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IMAGINE ........

Imagine you are a young Australian soldier, about to go into action on the Kokoda Trail. You are 19 years old. 

Just months ago you were working in a civilian job in Australia. Suddenly, the Government ordered you to join the Army and leave overnight your secure civilian job. What followed was a blur with a rushed two-week course in basic training at the Puckapunyal Army Camp near Seymour, Victoria.  Then, straight to PNG with all the heat and humidity of the tropics. There was no time to adjust.

The equipment you carry is basic. The khaki uniform is cotton, lightweight and already stained by the sweat and dirt from the hot trip from Port Moresby to Owers' Corner.  The pack on your back is canvas and weighs 25 kg.  In this are your spare shirts, socks, underwear, half a blanket, half a towel and toiletries. In little pockets attached around your shirt are some food supplies (6 days' rations) and, tucked under your backpack, a fly tent for shelter from the inevitable tropical rain. 

Australian soldiers, weighed down with kit, trudge past National carriers on a steep part of the track. All eyes are on the ground to ensure a steady foothold, as a fall is so easy with the ground rough and covered with tangled tree roots. The woollen jumpers worn by the carriers were necessary for the cold Kokoda Trail nights.

Slung over your shoulders are pouches containing 150 rifle bullets and a few grenades.  A small medical kit is located in one of these pouches and contains bandages and morphine.  The morphine is injected to reduce severe pain that may develop after a bullet, bayonet or grenade wound. Your .303 rifle is heavy and difficult to carry and, with the bayonet attached to your belt, it weighs you down.  The steel helmet is awkward either on your head or slung from your pack. The sweat pours down your neck.

These Australian soldiers, near Brigade Hill in phase 2 of the battle, heat up a quick meal of bully beef and biscuits. Nearer the front line such fires were not allowed as the smoke would alert the enemy. Men lived continually in wet, sodden clothes and boots. Tiredness was a constant problem. The Australian soldier was recognised for his initiative, fighting skills, an easy-going personality and a relaxed attitude to authority.

All your mates are tense and gripped with fear as ahead lies so much that is unknown.  The jungle is scary and unfriendly. You question in your own mind whether you will be able to stand up to the fighting as you are all untried and about to face an undefeated, ruthless enemy. As you pass through Owers' Corner these fears are momentarily eased by a hot cup of tea and biscuits provided at the Salvation Army tent. By contrast, rows of hospital tents nearby wait for wounded soldiers, warning of the seriousness of what lies ahead. Thoughts of home flood back, but struggling for breath on the first steep rise of the Kokoda Trail, you must concentrate on the intense physical effort of climbing. 


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