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THE KOKODA WALK IN THE
DANDENONG RANGES NATIONAL PARK


THE PLAQUES                               

The FUZZY WUZZY ANGELS plaque
The DAMIEN PARER plaque
The KINGSBURY VC plaque
The OWERS' CORNER plaque
 The IMITA RIDGE plaque
The BRIGADE HILL plaque
The TEMPLETON'S CROSSING plaque
The EORA CREEK plaque
The ALOLA VILLAGE plaque
The ISURAVA VILLAGE plaque
The KOKODA VILLAGE plaque

 

 

 


The FUZZY WUZZY ANGELS plaque

When the Japanese first landed in New Guinea in July 1942 the indigenous (Nationals) population of nearly 2 million were caught up in a war they did not want or understand. Many of the 60,000 local people then employed by the whites fled back to their villages. The Japanese later employed some as carriers or labourers while others joined the Australians. Of this latter group approximately 10,000 Papuans and New Guineans were organised by the Australian Army to carry supplies and wounded Australians across the Kokoda Trail and to the battles beyond.

The National carriers were crucial to the ultimate success of the campaign, particularly as Allied air support for soldiers on the ground was severely restricted by dense jungle. The carriers came from many villages and tribes, but they were welded into a significant, unified force, having their own organisational structure and areas of operation on the track.

The Australian soldiers affectionately nicknamed the National carriers the "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" because of their distinctive hairstyle, but more importantly for their compassion for the sick or wounded. The endurance they exhibited in some of the most difficult terrain in the world has never been forgotten by the people of Australia.

Three Papuan battalions (2,500 men) also served under Australian command as front-line troops during the Kokoda campaign. Australian officers, who had lived and worked in PNG for years prior to the war and who knew the Papuans well, often led these men.

An Australian officer is supervising the collection of locally grown fruits and vegetables to supplement the hard army foods of bully beef and army biscuits. Food was hard to find as the Japanese, during their retreat, destroyed most village gardens.

 

 

 

 


The DAMIEN PARER plaque

Black and white images taken by the official Army photographers captured the Kokoda campaign on film. Men like Damien Parer and stills photographer George Silk risked their lives daily to film the front-line fighting. Armed only with a camera, such men recorded the suffering of soldiers and preserved forever haunting images of Australians at war.

On the Kokoda Trail the constant rain, high humidity and the presence of the advancing Japanese made filming extremely difficult. Parer's camera-load was over 70 kg when he started walking the track. In the thick of the fighting, with few to share the load, he progressively abandoned equipment as he retreated with the Australians. Parer immersed himself in the action often carrying supplies and ammunition forward when not filming.

Damien Parer's film, 'Kokoda Front Line', was shown around the world and won the 1942 U.S. Academy Award for the 'Best Documentary Film of the Year'.  His lasting legacy is the image of the Australian soldier and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels struggling in the rain along the Kokoda Trail.

The life expectancy of such front line cameraman is always unpredictable. In 1944 at 32 years of age Parer ran out of luck and he was killed, filming the Americans' advance on Pelieu Island.

A front-line war correspondent from the Sydney 'Telegraph" types an article on the day's fighting. Often it would take days for the article to clear censorship and reach Australia as there were no fax machines or e-mails then. His accommodation is simple with a canvas fly tent and, behind, a towel being aired in the sunlight as clothing and packs were always damp in the steaming jungle. Beside him are his mess tin and a captured cloth-covered Japanese water bottle.

Supporting these cameramen were many war correspondents and artists collectively forming a unique record of the period.

This plaque honors all those who have recorded men and women at war.

 

 

 

 


The KINGSBURY VC plaque

Private Bruce Kingsbury of the 2/14th Battalion won the only Victoria Cross awarded during the Kokoda Campaign. Full details of his citation are on the plaque.

Bruce Kingsbury was born in Melbourne and won the VC when he was 22 years old.

The Japanese had just captured the Australian forward positions near Isurava Village (phase 1), when he rushed forward ahead of a group of volunteers to recapture the positions. Firing from the hip with a light machine gun he overwhelmed the Japanese. This bold, surprise attack gave his mates sufficient time to regain their lost positions but as he attempted to rejoin them, a sniper killed him. Melbourne subsequently named the suburb of Kingsbury after him.

The Victoria Cross is Australia's highest award for members of the military forces who exhibit supreme levels of bravery in the face of the enemy. Queen Victoria first instituted the Victoria Cross in 1856. Since then, 96 Australians have won the Victoria Cross: 5 in the Anglo-Boer War, 66 in the First World War, 20 in the Second World War and 4 in the Vietnam War. There are 54 Victoria Cross medals in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the largest collection in the world.

