As a living, breathing war memorial, the Kokoda Track is unique.
Trekking and tourism annually generates around $1.8 million which is shared amongst the villages along the track. Around 4000 Australians trek the Kokoda Track each year, according to Professor Jack Carlsen from Curtin University’s Sustainable Tourism Centre.
When the young, untried soldiers of the 39th Battalion confronted the seemingly invincible forces of the Imperial Japanese Army on the Kokoda Track in 1942, little did they know the legacy they would leave for future generations.
Like no other war memorial in the world, it is no sombre granite edifice, no sea of marble headstones or white crosses – the Kokoda Track is 96km of mud and gnarled tree roots, hugged by dense, green jungle, blanketed by heavy humidity and soaked by tropical rain.
But there is also great beauty.
In a high mountain village, trekkers are treated to the spectacle of the rising sun illuminating the cloud base far below as it makes islands of the mountain peaks, lapping around them in a sea of white spun silk.
Looking like nature’s avatars, vivid blue and yellow butterflies flit through the dense green of the jungle. They appear so sharp against the backdrop that they look out of place, as if they have been computer generated.
Since the establishment of the Kokoda Track Authority in 2002, more than 30,000 trekkers have walked the track, their ages ranging from 12-years-old to over 80.
I walked it with 62-year-old trek leader, Jim Drapes, of Brisbane-based Back Track Adventures. As a trek leader, Jim has crossed the track 28 times in the past decade and was on the track again in November to commemorate Kokoda’s 70th anniversary.
“Those who prepare for the track will be rewarded,” Jim says.
“The fitter you are, the better you are able to take in the experience, both at an historical and also an environmental level.
“The track passes through a beautiful, dramatic landscape as you walk up and over the Owen Stanley Ranges.”
The spirit lives on!
The Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF) is an Australian philanthropic organisation which aims to repay the help given to Australian soldiers during World War II by the people of the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea.
Established in 2003, the goal of the KTF is to improve the lives of the descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
In the 70th anniversary year of the Kokoda Campaign, the KTA expanded its programs in education, health, community development and micro-business training, working in 40 villages along the track.
The ongoing work includes:
- Providing 3,500 solar lights, one to every adult living along the track.
- Supporting more than 350 primary, secondary, and tertiary students on Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Scholarships.
- Providing elementary, primary, and secondary schools with educational resources and infrastructure support.
- Helping train 60 elementary school teachers and a number of primary teachers, in association with PNG education authorities.
- With Rotary Australia, the foundation has delivered 80 classrooms worth of furniture to 21 schools.
- Continuing the Archer Leadership Scholars Program, a scholarship awarded annually to six PNG tertiary students.
- Helping provide vital, village-based healthcare.
- In partnership with Rotary Australia, the KTF has provided 100 hospital beds to hospitals and health centres.
For more information, visit The Kokoda Track Foundation
Continued from: Kokoda Part 1: The Legacy of Kokoda
All Photos © Vincent Ross – All Rights Reserved