Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran

Today I was honoured to be guest speaker at the Kenthurst Australia Day ceremony. I decided not to enter the debate on whether it should be called ‘Australia Day’, ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ as the inner-city commentariat have crowded out that space. I therefore decided to focus on ‘An Australia Day Tribute to a Vietnam Veteran’ that I wrote nine years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we celebrate Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the raising of the British Flag at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Philip 228 years ago.

It is also the 69th anniversary of the arrival of an 11 year old immigrant boy from Malta. His story epitomizes our Australian story.

We were soldiers in Vietnam where he was blown apart in the minefield protecting the Australian Army Taskforce Base at Nui Dat. He survived against all the odds. This morning I would like to share an Australia Day tribute I wrote after he survived an emergency operation on Anzac Day 2007:

‘Forty days before he woke from a landmine that blew his right leg into the Nui Dat minefield, blasted his right arm off, shattered his left arm, ripped his stomach to shreds, and peppered his body with shrapnel, Sapper John ‘Jethro’ Thompson mumbled to me: ‘I’m not getting out of the army mate – they’re gunna have to build a special dozer I can drive’.  ‘No worries Jethro’, I said ‘they’ll do that!’ [Read more…]

Kokoda Guides: What teenage girls really think

Two attention seeking wannabees recently set out to trek across the Kokoda Trail in the wet season without proper clothing, camping equipment or a local PNG guide. They achieved their five minutes of fame when they claimed to have been assaulted and robbed by ‘cannibals’ and ‘spear throwing tribesmen’.  They escaped ‘wild dogs’ and and survived ‘poison ivy’ as they ran semi-naked over jungle-clad mountain ranges in bare feet. The ‘hero’ of this epic jungle escape was a British ‘reality’ television ‘Tarzan’ – his ‘Jane’ was an amorous American waitress

In their quest for their five minutes of fame they attempted to denigrate one of the most fascinating countries on the planet – Papua New Guinea.

Anybody who has trekked Kokoda will attest to the fact that the Koiari and Orokaiva guides and carriers are truly masters of their environment and genuine ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’.  The following quotes from young Australian women who have trekked Kokoda – many from the RSL Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge – describe the reality of the nature of their PNG guides and carriers:

Rachel McCrae:
A tear comes to my eye when I think about our beautiful guides and porters. We were blessed with the most amazing group of gentlemen, and they made my trip. They took the time to walk with us if we were struggling, they were patient and understanding. They also had a great sense of humour and greeted us every day with a smile. I miss them more and more each day, and feel blessed that I got to meet and walk with such amazing people. 
[Read more…]

Reported Attack and Rape by Cannibals on the Kokoda Trail – Really!

Matthew Iovane, of Shoreditch, East London, met restaurant hostess Michelle Clemens last year while he was visiting her native Los Angeles.

The adventure holiday regulars agreed to meet in Sydney, Australia, and then fly to Papua New Guinea together.

They planned to tackle the arduous Kokoda Trail, a 60-mile hike through one of the last great unexplored wildernesses on Earth.[i]

On Wednesday, 6 January, Mr Iovane called Sogeri Lodge from the Port Moresby airport to book transport and accommodation for one night for him and Ms Clemens. They had sourced the contact details for Sogeri Lodge from their Lonely Planet book on Papua New Guinea.

The Lonely Planet contains the following warning in regard to trekking across the Kokoda Trail:

‘The Kokoda Track is not PNG’s most difficult trek but it’s no walk in the park.  You must be pretty fit and, if in doubt, aid to do it in nine days, not six.  Be sure to use local guides and carriers and never walk with less than four people. If there is an accident two can get help and one can stay with the injured. Most trekking companies carry a satellite phone or a two-way radio.  If you don’t have one and there’s a problem, no-one will hear the screams.  Most villages have radios but it could be a long walk to the nearest one. Conflicts among traditional landowners have led to the track’s closure in the past, but in recent years the situation has been fairly calm. Still, it’s worth keeping an ear open.

‘When to Trek
‘It could rain at anytime of the year, but between November and February it will rain, and most companies don’t operate because it is too dangerous and uncomfortable.

‘Guides and Carriers
‘If you’re trekking independently, don’t do it without a good guide.’
[Read more…]

The Kokoda Trail – Official Naming Rights

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032Ownership of the naming rights of the Kokoda Trail is a keenly contested point of debate in Australia.