The Victoria Cross is designed in the form of a Maltese cross and is still made from the bronze metal of Russian cannons captured by the British in the Crimean War in 1854. The motto, 'For Valour', is the only wording on the front. The date of the act of bravery is inscribed on the reverse, and the name, rank and unit of the recipient on the back of the clasp. The ribbon is claret in colour and the VC takes precedence over all other Orders and medals.

 

           

 

 

                                    


The OWERS' CORNER plaque

Owers' Corner is the start of the Kokoda Trail. Troops arrived here after walking ten kilometres through the jungle from their motor truck drop off point at Sogeri Village. Roads were unmade and campsites and hospitals spread along the side of the road for kilometres. Compared to the thick jungle, Owers' was a haven for the troops returning from the fighting: there was hot food, medical help, and a clean bed. The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels often carried injured soldiers for up to ten days to reach Owers' Corner and the medical assistance available there.

Today Owers' Corner is a quiet, undisturbed place, marked by a striking metal sculpture, the Kokoda Memorial Arch which is six metres high by 15 metres long. Every year hundreds of back-packers set off from here on a journey towards Kokoda village. This is an eight-day, rugged, mountain walking adventure over the Owen Stanley Range.

An Australian Signals Corp Jeep negotiates the road from Sogeri to Owers' Corner. The deep mud and slush on this 'made road' shows just how hard it was to bring supplies forward to the troops on the Kokoda Trail in the mountains beyond. Even now modern four-wheel drive vehicles and trail bikes have difficulty negotiating this road when wet and find the Kokoda Trail impossible.

 

 

 

 


The IMITA RIDGE plaque

Phase 1 of the battle comprising the Japanese advance, ended on 14 September 1942 on this ridge and phase 2 of the battle, the Japanese withdrawal, began from here on the 28 September. The Japanese dug in on Ioribaiwa Ridge just to the north of the Australian held Imita Ridge. This was the closest the Japanese would get to Port Moresby.

The Australians, in phase 1 of the battle, had delayed the Japanese advance so severely that the Japanese were now exhausted with little food and diminishing supplies. In comparison, the Australians, with now much shorter supply lines from Owers' Corner, rapidly replenished their materials. Fresh Australian troops arrived regularly, but there were no reinforcements or supplies for the Japanese.

The Japanese High Command in Rabaul also knew that their largest fighting force in the Pacific was losing badly in a battle against the Americans on Guadalcanal Island (1,000 km to the east). It was this defeat, and not the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, which was the final turning point for the Japanese Command.  The Japanese troops near Imita Ridge were ordered to return immediately, down the Kokoda Trail to Buna Mission on the north coast 150 kilometres away.

It can only be imagined how the Japanese soldiers must have felt. They had fought so hard and lost hundreds of their friends in the advance on Imita Ridge. Now at night, with the searchlights of Port Moresby visible before them on the southern horizon 40 kilometres away, they had to retreat. As hard as these orders must have been to accept, these professional soldiers turned back. They knew only too well what was in store for them with scarce food, a hostile terrain and the Australians close behind.

 

  Below---Sectional Map of Kokoda Trail across two pages here.

 

The 'Golden Stairs' at Imita Ridge are typical of the steepness of the Kokoda Trail.  Australian engineers made the steps from logs that held the soil, but with rain, each step became a puddle of mud.  Climbing the 2,000 steps was exhausting enough but ahead lay hills of mud.

Today there is little to remind us of the battle that raged around Imita Ridge. The jungle has grown over the whole area as it has in most historic areas of the Kokoda Trail. The steepness of this part of the track is legendary and the 2000 steps of the 'Golden Stairs' epitomised the harshness of the terrain. Walkers then, as now, must carve wooden sticks from surrounding small trees to steady themselves.

 

Second half of Sectional Map here

 

 

 

 


The BRIGADE HILL plaque

This was the site of some of the heaviest fighting on the Kokoda Trail. Brigade Hill, close to Efogi Village, was chosen by the Australian Command to make a major stand against the Japanese in the phase 1 of the battle. The position offered a view over the surrounding country and was easier to defend than the impenetrable jungle.

With vicious fighting the Australians held the Hill for four days (September 6 - 9). Although eventually overwhelmed, their determined stand provided sufficient time for Australian reinforcements to arrive at nearby Imita Ridge and for reserve food supplies to be removed and thus denied to the Japanese. Taking over these Australian food supplies was an important factor in the Japanese High Command plans as their own food reserves were now running dangerously low. This fatal miscalculation in their supply requirements was the result of the Japanese belief that only two weeks would be needed to march from Kokoda Village to Port Moresby. Now, six weeks later, they still had not captured the Kokoda Trail.

