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Kokoda Trail – by Mollie Emery

The Australian Spirit

The Australian Spirit. A spirit that lives in every Australian past and present, dormant until the time to muster courage is required. That spirit use to run through this country as if it were an epidemic, perhaps something waterborne, that called upon neighbour to help neighbour, Australian to help fellow Australian. Living in this modern society the spirit no longer runs as true, being an adolescent I can see the ways in which Australia has taken a turn from that once thick, inherent nature, the Australian spirit waiting to be rekindled.

Most would say that the days where the Spirit was most embraced was the time of the Australian Digger, like those men who fought on the Kokoda trail. Those men were fighting to protect the Australian spirit and all that it stood for; courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. With the battle of the Kokoda Trail so important to Australia’s history, it was my mission to go back to where Australian heroes fought, died and conquered, to protect and preserve what it is to be Australian.

The Kokoda trail for me, was an experience that I cannot describe in a statement like “it was amazing!” because simply the ability to walk is amazing, but it can be shared through explanation of experience; whether it be crying because a village had walked 2 hours in the dark to sing me happy birthday, or playing football with local villagers, finding a boy on the side of the road holding a puppy while his parents work in the banana plantation below, the pride seen in those who sing the Papua New Guinea national anthem, an old woman in a village who gave me a sun flower so I could remember how my spirit grew like a flower in the summer or whether it be the bond I made with the people, the trail, the bird calls and the smell of Papua New Guinea which not even my washing machine can remove.

Standing at the memorial of Isurava on the 8th day of the trek in the late evening, Papua New Guinea does what it is known for; drop temperature and let the mist start rolling in. As I stand on the steps that lead to a vision of valleys and mountains, which have been set alight with colours of the sunset, many of us trekkers feel as though we are being watched. Not watched in a startling sense, but as if we were being watched over by something much bigger than ourselves, a history of a nation and its spirit sleeping in the bed of the earth beneath our feet ready to be uncovered by young Australians like ourselves.

I remember the mist slowly consuming us and an unusual sense of pride and grief running through me. It almost felt as if the mist was the breath of those diggers from 75 years ago, the Australian spirit left behind to bury its way into our souls, to fill our lungs and become our very bones.

In the morning we wake to a magnificent sunrise during the dawn service. As the bugle plays on a modern Bluetooth speaker, no emotion is left untouched. Within that moment I had discovered what it is to be Australian, the last post an ancient hymn that had been calling to me through the universe, ready to find me at that moment.

To be Australian is to do your best. To help as many as you can. To remember what had been sacrificed so we can live with dignity. To be Australian is realise that life is a privilege not a right. To recognise that the earth does not belong to us, but we belong to earth.

Even before my journey on the Kokoda trail had begun, before I ran through the KOKODA trail arches, I realise now that I had experienced the Australian spirit within all the support I gained from friends, family, mentors and Gosford RSL club. To believe in others, in this life itself, is what being Australian encapsulates.

I have heard many times that “there is no mate like an Australian mate” and I think this best sums up my experience on the Kokoda trail. In the end it is not about all the tears, all the mud or the sweat, it’s about who was there with you and who stands with you to help you through it. Walking in the digger’s footsteps, up those broken back mountains it feels as though they pushed us up there, with toothy grins and freckled faces, those Australian diggers patted us on the back with big raindrops that pushed us harder and applauded us at the end with greetings from villagers and their families.

I will never forget what those men did for us and I will always remember the rivers being veins that flow, the mountains being heads that rest in peace, for peace. Lest We Forget their epitaph of measure, a legacy that is instilled in us all; The Australian Spirit.

collage showing images from the Kokoda trail
The Kokoda Trail – amazing photographs above sourced from Adventure Kokoda’s facebook page.