Do they belong to the nation which retains sovereign ownership of the land between Owers Corner and Kokoda i.e. Papua New Guinea?

Or the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian Battalions who were awarded the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’?

Or the custodians of political correctness amongst the Australian commentariat who dislike the name ‘trail’ because of its American connotation?

Over the past decade almost 40,000 Australians have trekked across the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Most trekkers are motivated by the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign and this has led to a range of books and television stories on the subject. It has also led to some extensive debate about the official name of the trail.

Contemporary debate over the name evolved after former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating kissed the ground at Kokoda on the 50th anniversary of the campaign in April 1992. This was accompanied by much ‘talkback’ noise about ‘trail’ being an American term and ‘track’ being the language of the Australian bush (ignoring the fact that our bush is criss-crossed with fire-trails). This suited Keating’s agenda for an Australian republic at the time.

The debate suited those in the Australian commentariat who harboured a strong anti-American bias over their engagement in Iraq around the time of the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. As most of the commentariat had never served in the regular armed forces they could be excused for not appreciating the esprit de corps associated with a battle honour. This, however, does not excuse them for ambushing a name that doesn’t reflect their political bias.

‘Kokoda Track’ has since emerged as the politically correct term in Australia in spite of the fact that the battle honour ‘Kokoda Trail’ was awarded to the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 10 Australian battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign. It is also in defiance of the Papua New Guinea government who gazetted the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ in 1972. [Read more…]

Big stink on Kokoda

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032

One could be forgiven for thinking that questions about toilets along the Kokoda Trail are taboo.  It’s a question people would prefer not to ask in the hope that everything will be OK when the time comes – as it does for everybody at least once a day!

Our experience indicates that expectations are low. Female trekkers quietly hope that there will be at least one toilet at each campsite dedicated for them. They hope it will have a degree of privacy and will be clean. A seat would be an unexpected bonus.

Unfortunately the management authority has never conducted a survey in order to seek constructive feedback from their paying customers.

The Australian Department of Environment engaged a highly paid consultant to conduct two campsite surveys over a period of a couple of years. The consultant did not engage with trek operators or trekkers. The reports he published were crap with just more than a hint of a spell about the Department of Environment’s closed shop tender process. [Read more…]

Shame of Kokoda Battlesite

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The shame of the Isurava battlesite as reported in the Sun-Herald on 26 July 2015 is the result of a flawed process that began with the planning of the memorial in 2001. http://www.smh.com.au/national/kokoda-track-landowners-demand-fee-for-access-to-battlefield-sites-20150725-gikclz.html

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) commissioned the establishment of a memorial on the site of the battle for Isurava for the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2002.  It was to be opened by Prime Ministers John Howard and Sir Michael Somare.

Prior to this DVA has shown little interest in honouring the military heritage of the Kokoda Trail.

Unfortunately the Department was led by two of the worst Ministers ever to be appointed to Veterans Affairs – Bruce Scott and Danna Vale. Scott was an arrogant fool and Vale had been described by Alan Ramsay of the Sydney Morning Herald as a twit.  Both were obviously awed by their bemedaled departmental Director, retired Air Vice Marshall Gary Beck AO. One can only assume the department’s dealings with their PNG counterparts were influenced by Beck’s ignorance of local conditions and his arrogance. [Read more…]

CENTENARY OF ANZAC DAWN SERVICE: BOMANA WAR CEMETERY – 25TH APRIL 2015

Bomana War Cemetery

Bomana War Cemetery

Wartime journalists wrote that our diggers often feared the jungles of Papua New Guinea more than they feared the enemy.  It was a hell of place to die.

During the darkest hours of the Kokoda campaign a 20 year old wounded soldier who couldn’t be evacuated from Eora Creek beckoned to wartime journalist, Osmar White:  ‘Hey Dig, bend down a minute’ he whispered, ‘listen, I think us blokes are going to be left behind when they pull out. Do me a favour mate, scrounge me a tommy gun from somewhere will you mate?’ It wasn’t bravado said White, he just wanted to see a Jap before he died. That was all. ‘Such things should have been appalling. ‘But this was not appalling. This was jungle war, the most merciless war of all’. He and his mates were left to fight to the last.

