BY JOHN ANDERSON
13 Dec, 2011 04:00 AM
ON day two of a 10-day Adventure Kokoda trek, Noel (Lucky) Cameron, 64, was wishing he was back in Gol Gol on his fruit block.
“Lucky” as he’s been called since he “was old enough to remember”, has just returned from an “eye-opening” trek through the hot, wet, humid and mountainous jungle of Papua New Guinea as one of a 25- member mixed group of Aussie adventurers.
Lucky can’t recall how he came to be given the “Lucky” tag, but after listening to his story leading up to the “surprise” Kokoda trek birthday gift from his wife Midge – the name is appropriate.
Had it not been for the pre-Kokoda medical examination, Lucky may not be telling his story after a serious heart artery blockage was discovered two and a half years after his first heart attack.
Lucky was born in Mildura and grew up in Gol Gol.
He has been working on district fruit blocks since he left Mildura Technical School at 15.
Not big on sports, he took up with his interest in harness racing – breeding, training and driving at the Mildura and Nyah harness racing meetings.
The story gets interesting when Lucky talks of being thrown out of the sulky in a race at Mildura with “one lap to go” and suffering a heart attack as a result.
“She was going OK at the time, I was sitting behind the leader when my horse knuckled over and fell.
“I was thrown out of the sulky and landed in front of her, jumping up and grabbing the bridle with my left hand.
“That night my left shoulder started to throb and I became quite ill.
“I ended up going to the hospital outpatients 48 hours later.”
“Why so long after?” I queried.
“Probably because I’m pig-headed,” Lucky said.
“After a heap of tests, I was told I’d had a heart attack 48 hours beforehand.
“The adrenalin ‘rush’ brought about by the race fall caused the attack.
“At that time no corrective surgery was done although tests revealed one major blockage and one minor blockage in arteries leading to the heart.
“One artery wasn’t blocked enough for a stent and the other was completely blocked and it was too difficult to operate on for the little benefit I would gain,” he said.
Lucky said his three sons and their families and his wife Midge were all more concerned than he was.
“I thought I had a bit of gastro rather than a heart attack,” he smiled.
“Through watching a TV program on Kokoda where a fellow without legs took on the challenge, I made an off the cuff remark to Midge that I’d like to have a go at that.
“Six months later, I was sitting in the lounge watching the telly and Midge said ‘here’s your 64th birthday present’.
“She handed me a large envelope full of pamphlets on Adventure Kokoda and said ‘now get training’.
“I started training by running up and down the riverbank at the top of the hill in Gol Gol and walking two hours a day with a 15kg back pack while waiting for my compulsory medical check-up to give me the OK to take part.
“At the first stress test I passed the fitness part but they found a problem with my heart.
“I had another stress test – a different type which confirmed the heart problem.
“There was a 90 per cent blockage in one of the main arteries and I was sent to Melbourne where I had a stent put in.
“I came home and was back on the block working within a few days but kept my harness driving to a minimum – mainly trial work.
“Three weeks before I was due to leave for Kokoda I had to undergo another stress test which I passed with flying colours.
“Everybody was happy, Midge finalised the ticket details and it was three months after I had the stent that I was boarding the plane at Mildura heading for Port Moresby.
“On October 25, we arrived in PNG and next morning we flew to Popondetta, then a four-hour ride in the back of a truck on jungle tracks to Kokoda.
“It was the roughest ride I’ve had in my life,” he said.
“The Kokoda trek was one big highlight.
“The humidity was stifling, it rained every day and most nights. We were putting on wet clothes and wet boots in the mornings.
“You couldn’t dry off anything – but in the end it didn’t worry you.
“We drank a couple of litres of water a day and the food was mainly rice, pasta, tinned meats, cereal and baked beans for breakfast.
“The hardest part of the trek was the continuous climb at Imita Ridge and going down the very steep hills – it was very hard on your knees.
“The Adventure Kokoda organiser is an ex-army type and he took us to all the major battle sites which added an additional 30km to the 96km trek.
“For 10 days there was no communication with anyone back home – I didn’t even know what won the Melbourne Cup until we got back to Port Moresby on November 5.
“I’d go again tomorrow – I really loved it, the challenge the magnificent scenery and the friendly natives.
“It made for a 10 out of 10 life experience.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done and I would recommend it to anyone as long as they are physically fit and prepared to train hard and like walking.
“If Midge hadn’t bought me the Kokoda birthday present, I probably would have suffered another heart attack and who knows what the outcome would have been,” Lucky Cameron said.
This article appeared in Tuesday’s Sunraysia Daily 13/12/2011.