Adventure Kokoda

Diggers Poems & Stories

Digger Poems

Over the years I have spoken to many veteran groups about Kokoda. A few days later I invariably receive a story or a poem that somebody had filed away amongst their belongings long ago. On other occasions I have found them in a battalion history that captures a moment or an experience.

More recently I have led journalists, authors, television and film producers across the Trail. I often ask them how they are going to capture the conditions and the experience in their writing or filming when they get home. Their response is always the same: 'You can't really - can you?'

Kokoda is a journey that has to be experienced to be appreciated. There is no other way!

The following poems are the Diggers own attempts to describe the Trail and the campaign in which they fought. There are also a few from trekkers I have led who have attempted to do the same.

Charlie Lynn

Every soldier/father who has ever left Australia for active service overseas will relate to the emotive farewell described by soldier-poet, Bert Beros, as he left his family to defend his beloved country:


A Soldiers Farewell to his Son

I stand and watch you, little son,
Your bosom's rise and fall,
An old rag dog beside your cheek,
A gayly coloured ball.
Your curly hair is ruffled as you
Rest there fast asleep,
And silently I tip-toe in
To have one last long peep.

I come to say farewell to you,
My little snowy son.
And as I do I hope that you will
Never slope a gun,
Or hear dive-bombers and
Their dreadful whining roar,
Or see or feel their loads of death
As overhead they soar.

I trust that you will never need
To go abroad to fight,
Or learn the awful lesson soon
That might to some is right,
Or see your cobbers blown to scraps
Or die a lingering death,
with vapours foul and filthy
When the blood-flow chokes the breath.

I hope that you will never know
The dangers of the sea.

And that is why I leave you now
To hold your liberty,
To slay the demon War God
I must leave you for a while
In mother's care - till stars again
From peaceful heaven smile.

Your mother is your daddy now,
To guard your little ways,
Yet ever I'll be thinking of you both
In future days.
I must give up your tender years,
The joys I'll sorely miss,
My little man, farewell, so long,
I leave you with a kiss.

by Sapper Bert Beros

ANZAC

Gallipoli is regarded as the baptism of our nation. If this is so then Kokoda was our confirmation. Dame Mary Gilmore wrote the following poem at the beginning of World War 11 when our troops were again committed to a European theatre of operations and our own homeland was under threat of invasion. It was sent to me by my Parliamentary colleague, The Hon Catherine Cusack MLC:

 

No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest

Sons of the mountains of Scotland,

Welshman of coomb and defile,

Breed of the moors of England,

Children of Erin's green isle,

We stand four square to the tempest,

Whatever the battering hail -

No foe shall gather our harvest,

Or sit on our stockyard rail.

 

Our women shall walk in honour,

Our children shall know no chain,

This land, that is ours forever,

The invader shall strike at in vain.

Anzac!...Tobruk!...and Kokoda!...

Could ever the old blood fail?

No foe shall gather our harvest,

Or sit on our stockyard rail.

 

So hail-fellow-met we muster,

And hail-fellow-met fall in,

Wherever the guns may thunder,

Or the rocketing air-mail spin!

Born of the soil and the whirlwind,

Though death itself be the gale -

No foe shall gather our harvest

Or sit on our stockyard rail.

 

We are the sons of Australia,

Of the men who fashioned the land;

We are the sons of the women

Who walked with them hand in hand;

And we swear by the dead who bore us,

By the heroes who blazed the trail,

No foe shall gather our harvest,

Or sit on our stockyard rail.

 

KOKODA

I have trekked Kokoda 49 times - in both the wet and dry season - by day and night. Even now I still cannot comprehend how our Diggers could have survived month after month of the wartime deprivations and horrors of the Trail. Only those who have trekked it will ever relate to the observations of Private H. McLaren in his recollection of crossing the Owen Stanleys:


The Crossing of the Owen Stanley Range

Now you mightn't believe what I'm saying,
You may think that I've never been
Through the hell that I am trying to picture
As a vile and frightful scene,
For I've seen men tired and exhausted
And hardly able to walk
I've seen them that weary and weathered, that they couldn't be bothered to talk.
With their eyes wild and starey, their faces haggard and worn,
They'd sit on the side of a native pad, and wish they'd never been born.
I've seen them that sick and despondent, that with never a sign of mirth,
They'd wish they were down with Satan, instead of this hell on earth,
Straining, Sweating, swearing, climbing the mountain side,
'Just five minutes to the top'; my God how that fellow lied,
Splashing through mud and water, stumbling every yard
One falls by the wayside when the going is extra hard
On and on they keep climbing, hour after hour of toil
And when the word comes back to halt, they collapse on the muddy soil,
Now it might sound fantastic to the man that's never been
Over that rough and tortuous mountain track, through the jungle evergreen.

