Anzac trekkers coming of the trail/track were almost reaching for their wallets as they spied the Kokoda ‘McArches‘ looming in the mist towards the end of their fast-food deprivation across the Owen Stanley Ranges. They could almost hear the young Orokaiva cashier asking if they would like fries with their bully beef.
A bronze plaque on the ‘McArches’ is dedicated to Japan and Kokoda. It talks erroneously about an Australian ‘retreat’ (which is not a phase of war) and describes how ‘six thousand Japanese fought bravely during their southerly advance’.
Bravely! The beheading of five Australian missionary women on Buna beach; the bayoneting of an Australian nurse and teacher, May Hayman and Mavis Parkinson, in front of their own shallow graves near Sangara; the massacre of Australian prisoners at Tol Plantation; and the cannibalisation of Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Trail were hardly acts of bravery – they were horrendous war crimes and should never be airbrushed from our wartime history.
The Japanese may well have had superior numbers and weaponry in their advance across the Kokoda Trail but there is no evidence of Australians ‘fearing their fighting skills’. Australian commanders – General Tubby Allen, Brigadier Arnold Potts, Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner and a host of others never doubted the ability of their men to halt the Japanese advance over the Owen Stanley Ranges. Bruce Kingsbury, Charlie McCallum, ‘Butch’ Bissett, Claude Nye, Lefty Langridge and many of their mates who gave their lives in heroic acts of self-sacrifice did not display any fear or respect for the Japanese who were thought to be invincible at that stage of the Pacific War.
The steel arches were put in place without the knowledge or approval of the Returned Services League, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Australian WW11 veterans associations, or the PNG Kokoda Track Authority. The ill-conceived placement of an unauthorised and inappropriate memorial structure reinforces the need for a master memorial plan to be developed for the Kokoda Trail.