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!’ (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. 
(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.’
(more…)

VALE: Sergeant Ben Moide CBE . . .

Ben Moide 7We were saddened to learn today (30 December 2013) of Sergeant Ben Moide’s passing in Port Moresby.

However we will be eternally grateful that Ben’s heroic story has been captured by Mr Lahui Ako in his book ‘Nameless Warriors’ published by the University of Papua New Guinea Press and Bookshop in 2012. Lahui Ako wrote of his race against time to complete the book. He was aware ‘that God could call the old man to rest at any time while I laboured on. So in between writing, prayers went up to the Almighty to allow the old man to live longer in order to personally witness the completion of this project.’

We can only thank God his prayers were answered because Ben Moide’s story is a vital contribution to our understanding of the complexities of the war from a Papuan viewpoint. This aspect has been neglected by recent authors and publishers on the Kokoda campaign because of their own lack of empathy with PNG. Lahui Ako discovered this when he was advised by a potential Australian publisher that Ben Moide’s version of the Kokoda campaign ‘was not recognised in Australia’. (more…)

Kokoda comes to Sydney . . .

juffaKokoda was represented at the highest level recently when the Governor or Oro Province, Gary Juffa MP, and Mr Benjamin Ijumi flew to Sydney to pay their last respects to former RSL State President, Rusty Priest AM.  Rusty was a strong advocate for Kokoda and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Sydney.  He became good friends with Benjamin Ijumi who represented his people at many commemorative services at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway over the years.

During the Governor’s visit we hosted a function for the PNG High Commissioner, H.E. Charlies Lepani, the PNG Consul-General, Sumasy Singin at Parliament House to welcome PNG sailors visiting Sydney for the Naval Review.

NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell accorded a State Funeral for Rusty and invited the PNG Consul General in Sydney, Mr Sumasy Singin and Governor Juffa to represent their people through reading the prayers for the service which was held in St Mary’s Cathedral and concluded at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmJiqxL1IfA (more…)

Kokoda Pilgrimages for Schools

 Our Kokoda pilgrimages for schools incorporate:

  • Student-Parent Treks,
  • Historical Treks tailored to suit school curriculum, and
  • Youth Leadership treks.

Student-Parent Treks

There is no greater bond of mateship, or commitment to one another, than that developed between soldiers in the crucible of war. Barry and Tom OFarrell Isurava April 2008Shared adversity, extreme conditions, privation, reliance on each other and the dry humour that develops in such situations combine to forge lasting personal bonds.

In a similar way, the Kokoda Trail offers the unique opportunity to experience elements of this bonding and relationship building for students and parents in a way that cannot be replicated in normal society.  The Kokoda Trail is wilderness trekking in its most pristine form. The pilgrimage is free of the distractions of everyday life that so hinder relationships in today’s busy world.

The relentless terrain, testing climate, perceived dangers (all carefully managed) of unfamiliar jungle, river crossings and grinding climbs will challenge the mental and physical tenacity of participants as they conquer their own self-doubts and replace them with self-confidence. The awe of walking in the very footsteps of our heroic ‘diggers’ who fought and died along the trail will put their own struggle into perspective and inspire them to conquer whatever obstacles they will inevitably face.

For the diggers Kokoda was a profound personal experience that established lifetime bonds: for student-parent groups it offers a similar opportunity to experience the power of a shared struggle in a unique learning environment. (more…)