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