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