So all you who don't believe me, who think it all sounds strange
Just go yourself and try the crossing of the Owen Stanley Range,

Then when you are in the mountains high, say 7,000 feet,
Any you're expecting any moment the Japanese to meet
When you're weary, tired and hungry and wet and cold and cramped
You start to think of home and of the places here you've camped.
When you think of a warming fire, and the meal that's hot and big
Then sigh and pick up a shovel and a slit trench you start to dig.
Then perhaps you'll agree, that it isn't quite so strange
These things that I have told you, of the crossing of the Owen Stanley Range.

We look around our numbers, and search for familiar faces
But find that they are missing, not in their usual places
So we've often thought and have often prayed
For those unsung heroes, those mates of ours that stayed
Back there within God's keeping, but with a cross to mark
The spot where they are lying, in the jungle grim and dark
So I ask you all to say a prayer for those who won't come back
Those gallant chaps who fought and died on the Owen Stanley Track.

By H. McLaren

One of the most common refrains I hear is 'my father / uncle / grandfather served up there but he never spoke about it'. Beverly Partridge, a writer and poet, trekked it with me in 1995. She is the daughter of a Kokoda veteran and the wife of a career army officer. Bev captures the spirit of the refrains in a story she submitted to a writing competition:


Back on Track

You can almost taste the salt in the air this morning. Haze hangs in a heavy veil over the sea while the waves upsurge then dive into the sand with constant savagery. Crashing like my thoughts, one into another, blatant and uncontrollable. I feel the hardness of the park seat press my suyit trousers against ageing bones, while fingers of cool air slip around my collar and I momentarily shiver. On the surface I appear as calm as the sea around the Long Reef headland up there in the distance

Every Anzac Day it's the same. Churns up your stomach. Makes you remember. Releases the monster of memory to reek havoc with your sanity until you can chain it up again in some dark corner of the mind.

A young bloke gave the address at Dee Why this morning. Some local dignitary. Seems they get younger every year. Has never been to war by the look of him. Not that I'd wish trhat on any one, but it had riled mea a bit. His words had flowed articulately with the right amount of solemnity, but they seemed so devoid of... feeling.

Well, what did I expect? Unless you were there, how could anyone ever relate to what we experienced? But his workds had droned on and on. Droning, droning until I could hear the plane engines growing louder and louder, droppoing bombs into dense jungle along the Kokoda Track while we tensed and waited for the earth to shudder. Then clenching our teeth while the air vibrated with cracking sounds as the Japandes fired at us through the trees.

Mind you, it wasn't just the Japanese we had to contend with. Other enemies came in disguise like the bloody mosquitos that nearly drove us mad when they descended at dusk and dawn with poisonous injections of malaria. I've seen men shiver uncontrollably, some even hallucinate, and we'd bee pretty dedicated aobut taking our anti-malarial medication, but even that didn't give us full protection.

Then there was the mud. Mud, sucking at our boots trying to wrench them from our feet. Thick slimy slippery muc. We slept in it, fought in it and some died in it. Stinking mud. And it never dried out. Never stopped raining long enough for that. Most of us developed ulcers from cuts that got infected. The place was seething with fungal infections that ate away at our flesh. Some of the blokes could put a finger through the top of their foot and it'd come out the bottom. Sickening sights of the tropics that will never leave me.

After the service, my mates were talking about going back up there in July for the 50th Anniversary, Australia Remembers. Said they were going by ship and were going to be flown into the airstrip at the village of Kokoda for the unveiling of memorial. Of course, there's no way they'd be walking the Track now. It's too gruelling and they're too old.

