“The Kokoda Trek for Hope adventure in April was just sensational,” said Peter Cleave, Development Manager (Special Projects), based in Sydney.
“The scenery was spectacular, the people fantastic, and the historical significance of commemorating 75 years since the Kokoda Campaign and The Salvation Army’s “Sallyman” serving the troops there, just added a very special element to the trip. It was emotionally and physically challenging but, like anything that is significant and difficult, the reward of finishing it was just great. The whole trek was amazing and definitely worth doing.”
Trekker Lana Richardson agrees.
“It was a fantastic thing to do with The Salvation Army,” she said. “They were here with our soldiers from the start and to see the impact they would’ve made with their cuppas and chats, and to raise money for them now, has been an absolute privilege. It’s also been a privilege to be on Kokoda where my two grandfathers served. It’s been a really big thing for me, and I’m grateful.”
At the beginning of the adventure in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, some of the trekkers spent the day at The Salvation Army’s Hope House and HIV clinic, observing the work that is done there.
Peter and Brian Hallett, Salvation Army Community Relations Director based in Melbourne, presented Colonel Kelvin Alley, PNG Territorial Commander, with a cheque for $10,000 for The Salvation Army’s work in the PNG Territory, on behalf of the Salvos Trekking team.
The team set off on the 96km Kokoda Track on 20 April, crossing mountain ridges and traversing dense tropical rainforest, encouraging each other to keep going and not give up. “Only about 1km in total of the track is flat, so now we have a much greater understanding of what the soldiers who fought here had to endure,” said Peter. “Every trekker completed the track!”
Several trekkers had relatives who’d fought on the Kokoda Track in WWII – some were buried at the Bomana Cemetery at the southern end of the Kokoda Track near Port Moresby, others were never found, and a few returned to Australia after the war.
Several of the trekkers were family groups, including Gary James with his son, Brad.
Gary’s uncles Joseph “Digger” James, 26, and Edward “Eddie” James, 19, were killed in combat on the track. Each were Privates in the 2/25th Infantry Battalion. Gary and Brad walked close to the spot where Eddie was first buried, prior to his body being moved to the Bomana War Cemetery, where they also laid poppies on his grave. Sadly, Digger’s body has never been found. In a very special moment for everyone, the father-son team placed some poppies near the trees where Eddie and other brave soldiers were killed.
The maternal grandfather of Lieutenant Mark Townsend, Inner City Network Chaplain based in Sydney, had served on the Kokoda Track. Mark took his grandfather’s diary on the trek and was able to follow in his footsteps and read his grandfather’s accounts of what they had experienced in different places along the track.
“It’s been so special to be in the area where my grandfather saw action, and share this space with him,” said Mark, in an interview taken on the trek. “It’s driven me on to put one step in front of the other A really brilliant day.”
As the team passed through different villages, people would come out and welcome them. “In the evenings as we set up for the night, women from the local villages would come down and sing to us,” shared Peter. “Our porters would also sing as we trekked. Singing is such a part of the culture and was a special part of the trek. The villagers have so little materially, and yet they are so happy.”
Several of the porters’ fathers and grandfathers were among the original “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” – the name given by Australian soldiers to a group of Papua New Guinean people who, during World War Two, assisted and escorted injured Australian troops down the Kokoda trail.
Commemorating Anzac Day at Brigade Hill was, for many of the trekkers, one of the trip’s highlights. “For me, it was one of the most moving and memorable Anzac Day ceremonies ever,” said Peter. “On the afternoon before Anzac Day, women and children from local villages sang a special song of welcome and thanks, written just for our group and those we were remembering, and one of the tribal elders spoke, thanking our group, the troops who had fought on the trek, and the Sallymen who had served them.”
Trekker Daniel Johns, whose grandfather fought in PNG, spoke about the Anzac Day service at its conclusion. “It was a touching morning, we heard some beautiful stories and remembered the great men who came here and fought for our country. My grandfather was one of them; he did his part and I thought about him, and my family, during the service. This has definitely warranted me coming here. I hope his presence stays with me and my team here during the rest of the trek. We’re going to get through this together.”
Trekker Rebecca Davidson described her experience of Kokoda as “awesome”. “You can’t buy this sort of experience,” she shared. “It was a great trek by everyone. I’ve made new friends, new memories and it was just awesome.”
The next Trek for Hope adventure will be in Sri Lanka, from 19-29 October. In 2018 the destination is the Great Wall of China, and in 2019, it’s back to the Kokoda Trail.