A week later during the battle for Brigade Hill, an army medic, Major Steward, recorded: “My saddest sight, at Butcher’s Hill was that of a 23 year old former golf professional.  He had a ghastly, gaping wound of the throat, and although my eyes could only see darkness and death, his saw light and hope.  They were asking me something with all the mute urgency that eyes can convey.  Eyes, the windows of the soul, show every facet of the inner feelings – love, joy, hope, fear, guilt, pity, hatred, and even bodily sickness or health.  Looking as dispassionately as possible at that man’s throat, I hoped he couldn’t sense the lump in mine.  Emotion clouds calm clinical judgement, but the hardest thing is not to flinch from the gaze of the man you know is going to die.”

Neither of these young Australians was accorded the dignity of a burial service.  The situation did not allow for it. ‘Goodbye mate, may God bless you’ was the last whispered epitaph they heard before their lives ebbed away in some of the most godforsaken jungles on the planet.

The circumstances of their dying were so desperate there was no time to grab their dog-tags.  No time to record where they fell.  No time to dignify their lifeless body with even a shallow grave.  [Read more…]

Kokoda Day: Deeds not Words

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Kokoda Day Speech by Charlie Lynn MLC at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, Concord – 3 November 2014

Today we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the day the Australian flag was raised by our troops after they had recaptured the village of Kokoda. This ceremony would never have happened if our allied naval forces had not thwarted Japanese plans for a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby in the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and the battle of Midway in June 1942.

Japanese plans for the capture of Port Moresby were continually disrupted by the heroic actions of our fighter and bomber pilots who continually bombed Rabaul and the Japanese landing fleets on the northern beaches at Buna and Gona. Our coastwatchers and commandos were instrumental in reporting and harassing Japanese plans and movements.

This left them with the only option of a land assault via a series of unknown native tracks connecting remote native villages across the Owen Stanley Ranges – to become known as the Kokoda Trail. [Read more…]

Our Kokoda Reunion Dinners . . .

76830_10151190135009761_270743778_nOur Kokoda Reunion Dinners offer a chance for our trek groups to get together and re-kindle the mateships established on the trail.  They also offer an opportunity for us to salute our dwindling number of Kokoda veterans and to raise some funds to assist our philanthropic endeavours in Papua New Guinea.

Our next dinner, the 5th annual ‘Salute to the 39 will be hosted by Gary Blackwood MP at Parliament House in Melbourne on Friday, 28th March at 6.30 PM. This is our 5th annual dinner in the magnificent Queens Room at Parliament House.

The cost is $165 per person for a sumptious 3-course meal with beer and wine.  We can book tables of 10 for trek groups as required.

Gary and intrepid trekker, Bernie Rowell, have hosted a number of these functions where we try to ensure there is a Kokoda veteran at each table. [Read more…]

Letter from Major-General Gordon Maitland AO OBE RFD ED re Rowan Tracey’s article on General Blamey

I enjoyed immensly Rowan Tracey’s essay in the June issue (United Service 61 (2) 24-29,2010).  Tracey strongly supports what I and Brigadier Casrey have been saying for years.  What is more, he presents his material so logically and progressively that it leaves little room to disagree with his conclusions.  Three facts are significant here:

. The Kokoda Trail campaign has never been properly analysed from the viewpoint of  ground and tactics.

. There was never any ill-feeling by Allen towards Blamey.  Blamey’s ADC told me  that Blamey visited Allen in Darwin as soon as he could and they spent until dawn yarning in a convivial way.

.  Rowell was the first of the war’s senior officers to come out to present himself in the best possible light.  Blamey declined to write his memoirs for the noble reason that the war was over and he had no wish to damage any of those who fought.

There are three types of military historians: journalist historians, who show little respect for the facts in order to tell a good story; academic historians, who have the time and facilities to unearth new and valuable information, but mainly at the political and strategic levels; and soldier historians, who are the only ones one can trust at the tactical level, for they have been taught to understand the key factor – ground.  Peter Pedersen of the Australian War Memorial is one I have always admired for the latter quality, and now we have Rowan Tracey, who I hope goes on to write further.

Major-General G. L. Maitland AO OBE FRD ED (Retd)
North Turramurra
2 July 2010

Rowan Tracey’s article can be read at:  http://blog.kokodatreks.com/2010/07/21/conflict-in-command-during-the-kokoda-campaign-of-1942-did-general-blamey-deserve-the-blame-2/