From Scot Morrison’s Blog – Federal Member for Cook
Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free. These words have never meant more to me than when walking the Kokoda Trail, with my parliamentary colleagues, Labor MP Jason Clare and trek leader Charlie Lynn MLC, as part of our 2009 Kokoda Mateship Trek.
The Trek brought together young leaders from both of our electorates, from very different religious and cultural backgrounds. The purpose was to build bridges between our Cronulla and Bankstown communities, following the shameful events that took place in southern Sydney in December 2005.
The Kokoda Mateship Trek demonstrated the true spirit of our communities as these fine young Australians walked their memorial to our Diggers in the footsteps of the 39th Battalion who set out from Owers Corner to defend Australia, on Australian soil, at Kokoda in July 1942.
Along the trail our young leaders from the Bate Bay Surf Clubs and Lakemba Sports Club, shared stories of their culture, breaking down myths, barriers and stereotypes. However most importantly they joined together to honour the courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice of those who fought and died along this bloody, muddy track.
The stories of Bruce Kingsbury VC, Stan and ‘Butch’ Bissett, Charlie McCallum, Lindsay ‘Teddy’ Bear, Breton Langridge, Ralph Honnor, Dr Geffrey Vernon and the fuzzy wuzzy angels were brought to life as we stood on the ground where these men showed such inspirational leadership and courage. These names, and many others, will now be carried forward by a new generation of Australians in our communities and ANZAC day will never be the same again.
In their day, on this unforgiving ground, our Kokoda heroes found something special within themselves, to rise to the challenge. They were ordinary men called on to do extraordinary things. Having observed closely the sprit of the young Australians who walked the trail with us, I have no doubt that the spirit of Bruce Kingsbury is alive and well in their generation.
When we returned to Moresby and visited the Bomana War Cemetery the young trekkers stood and faced the graves of 3,000 fallen Australian soldiers and made a pledge to be the best they could be – to honour the sacrifice of those who were denied their opportunity of life more than sixty years ago.
In making this pledge they have decided to be the change that our communities need to bridge the divide of culture, and both of our communities will be better off for it. They have chosen to meet on the common ground of a shared future, paid for by the sacrifice of Kingsbury and his comrades, for all of us, regardless of our backgrounds.
It is my sincere hope that the Kokoda Trail will continue to grow as a pilgrimage for young Australians to make real contact with the spirit of courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice that defines our Australian character. We cannot allow such a connection to be reduced to a southern cross tattoo or a day of drunkenness wrapped in the flag.
For this to happen a number of things have to change. First, we must protect the integrity of the Trail. The Kokoda Trail is not an endurance sport or wilderness adventure. While satisfying the requirements of both, it must be first and foremost a memorial pilgrimage.
We must also ensure that the stories of Kokoda and similar campaigns gain greater coverage in our national educational curriculum. Bruce Kingsbury should be a household name, encouraging more young Australians to visit where he fell at Isurava.
A memorial masterplan is needed to ensure that as we lose touch with the Diggers, that memorials are constructed along the trail to tell their stories. The memorial at Isurava is breathtaking, and more of this is needed along the way, to commemorate and enable new generations to appreciate the sacrifice.
Having walked past the spot where a 37 year old mother from Melbourne died on the trail a week before us, it is clear tougher regulation of trek operators is necessary to keep the trail safe. This is a dangerous trek in a lethal environment. It should not be taken on lightly and basic requirements such as 24/7 base support, satellite phones, insurance coverage and medical expertise should all be mandatory, or more Australians will die needlessly.
We also need to make sure that our pilgrimage to Kokoda brings benefits to the local indigenous population of PNG, especially to the local villages, landowners and guides who support the trekking industry. We must ensure that they and their environment are not exploited, remembering it was their grandfathers who came to our aid to carry our grandfathers to safety so many years ago.
There are many other issues, such as the appalling state of the road from Sogeri to Owers Corner, that also need attention. However, at the end of the day, whether you walk the trail or not, our hope is that Kokoda continues to grow in the minds of all Australians, regardless of our backgrounds.
Kokoda serves as an inspiration to all of us, especially in these tough times, to remind us of what we’re capable of when we are true to the values that made our nation great – lest we forget.
Scott Morrison joined together with Labor MP Jason Clare to establish the Kokoda Mateship Trek that took place between April 25 and May 3, 2009.
Scott Morrison MP, Federal Member for Cook
Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government
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