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 This proclamation has never been amended or rescinded so the official name of the track over the Owen Stanley Range between Owers Corner and Kokoda is ‘The Kokoda Trail’.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