Kokoda: Track or Trail?

On 12 October 1972 the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ was proclaimed in the Government Gazette of Papua New Guinea. This proclamation has never been amended or rescinded so the official name of the track over the Owen Stanley Range between Owers Corner and Kokoda is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.

The custodian of Australia’s Military History, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, revisited the debate in 2002 after some new-age historians argued it should be referred to as the ‘Kokoda Track’.  The official historian at the War Memorial concluded that the term ‘trail’ was favoured by a majority of veterans and because it appears on the battle honours of units who served in Papua in 1942. He concluded that the official designation for the track is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.

It is wothy of note that the 39th Battalion has ‘Kokoda Trail’ embazoned on their battle honours, and the official history of the 2/14th Battalion (Halstead Press, 1948) refers to the track as the ‘Kokoda Trail’.

Other wartime publications which refer to the track as the ‘Kokoda Trail’ include:

  • The Official History of Australia in the War of 1939-1945 (Series 1 – Army,Vol 5, South-West Pacific Area – First Year, Kokoda to Wau by Dudley McCarthy) – pubished in 1959;
  • Retreat From Kokoda – The Australian Campaign in New Guinea, 1942 by Raymond Paul (Heinemann, 1958, ISBN 0 85561 0492) – published in 1958;
  • Khaki and Green (Halstead Press) published by The Australian War Memorial for the Austraian Military Forces in 1943
  • Green Armour by Osmar White (Angus & Robertson – ISBN 0 04014706) pubished in 1945; and
  • The Kokoda Trail – A History by Stuart Hawthorne (Central Queensland University Press, ISBN 876780 30 4) published in 2003.

It is clear that some new-age historians have an issue with the term ‘trail’ because of its American connotations – one can only imagine their reaction if Papua New Guineans declared that our Snowy River should be renamed ‘Snowy Creek’ because it now has less than one percent of its original flow since the dam was built!

For those who respect the right of an independent sovereign nation to proclaim its own geographical identities the correct (and official) terminology is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.

We should also respect the fact that the heroic 39th Battalion have ‘Kokoda Trail’ emblazoned on their battle honours.  The 39th was the first Australian unit to march across the track; they were first to engage the Japanese in battle on the track; and they earned their place in history with their heroic stand at Isurava.

It is time we accepted the official name and moved on to more important aspects of the debate which includes the need for Australian Military History to be included in our education system and for the Kokoda Trail and other Australian battlefields in the South-West Pacific to be identified, restored, honoured and properly protected.

For more information about the origins of The Kokoda Trail see  http://www.kokodatreks.com/history/thekokodatrail.cfm

Posted by Charlie Lynn

Comments

  1. James Bowen says:

    I don’t thimk McCarthy supports the argument for “trail” instead of “track”. I have very recently read Dudley McCarthy’s:

    The Official History of Australia in the War of 1939-1945 (Series 1 – Army,Vol 5, South-West Pacific Area – First Year, Kokoda to Wau by Dudley McCarthy) – pubished in 1959;

    McCarthy refers to the track running from Owers Corner to Kokoda as the “Kokoda Track”. See for example the Preface at page xi.

  2. James Bowen says:

    If I may add a further comment that I believe to be relevant. This comment above is not strictly correct:

    “For those who respect the right of an independent sovereign nation to proclaim its own geographical identities the correct (and official) terminology is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.”

    Papua New Guinea did not become an independent nation until 1975. It follows that “an independent sovereign nation” did not procliam the track between Owers Corner and Kokoda to be the “Kokoda Trail”. The name “Kokoda Trail” must therefore be a colonial inheritance from the Australian Administration.

  3. The Papua New Guinea Place Names Committee had a dozen notices covering six of the 16 pages of the 12 October 1972 gazette.There were hundreds of names proclaimed but I could not spot Kokoda Trail. Does someone have the exact page reference and I will have another look.

  4. The official reference for the designated name ‘Kokoda Trail’ is PNG Government Gazette No. 88 of 12 October 1972 at page 1362, column 2.
    Notice 1972/28 of the PNG Place Names Committee.

    Unless somebody can come up with a reference that supercedes this then the official name is the ‘Kokoda Trail’.

  5. Hannes Schmidt says:

    We as Australians should never forget our history. Long live the Kakoda Trail

  6. Owen Busuttil says:

    The argument whether it should be called a Trail or Track is indeed a delicate and on going one. I myself refer to it as the Kokoda Trail, and this I base on many reasons; first of which being the fact that the arch at Owers Corner clearly states it as the Kokoda Trail.

    Secondly, as has been previously mentioned on this blog page, the PNG Government has officially called it the Kokoda Trail since 1972 and we should respect that. Imagine if someone were to call the Great Ocean Road, for example, the ‘Great Ocean Route’ or something, it’s just not right.

    Thirdly, as Charlie Lynn has stated, many of the Battalions involved in the campaign have clearly dubed it as the Kokoda Trail on their battle honours. Having said this though, it is still widely described as the Kokoda Track by many veterans. For instance, I am good mates with three veterans of the 2/27th Battalion and all of them call it the Kokoda Track.

    However, this may also be attributed to the fact that the main wartime ‘Trail’ was indeed a series, and still is to a large degree, made up of many tributary tracks. Bearing in mind that often our Diggers were cut off, lost or forcefully withdrawing it can be imagined that many would consequently travel along these ‘Tracks’.

    It can therefore by understood why there is such confusion over the ‘proper’ title of the Kokoda Trail. One can imagine that after knowing only Tracks, which in the case of the 2/27th is easily understandable, it would become common place to refer to it as a ‘Track’.

    Regardless, and no offense is meant by all means, I believe it still should be rightfully known as the Kokoda Trail.

  7. John M. Neenan says:

    My father and his mates who were on the (lower case) track in 1942 knew it as the Kokoda Trail, so that’s good enough for me.

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