Tell us about the motivation behind this trip?
I suppose its always been one of those ‘bucket list’ items, and when the opportunity came up, I jumped at it. The amount of history surrounding this 96 km stretch of track is amazing and from an Australian point of view, probably the closest we have ever come to war being on our doorstep. Whilst there were attacks on and around Darwin and the East Coast during WWII, there was a real chance of the Japanese establishing a garrison at Port Moresby, after which anything could have happened.
What expectations do you have of this trip?
Apart from it being a physical challenge, it will also be a mental challenge as well. When you talk to anyone who has completed the trek, they will tell you it is one of the most amazing things they have experienced. It’s not easy; you are literally either walking uphill or downhill, and we are talking straight uphill, there are river crossings, mud, mosquitoes, heat and humidity. But we are doing it in an organised experienced group, not crawling through the jungle in 1942 as barely trained militia, being fired upon and hopelessly outnumbered.
Who are you trekking with?
I am actually trekking with a group of successful young (or young at heart) real estate agents from across the country. All of them are No.1 in their areas and are brilliant marketers. We met through Facebook, strangely enough, and the idea grew from there. It has actually been set up as a developmental opportunity to learn from each other, but we have also incorporated some others on the trip to lend further skills on leadership. We are also lucky enough to have two ex servicemen trekking with us, lending us their knowledge on the battles and strategies along the way.
How far do you anticipate walking? Can you estimate how long the trip will take?
The track itself stretches about 96 km through the Owen Stanley Ranges, and we will be completing it (hopefully) in 10 days. It may not sound like much walking, but some days the climb is almost at a gradient of 70%, so hours are spent climbing almost straight up.
What training are you doing for the trek?
Mainly walking and including a lot of interval training, incorporating lots of hills and combinations of paces. I’ve also progressed now to carrying a weighted pack to increase the resistance. At present, I’m doing around 10 – 15 km a day. It’s obviously doing me good though; I’ve lost 5 kg since starting training just after Christmas.
Do you have much knowledge of the history behind the Kokoda Trail?
It’s one of those pieces of history you’ve always heard little bits of information about, but it’s not until I made the decision to do the trek that I began to do a bit of study.
The Kokoda campaign took place in 1942 and was a series of battles between the Australians and Japanese, and later other allied troops.
It was fought in inhospitable terrain, which made the supply of provisions to troops near impossible for both sides – something that in fact turned the tide heavily against the Japanese at the end of the campaign.
The campaign began with the Japanese Imperial Forces landing near Buna and then pressing forward across the Kokoda Track to Port Moresby. In the early stages, the Japanese troops, battle hardened from the Pacific campaign in which they were largely unstoppable, were confronted by mainly Australian Militia troops with little experience. A series of battles continued, with the Australian troops mainly using fighting withdrawal tactics.
As a result of the sheer numbers of Japanese troops, additional Australian troops were deployed to PNG from other campaigns.
In short, the Japanese did manage to advance to the hills above Port Moresby, before continuing counter attacks by the Australians, and the tyranny of lack of supplies, then forced them to begin a fighting withdrawal all the way along the track and back to the beaches of Buna, where they were routed.
It was a terribly bloody campaign, and very few prisoners were taken by either side. In all, some 625 allied troops died, whilst 6,500 Japanese troops lost their lives.
Of particular interest was that one of the Australian Soldiers, Private Bruce Kingsbury of the 2/14th, who was awarded the Victoria Cross (posthumously) during the battle of Isurava, was a real estate agent before joining the army. The battle of Isurava pitted an attacking force of 2,500 Japanese against 400 Australians attempting the defend the area; it has also been called Australia’s ‘Thermopylae’.
It really does have an amazing history of sacrifice, and I believe will be a very emotional trek.
One of the objectives is to raise money. Who are you raising money for, and how can we support you?
We decided if we were going to participate in the trek it would be nice to make a difference over there. During the battles, the Australian troops owed a great deal to those we now call the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, the Papuan New Guinean people who escorted and carried wounded Australian troops out of the battle zones – often at their own peril. Their deeds are now legendary.
We are raising money for a charity which looks after the education and ambulance services for the remote villages across the track. These villages are the descendants of the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, and we think it’s a nice way of giving back a little.
Even the group organising our trek, ’Investa Treks’, supports the villages along the track. They are actually a Salvation Army group, making a difference in PNG.
If you would like to give, anything would be appreciated. Either contact me direct on 0439 667 719 or give online through: https://give.everydayhero.com/au/chris-hines
Interview by Melly Dee.
This article was published in issue 30 of Coffs Coast Focus