So severe was the fighting, that the 200 Australians and Japanese who died here lay unburied for weeks after the battle. They were buried later when the Australians retook the area unopposed in phase 2 of the campaign. Ultimately all the Australians killed in this battle now lie buried beside their comrades, just outside Port Moresby in the Bomana War Cemetery.

Peace has settled over the old battleground. It is one of the few cleared areas on the Kokoda Trail and, by day, the sun beats down on the hilltop. At night the temperature drops rapidly and warmth is sought by the walker around an open fire. Light aircraft can land on the side of the mountain at nearby Efogi airstrip. These planes now provide the only quick access to the outside world.

Japanese soldiers receiving instructions from their commanding officer. Note their small peaked floppy hats and the broad rim steel helmets. The Japanese were a well-trained, highly disciplined, formidable foe. Both sides rarely took prisoners and the Australian wounded had to be dragged clear of the battle areas or they would have been killed when captured.

 

 


The TEMPLETON'S CROSSING plaque

Templeton's Crossing is 2,500 metres above sea level, the highest point on the track and similar in height to Mt. Kosciuszko in New South Wales. It is a remote place deep in the jungle. During the war it was a supply post. In phase 2 of the battle it was here that the Japanese made their first major attempt to halt the Australians from pursuing the withdrawing Japanese army. 

Importantly, the dangerous Eora Creek could be crossed here by a swaying rope and vine bridge.

Eora Creek is shallow at Templeton's Crossing, however, after hours of heavy rain it becomes a deep, raging torrent. The creek is then capable of washing away the heavy wooden log bridges similar to those seen on the right of the picture. Care in crossing was always required as a fall could cause serious injury. A team of eight natives was needed to carry out a wounded soldier. The stretchers were made from four tree branches with an army blanket bound down by ropes or vines. Inflexible army stretchers were impracticable in this terrain.

Today Templeton's Crossing is still reached via a very steep descent into a gorge carved deep in the valley. There are no villages close by and few people pass through. The density of the jungle and the steepness of the climb focus the view on the track immediately beneath your feet. Failure to watch every step will guarantee a sudden fall as tree roots criss-cross the path. The jungle tree tops tower above, giving only short glimpses of the blue sky further highlighting the sense of isolation and the threatening beauty of the track. Underfoot the decaying leaf floor abounds with life while the jungle walls reflect little sound. Bird life is scarce as the local people have killed most species. Sighting wild life during the day is rare but, at night, animal sounds and their stirrings can be heard from both near and far.
 

 

 


The EORA CREEK plaque

This area was the centre of heavy fighting during both the Australian withdrawal and their advance months later. The steep sides of the long valley down which Eora Creek flows, combined with the dense jungle on either side, made it easy to defend but hellish to attack. Not surprisingly, both sides used it to their advantage in the two phases of the campaign.

The deep, rugged and impenetrable valley that contains Eora Creek runs from before Templeton's Crossing almost to Kokoda Village. The Kokoda Trail passes through this valley where there are only two accessible river crossings, one at the old Eora Creek village site and the other at Templeton's Crossing. 

In 1942 the village of Eora was small and tucked into the bank of the creek. The site was abandoned years ago and the jungle has now reclaimed the area. Old weapon and latrine pits can still be found and a crude corrugated iron roofed, lean-to offers shelter for the traveller. Many of Damien Parer's most famous photographs were taken near Eora Village.

In the next section towards Alola, the Kokoda Trail winds its way rapidly upwards and out of Eora Creek. The never-ending ridges of the Owen Stanley Range emerge, often shrouded by clouds. The rush and roar of the raging waters of Eora Creek gradually fade as you climb.

The valley to the right of the walking path in the Dandenong Ranges National Park would be only one fifth the depth of the valley down which Eora Creek flows. The PNG rain forest jungle is much denser than the Park's wet-forest gully. In many parts of the Kokoda Trail, light is so dim that mid-day photography requires a flashgun.

The tropical environment of the Kokoda Trail contrasts greatly with the temperate environment of the Dandenongs. The principal difference between the two regions is the rainfall. Approximately 540 cm falls annually on the Kokoda Trail compared with 120 cm in the National Park.