Sometimes I wonder if Australia does remember. I never heard much about the 50th Anniversary of the New Guinea campaigns in 1992. Most people don't even realise it was the Australians in New Guinea who were the first to repel the Japanese during World War 11 and that it all happened on their own doorstep - where we were fighting to maintain Australia's freedom!

I know I sound bitter. I'm not. I'm just disappointed there has been so little in school books for the kids to learn about their own country's history. Perhaps, one day, that might change.

The haze over the sea has cleared and I'm starting to feel the bite of the sun. Not that I need any more sunspots burned off. The specialist says a lot of the damage was done by the time I was twenty-five. Makes sense, expecially when I think of how exposed we were in the high altitude on the Kokoda Track and how, after the clouds had been burned away by mid-morning, the sun would beat down without mercy, drying us out from the inside and weakening men who were already fatigued and starving. When it beat down into the kunai grass that stood as tall as a man, prickling and scratching at him, enveloping him until he wanted to scream.

Lying there, ever ready for battle, water bottle empty and no chance of further water supplies because it was too far from any creek. Lying in wait like a snake, staring at the sun. Listening for the enemy. Then hearing their boots scraping through the long grass and the sound of their laboured breaths as they crept closer. And then dodging bullets, and dragging our wounded mates as the Japanese over-ran us, six to one. But both sides were weakened because of the difficulty of getting supplies through. No side took prisoners and the hostile environment of the Owen Stanleys took no side.

But one thing none of us could have foreseen was the behaviour of our own wharfies! Here we were earning five bob a day and being shot at while they were safe and sound back home, striking and whingeing for more pay while we were sometimes nearly starving. What a comparison when the Yanks arrived. They were really looked after! We heard later that they had ice cream and steak back at their bases. We couldn't believe it.

I couldn't believe being home again either. After Kokoda, some of us were sent down to fight in the Gona/Buna campaign, and then, at last, we were shipped home. I remember sitting for weeks on end, totally exhausted and finding it difficult to relate to those around me. I'd wake up in the night in a dreadful sweat and it would take some time before I realised that I was in my own bed. The curtains had become close impenetrable jungle and the bedclothes appeared as twisted tree roots and slithering snakes.

There were many times when my wife's worried expressions caused me some anguish, but I was simply unable to discuss me feelings with her. Other men I spoke to around that time had said the same thing. We just felt civvies wouldn't understand. But after that, on Anzac Day each year, we stopped discussing it amongst ourselves and all we wanted to remember were the lighter moments and outrageous antics of the larrikins in our battalion. We felt safe then, hiding behind the laughter.

The kids have been at me for a while now, to write all this down. They reckon when blokes like me die, there'll be no one around to tell the story. And what about the grand children, they ask. They mean well, I suppose. They seemed happy when I sold the house and moved down here into a unit about a year after their mum died. They said a smaller place and no maintenance was just the thing. You'll probably want to join the Senior Citizens Club, and just think of all the outings you'll be able to go on. Besides, the sea air will do you good, Dad.
You can see my place from here. Over there, at the end of Oaks Avenue. And not a bad view along the beach, you know. I might sit out on my balcony to have lunch today. It's going on for twelve now, so I'd better be getting back.

I suppose there might be something in what they say about writing down my war experiences. Perhaps after lunch. Yes. After lunch.

I wonder how I should begin?

by Beverley Partridge

We will never appreciate the stress of a forward scout on jungle patrol. Kokoda provides the ultimate camoflage for snipers. The Japanese were fanatical and willing to die for their Emperor. It was a lethal environment for a scout who knew he would be the first hit with an enemy bullet or booby trap. His mates on patrol would have their senses tuned to high alert to detect signs of imminent danger and provide instinctive cover. War correspondent, Osmar White, reported the most frustrating complaint of our wounded diggers was 'you can't see the little bastards!'

 

Jungle Patrol

With sense keen all nerves alert.
we move along the track,
with weapons gripped in ready hands,
all ready for the trap;
That the lurking foe might choose to make,
to take us by surprise,
Not a palm frond sway, or a falling leaf,
escapes our watchful eyes.

Not a word is spoken as we file along,
unbroken the jungle's gloom.
Heavy the humid sultry air,
with a sense of impending doom.
No sunlight streams through the forest aisles,
that tangle of lush green hell.
Where the struggling vines festoon the trees,
in confusion we know so well.

