The Kokoda Track has gained significance as one of the great treks and a 'rite of passage' for many Australians of all ages and is linked to the incredible military history and the early days of Australia's involvement in World War 2 in the region.
The track provides a rich cultural experience as well as a demanding physical one as the 96 km journey passes through the rugged Owen Stanley mountain range renowned for its steep climbs and valleys, tropical heat and stunning beauty.
The first official FedUni Living group completed the trip in 2012, and since the trek has become an annual tradition. Students involved in the trek relived the stories of endurance and sacrifice along the track giving them incredible insight and respect for the heroes of the conflict and what they did for each other and Australia. In doing so, we followed in the footsteps of the Australian diggers of 1942, however the two experiences would be vastly different.
The group moves through many villages, climbs some of the steepest mountains of their lives and witnesses the broadest smiles from the local people as we carried on along the track. Similar to the Diggers before them, mateship abounded within the students, encouraging and supporting each other up hills, across creeks and along each ridgeline. For those doubting their own resolve (and perhaps their training efforts prior to departure) an enduring part of the trip is how each student brings out the best in each other, ensuring that the group, not the individual, completes the trek.
Everyone struggles along the way. It's hard to prepare for the emotional and mental endurance needed for such a journey. As the tourguide said in the initial brief, 'the track is alive', and the track takes long periods of concentration. If you're not focussed or paying the area the respect it deserves, the track has a way of biting you. In 2014, as a way of recognising our good fortune, the students and staff provided clothing to be distributed to villages along the way. It's a small gesture that continues the charitable vein running throughout FedUni Living's programs.
With all the spectacular scenery, the beautiful villages and the welcoming families within, its sometimes difficult to believe what transpired on the sides of these mountains so long ago. Stories of atrocities, the memorials such as Brigade Hill and the many stories along the way weave an incredible story of the Diggers adversity and efforts across the track. As we neared the end of our journey, many within the group connected with their struggles, their humour and of course their efforts. But importantly, we also began to reflect and realise how many privileges we are blessed with came with great sacrifice.
The group walked triumphantly through the arches at Owers Corner marking the finish of the track. The celebrations, the photos and the elation of completing the journey were well earned and will always be savoured as the monumental achievement it represents. But they also serve to make the visit to the Bomana War Cemetery all the more moving. The joy quickly left as the cemetery and the 3,824 Commonwealth headstones came in to view. 699 of these are unidentified. The group recognised how lucky were to be here and what an honour it is to walk in their footsteps.
Congratulations to members of the FedUni community who have successfully participated and made the journey such an amazing experience for all.
Through FedUni Living the spirit of Kokoda continues.