Despite a dissimilar climate and altitude range, the Kokoda Trail has some similar flora to the wetter mountain forests in other parts of the Dandenongs and the region around Noojee. Plants are common to both regions, include the genus Olearia spp. (tall shrub up to 8 metres), Pittosporum spp. (small tree) and Poa spp. (grass). Some trees such as the beech grow to 46 metres or more, their branches forming a canopy under which smaller trees and shrubs grow. Many large trees have buttresses. Different kinds of palms and canes are common.

Mosses, orchids and ferns grow on trunks and branches of trees. Orchids are found in both regions but PNG has the greatest range of orchids in the world. Other plant life varies markedly and the torrential rainfall in the PNG rain forests would destroy most of the plant life in the Dandenongs.

 

 

 


The ALOLA VILLAGE plaque

The village of Alola sits on the side of a mountain. Fresh water streams run nearby and tumble downwards for kilometres into Eora Creek. The village contains about twenty huts made of light timber cut from the surrounding jungle. The roofs are made of palm leaves offering protection from the torrential rain that lashes the area. 

There is no electricity, no telephone, no radio or contact with the outside world. At this height tropical heat is not a problem but the evenings are often extremely cold. Mosquitoes are not a problem in the Owen Stanley Mountains but in other parts of PNG they cause widespread, severe disease, in particular malaria.

Few animals, other than chickens, dogs and the occasional pig, are kept. The dirt areas around each hut are swept clean daily and scraps of food fed to the roaming chickens and dogs.

Alola Village is small and well kept nowadays. The headman, Loader Sega, owns the land in this region and makes all the major decisions for the well-being of the villagers. Borders to the territory are unfenced but jealously guarded from other tribes. Children walk 15 minutes a day to attend a Government-run school that operates five days a week.


The people are small, shy and pleasant. They age rapidly, with those in their twenties often looking twice their age. Few men or women reach 50 years of age. Often diseases preventable in other parts of the world, cause death in this area so remote from medical help. Village life is quiet and strictly controlled by laws made by the elders of the village or tribe. Villagers rise at first light and sleep soon after dark.

During the war Alola Village saw no fighting but was used as a reserve and rest area by Australian troops during the battle of Isurava in the early parts of the phase 1 of the battle. The area has changed little since the war however Alola village has moved a few times since 1942. Movement of a village may be linked to the belief that an evil spirit has entered the area or that the ground or the water source has become polluted.

 

 

 

 


The ISURAVA VILLAGE plaque

Isurava Village saw some of the most desperate fighting on the Kokoda Trail and was the place in phase 1 of the campaign where the Australians made a major attempt to hold the Japanese. Outnumbered six to one and out-gunned, the Australians fought furiously and held the Japanese for four days. The Australians although exhausted, rallied and in non-stop fighting killed 500 of the enemy before withdrawing in darkness to Eora Creek Village, to avoid being surrounded by the much larger Japanese force. 

The Australians proved their toughness and fighting prowess in the jungle. Private Bruce Kingsbury won his Victoria Cross near here (see page ww). This battle and the battle at Brigade Hill were the two most important in the campaign.

Isurava today is one of the larger villages on the trail and a regular stopping point for walkers.

Near Kokoda Village the path was turned into a mass of sticky mud by constant rain and troop movement. The mud was so bad in some parts that boots were pulled from feet by suction. A Japanese pushbike lies abandoned, left during the Japanese retreat. The Australian soldiers' clothes are soaked and worn through, and some soldiers have abandoned their shirt and helmet.
 

 

 


The KOKODA VILLAGE plaque

In 1942 Kokoda Village was the most prominent village in the area as it was the largest, and had the only airstrip. Hence the name 'Kokoda' given to the Trail.

The Japanese captured Kokoda Village after a short, vicious fight at the very beginning of phase 1 of the campaign. They used it as an administrative and supply base but the airstrip was not used to fly in fresh men or supplies as the Allies had superior air power. During phase 2 of the campaign, the Australians recaptured Kokoda Village on 2 November 1942 without a fight.

Nowadays, Kokoda Village is the administrative headquarters of the region. The village is spread over a square kilometre and has good road and air links to nearby and distant towns. The modern medical centre and large school provide important support to the local population. Memorials and a museum to the Kokoda campaign are prominent tourist features. Many walkers stay here overnight before returning by the sealed road to the main regional airport at Popondetta 80 kilometres away.

  

Photo Dentist

 

Medical and dental problems were a constant reason for men having to be brought out of the front line. One of the most common occurrences at sick parade was toothache, and here a dental officer is about to inject local anaesthetic for the extraction of an upper premolar.

 



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