwhelming odds at Kokoda and acquitted themselves with such honour.
Kokoda then became, and remains today, a blazing symbol of national pride.
Extracts from a speech by Lieutenant Colonel Daryl Campbell at the 8 August Kokoda Day Commemoration on the Gold Coast
Photo: Lt-Col Daryl Campbell, along with his fellow Commonwealth commanding officers, salutes the fallen at the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore