Kokoda: A story of mateship

24-Jan-2018

Rick Heathcote explains how participating in Grammar’s Kokoda Track tour with each of his sons is the perfect ‘bonding’ experience.

It’s an early June morning and the Grammar Kokoda contingent of 2017stand before the Isurava Memorial for a solemn commemorative service. Our historian and guide, Gary Traynor, recounts in exacting detail the battle at Isurava and how it unfolded as over two thousand Japanese advanced along the Track towards Port Moresby. As Gary explains, it was a war conducted at very close range, given the tight confines of the jungle.

As the Last Post is played at the Memorial, your eyes flick over the faces of the Grammar boys who have chosen to follow in the footsteps of these young Australian soldiers. Each of them quietly soaking up the experience and gazing at their jungle surrounds or looking towards the four granite sentinel stones, each inscribed with a single word, ‘Courage’, ‘Endurance’, ‘Mateship’ or ‘Sacrifice’. These are the values and qualities that best describe the soldiers who fought along the Track and that are now embedded in the minds of our boys.

Mr Whild, Mr Raeside and Ms Liu led this year’s trek with a total of ten previous Kokoda experiences between them, with thirty-three boys and parents in tow, supported by over 40 porters who live in the various villages that dot the ninety-sixkilometre track.

On day one, the groups flew out of Sydney on Air Niugini, landing in the tropical frontier town of Port Moresby. The Bomana War Cemetery was the main attraction for the afternoon and lies within a beautiful garden environment befitting the 3,824 graves that are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ground staff. This is the first time that the boys truly come face to face with the sacrifices demanded of the campaign as they view the neatly aligned grave markers and present their research on their assigned Old Sydneian casualties, who were killed in action on the Track. It was a very moving experience for all.

The next morning started with a short flight to Popondetta and an unforgettable truck ride to Kokoda Village where we meet our porters. Each trekker is paired with a porter who carries the main pack comprising sixteen kilograms of food and equipment. Our own packs are half that weight. As is often the case, close bonds emerge with the porters and many a time they have saved a weary dad from a slippery fall. Their forefathers were known as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels back in 1942, a name earned for helping our wounded soldiers during the Kokoda campaign.

A typical day on the Track starts at dawn with a soft and gentle wake-up tune from Mr Raeside. It was usually, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning…’ despite having only one verse in his repertoire. A quick breakfast at the campsite then have a briefing on what lies ahead and the degree of difficulty that we are likely to encounter – but it’s mostly met with a ‘let’s go!’ by the boys.

For me, undertaking three hikes with each of my three sons – Lachlan (OS 2015), Cameron (V) and Thomas (III), was all about sharing and enjoying the father-son experience. Each trek was different in its own right, each being full of challenges, excitement and laughter. Spending nine days camping in the Owen Stanley Ranges and hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery that the world has to offer causes you to live in the moment and focus on the mateship within your trekking group. Walking the Track was a truly unique opportunity offered by the School that will be forever remembered by all of us.

Rick Heathcote

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