Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thoughts on the Kokoda crah

From John Fowke

Like all fatal crashes, it's a tragedy.  One of many in PNG which we have all been affected by in some measure over the years. And an unimaginably violent end to life for loved ones in the minds of suddenly-bereaved relatives, both in Australia and in PNG. But what did you think about the Australian response? Would the House of representatives stand in silence for a minute if nine Aussies had been killed in a tourist-coach crash whilst speeding to Uluru on a similar package deal? Or on a tour to the War Memorial in Canberra, for that matter? The Kokoda Track as a fashionable "feelgood" icon for affluent middle-class Aussies is getting a bit over the top in my admittedly-tetchy opinion; and as well, a horse to which our Canberra spin-meisters on both sides have proved only too ready to hitch a wagon or three. Dr Johnson's famous admonitory phrase about patriotism comes to mind.

Almost nobody ever goes to stand and think on the beach at Buna, or climbs to the crest of Shaggy Ridge, or visits the site of the Tol massacre or the beautifully-maintained War Cemetery in Lae, among many other reminders of wartime sacrifice and tragedy which are relatively easy to get to from major provincial centres. Why? Because all this is now forgotten- ignored entirely in the mish-mash of postmodern, lefty/sociology-driven drivel substituted for history and geography lessons in Australia's schools. To say nothing of what may or may not be taught in PNG's schools. In PNG it is often said that " the war wasn't of our making, we were just drawn in and suffered as a side-effect of antipathies among the industrialized nations." Of course, a very successful Asian invasion is in progress in PNG today. Allowing it to occur and to control major aspects of the economy, as it is being allowed to do, casts a shadow of shame upon the memory of all those thousands of Papuans and New Guineans who did in one way or another contest the imposition of the Japanese " Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere"- the invasion of 1942. Many more of them lie buried in their home soil than the 9000-plus Australians who lie in the various War Cemeteries in PNG, and in yet-to-be-discovered graves, lost and alone in the bush.

Those wartime carriers, labourers, PIB soldiers and the members of the RPC and the New Guinea Police who served in the conflict, 1942-45, are the true founders of the Independent State of PNG. Not the politicians of the First House. Not Gough Whitlam or his Parliament and his Department of Territories. No, it was the fighting men of PNG. Without them, and without the Australian and American servicemen and women who served and who died in the New Guinea campaigns, all of us in Australia and in PNG would live in very different circumstances, today. We in Australia, as well as their own countrymen, should honour their memory in the manner due; not in loose, emotional expressions flowing from the words of a part-time poet writing for the "Australian Womens Weekly." And not by allowing distortions of the facts to be generated by tour-operators and others who profit from the interest in Australia's part in the Pacific campaigns.

A few keen overseas bush-walkers do undertake a professionally-guided trek across the Bulldog Track from the upper Lakekamu to Wau, but this worthwhile adventure-tour has received very little publicity because of the big shadow cast by the prominence of the Kokoda Track/Trail enterprise. The whole Kokoda thing was raised to its current prominence by Paul Keating's Prime Ministerial visit, aided by the earnest zeal of the pioneer Track tour-promoter- who espouses the cause of the villagers along the track as a prime driver of his enterprise. The publicity so generated has created the erroneous belief that the Track-side and Kokoda villagers are the only descendents of the "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels." This is a point recently repeated with laboured and entirely ignorant emphasis. In fact the "fuzzies" who, like a great many of the first wave of Australian soldiers to hit the Track, were conscripts, not volunteers, came from all along the coast of Papua from the Fly through the Gulf and Central Districts, on past Milne Bay and East Cape to the Islands. The "Track" villagers and all the people of the Northern Division, old and young alike, suffered the brunt of the Japanese invasion and subsequent campaigns, the danger and the disruption. Many of the men of the Division served with the Allies, too; but they were by no means alone in this.

1 comment:

  1. Malum,
    Interesting thoughts on the role Kokoda plays in the life of Australians. Like Gallipoli this has fallen victim to the adventure tour market. The vast majority of Australians that take on the challenge of Kokoda do so for the right reasons and that is to honor the men who fought on this piece of turf, be they Australian, Papua New Guinean or even Japanese. Kokoda is special on many fronts not lease of all because of the use of Conscripts. These conscripts were supposed to be only used in the Defence of Australia. To many this was taken to be the mainland, with PNG being an Australian protectorate the men could and were sent north of the cape, many found this to be unfair and deceitful. I am an ex-Serviceman who has served overseas in Iraq, Africa and the Pacific and have a deep seated respect for those who have played a role in conflict. My grandfather also fought here in PNG and for this I am very proud.

    I have gone to the Lae cemetery and commend those responsible for maintaining this piece of sacred ground; they are doing a great job. I have walked the Bulldog track and recommend this to anyone who wants to better understand the difficulties of building a road through this part of the country, not to mention the amazing terrain that you get to traverse.

    Kokoda is important in Australia’s military and social histories as are many other sites in PNG and the world. The Australians were the first fighting force to defeat the Japanese, on land, at Milne Bay. Milne Bay could easily have been the point to where the middle class of Australia start their pilgrimage if only an adventure tour operator had focused on this area.