Thursday, September 25, 2008

Veterans speak out about Kokoda in TV documentary

A new documentary is seeking to set the record straight on Australia’s famous Kokoda Track World War II campaign by hearing from the people that were there.

Beyond Kokoda, which airs on pay TV’s History Channel today, is the brainchild of two young producers, Stig Schnell and Shaun Gibbons, who are fascinated with Australia’s military history.

The documentary hears the brutal first-hand accounts of both Australian and Japanese veterans, with many describing how they didn’t think twice about killing in the combat in Papua New Guinea, which raged from July 1942 until February 1943.

The conflict, dubbed the Battle For Australia, has long been of fascination for historians.

But Schnell said he wanted to get away from the myths and “jingoism” of what it meant for the country and hear first-hand accounts from Australians and Japanese and let the viewers make up their own mind.

“We kind of wanted to humanise it,” Schnell told AAP.

“We didn’t bang the nationalist drum on either side.

“To break the myth really gives justice to each individual story.

“We don’t need to heap all this crap on top of these veterans, they did this, they did that, we just need to listen to what they have to say and that is more than enough, their story is fantastic enough.”

The documentary recreates scenes and shows flawed decisions made by politicians on both sides.

It also features the villagers named the “fuzzy-wuzzy angels” who helped wounded Aussie soldiers, as well as villagers who assisted the Japanese soldiers.

A former member of the Australian Army, Schnell said the veterans were only too happy to share their experiences, which were still haunting them, but many of their wives and daughters were worried about them speaking.

“It’s the wives that were there for these guys supporting them when the government was saying: ‘Look forget about it, look you won, good work,’” Schnell said.

“Post-traumatic stress or war weariness, what they used to call it, just wasn’t dealt with that well.

“Whereas if a soldier fires his weapon now he has three to six months of counselling.”

Without much archival footage around, Schnell looked to his army mates to get him to help recreate scenes.

Five years in the making, Schnell had no experience in documentaries, let alone television production.

He left the army after injuring his back, started an adventure tour company but when that fell apart he started the television production business with Gibbon.

“We said if we’re going to start it, we might as well do something really, really big and we started doing this travel log of the Kokoda Track, which quickly turned into this doco,” Schnell said.

Next the enterprising duo are planning to climb Mount Cook in New Zealand in December and January, and make a documentary about it.

Beyond Kokoda airs on the History Channel at 8.30pm today. - AAP



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