Tensed for the impact of a shot,
from a hidden sniper's lair.
Ready for the deadly booby traps
to take the innocents unaware.
Scanning the tops of nearby trees,
ready to clear the track.
And reply with chattering Owen gun,
to the sniping rifle's crack.

The soft deep mould, the clinging mud,
that stench of rotting leaves.
the reek of death as silent forms,
the foe behind them leave.
Unburied there beside the track,
their conquering days are o'er.
They'll know their land of cherry trees,
their island den no more.

The forward scout drops swiftly,
in the shadows near the track.
A group of Jap-built huts he's seen,
and swift the word comes back.
We fan out from the narrow trail,
leave some to watch our flank,
and sneak upon those rude grass huts,
through jungle green and dank.

We work in pairs from hut to hut,
find trace of recent foe.
Black fires still warm, and half cooked rice,
on cautious way we go.
A sudden roar as a lone sick Jap,
holds grenade against his chest,
thinking he'll take us with him too,
to that heathen warrior's rest.

No wonder we're callous, hard at heart,
no pity for the wounded Jap.
Many a brave Australian life,
was taken by the same trap.
No wonder we're know as a cut-throat bunch,
who no tender mercies feel,
and put Jap wounded out of pain,
with a shot, or the cold blue steel.
Discarded clothing strewn around,
cooking utensils, food.
In a hurry he'd left his jungle camp,
as his privacy we intrude.
Picks and shovels, odd shaped boots,
in fifth and mire they lie.
While overall lies that foul Jap stench,
we pass with a thankful sigh.

The endless trail winds ever on,
cross gorges wild and deep.
O'er perilous bridges of swaying vines,
our eyes alert we keep.
Round mountain side and cliff high face,
where torrents far below,
race on their swift and turbulent way
as down chasms deep they flow.

Slowly the jungle paths grow dim,
as the evening hours drag on.
When an open patch of Kunai grass,
our tired eyes rest upon.
When we've searched its flanks for a hidden foe,
and found not one Jap in sight,
we spread out in a well armed ring
for another jungle night.

by Corporal Peter Coverdale

 

After the Australians were forced to abandon Isurava and execute a fighting withdrawal back along the Trail Laurie Howson of the 39th Battalion wrote in his diary:

'The days go on. You are trying to survive, shirt torn, arse out of your pants, whiskers a mile long, hungry and a continuous line of stretchers with wounded carried by 'Fuzzy-Wuzzies' doing a marvellous job. Some days you carry your boots because there's no skin on your feet. But when I look around at some of the others - hell! They look crook! Then I have seen the time when you dig a number of holes in the ground and bury your dead. Nothing would be said, but you would think 'maybe it will be my time next."

 

The Crosses on the Track

We pass the crude wood crosses
On the wild Kokoda trail,
They mark the graves of soldiers
Who have died that we won't fail;
Australia mourns her sons to-day,
Who were so strong and manly,
They sailed away with buoyant hearts,
To die on the Owen Stanley.
They're resting on a jungle peak,
'Neath canopy of trees,
And near them, just beside the track,
Are graves of Japanese
Who met our men in battle for
Their greater Asia plan
And now beneath the jungle,
Lies a dream of old Japan.
Destroyed by sons of Aussie
When they met the Rising Sun.
Rest on, rest on, Young Anzacs,
Yours is a job well done.
So we leave you on the mountain,
With its canopy of cloud,
As the leafy boughs hang o'er you -
An everlasting shroud.

Sapper Bert Beros

 

One of the granite pillars at Isurava has the work 'mateship' inscribed on it. When Private Bruce Kingsbury VC was shot by a sniper after an instinctive heroic action that saved his battalion from a perilous situation, the first to reach him was his life-long friend Alan Avery. The moment is captured in a poem by Sergeant Bede Tongs of the 3rd Battalion:

What do you say to a dying man?

What do you day to a dying man,
Do you call him Bob, or Digger, or Mate?
As you look down at the face you knew so well,
And the look in his eyes says, "It's late",
You remember your first hand-shake,
On a troop train going to war,
Training in various military camps,
Wallgrove, Greta, Ingleburn, Bathurst and more,
To have tired muscles,
To go hungry. Thirst
And the pub - the Duke of York
Where we had our last beers
Before leaving Australia's fair shores.


