In the year of the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, a team of Rotary volunteers led by Greg Moran of Inverell Rotary Club are returning to Kokoda on September 26 for their seventh visit to continue with their efforts supporting Kokoda Memorial Hospital. This year, nine people, two from Inverell, one each from Warialda and Tweed Heads and five from Taree will spend three weeks carrying out maintenance and building a new type of nurse’s home using shipping containers and steel construction to minimise the risk of severe termite attack.
The three women led by Rotary President, Sue Moran will continue with sewing and craft work for women and computer lessons for the teachers at local schools. This year they are taking a printer, laminator and sixteen computers which includes eight new and eight reconditioned laptops and these will be donated to the schools before they leave.
Support from Bunnings and Ryobi in the way of donations of tools and equipment have been greatly appreciated and will help with the building work and the training of local students who will assist with the building works. As always, Rotary volunteers pay their own way and rely on donations and fund-raising for all building materials and tools. The Kokoda Track passes right by the hospital which are the first buildings trekers see when entering Kokoda village.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese landing on the coast of Papua New Guinea with Japanese forces landing between Buna, and Gona, roughly 25kms apart which were and still are very small villages in Oro Provence. They then proceeded on foot south with Australian forces determinedly opposing their advance. Significant battles took place along the road to Kokoda village which was important as it had an airfield before the imposing Owen Stanley Ranges. Many heroic stories exist of the battles along the Kokoda track with the young and inexperienced Australian forces opposing the experienced Japanese. These troops managed to hold up the Japanese until reinforcements arrived and the Japanese army was forced to retreat back along the track to the coast, this time chased by the Australians where they were finally forced off the island with huge loss of life on both sides. This was due to the fact that the Japanese dug in and refused to accept defeat with many Japanese fighting to the death and in some cases with hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets. In fact, of the estimated 13000 Japanese troops who landed only a few hundred managed to escape with disease and starvation being a major cause of death.
Many Australians make a pilgrimage to cross the Owen Stanleys on the Kokoda track to test their strength and skills on the extremely difficult mountainous terrain with the villages along the way having changed very little since the war. People still live in traditional dwellings of sticks and straw and eat a traditional staple diet that they grow in their gardens based around taro, a root vegetable.
This year a number of festivities in the villages along the track are being planned to mark the anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign along with Australian government support and Kokoda Track Foundation. The local population were extremely important in this campaign as they were employed as carriers of supplies to the Australian army and they also carried out wounded diggers to evacuation points. Without the skills and bravery of the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”, the Kokoda campaign could have been lost and our history could be very different.
We are excited that we will be present during some of these festivities, and can continue to value add at the Kokoda base Hospital for the local community and those along the track.