A fleeting sad glimpse of his loved ones,
You knew that from being his friend,
And you know that if you happen to survive this onslaught,
They will surely ask you of his life's end.
Just three minutes ago he was so full of life,
Firing his bren from the hip,
The platoon attacking as it had many times before,
When all of a sudden - he's hit!
A Japanese sniper, so deadly,
Fires from a dark weapon pit,
And my best mate falls close to my feet.

"Tell them I tried" he said,
My words of goodbye froze on my lips.

by Sergeant Bede Tongs

The four granite pillars comprising the memorial at Isurava each have a single word inscribed on them: Courage - Mateship - Endurance - Sacrifice. Darryl Hackett, a trekker with Adventure Kokoda reflected on their meaning:

AT ISURAVA

At Isurava’s sacred ground,
We four in gathering darkness come,
To sit before the stones around,
Amidst the jungle’s nightly hum.
The pillars lit by our torches glow,
We can but sit in silent stare,
For each one sees, each one knows,
Those long gone Diggers still are there.

By ‘COURAGE’, in his weapons pit,
A wounded man with rifle still,
Tells his mate ‘I’ll hang on a bit’
Maintains his vigil down the hill.
He knows for each that leaves these heights Another man must get the call, So for the moment ‘She’ll be right’
The wound’s not that bad, after all.

Near ‘ENDURANCE’, slouch hat tilted style, A soldier lights another smoke, Held within the tired smile, He flashes at some boyish joke.
What next? He’s scarce the strength to care, Now defend, or now attack, As weary legs once more prepare, To move him out along the track.

And over there by ‘MATESHIP’ stands,
A Digger, eyes that hardly see,
The mug he holds in trembling hands,
As his mate pours out a well earned tea.
‘Rest easy dig, you’re right you know,
Take a pew and quench your thirst.
‘Coz any Jap that wants a go,
Will bloody have to go me first!!

By ‘SACRIFICE’ on a litter lies,
A mother’s one and only child.
Quiet and pale, no more he cries,
No more his young eyes looking wild.
He has found the peace of Angels now,
And told to her the job he’s done,
On the reddened, crumpled pages, now
The last letter of a mother’s son.

And they’re all the same an ‘X’ or nay,
As they gather in the swirling mist,
Amongst these stones here, to this day,
Their ageless spirits still exist.
So in this solemn, sacred place,
Kokoda nestled far below.
Forget them not, the human face,
Of a story that we all should know.

Darryl Hackett
June '06

One of the great difficulties faced by the commanders and the diggers was the lack of understanding of the conditions by higher command back in the relative comfort and safety of Australia. The armchair strategists simply had no understanding of the conditions or of the overwhelming odds they faced. A number ventured to Port Moresby and went as far as the start of the Trail at Ower's Corner - had a bit of a geek - and went back as an expert! None of them ever went on the actual track.

One of these was the Minister for the Army, The Hon Frank Forde MP. When the diggers heard he had been, and gone, they recorded their impressions of his visit:

Fearless Frankie Forde


"A bunch of Nips were whooping it up down the old Kokoda Track
And things were looking grim for us with our boys falling back,
So a call went out for a superman to halt the enemy horde,
A message was sent to Canberra, "Send Fearless Frankie Forde."

And Fearless Frank flung down his pen and he donned his old topee,
He crammed a brief case full of reports and up the Track strode he.
Up through the mud and slush and rain he climbed on that fateful day,
'Till he reached a point where the enemy were a short five miles away.
And he stood on the Track with his hat turned back and boldly shouted, "Shooo!"
And all that stood between him and the foe was a fighting Brigade or two.

That was the end of things for the Japs the men who fought there tell,
How the infantry heard the sound of the "Shooo!" and each man muttered "Hell!"
So they closed with the Sons of Nippon and sent them reeling back,
In disarray and sad dismay up the old Kokoda Track.
"We'd rather fight," said the Infantry, "than stand around and be bored"
"By a sheaf of reports and a two-hour speech from Fearless Frankie Forde."

by Private John Quinn

Kokoda Trail Walking Wounded


War weary haggard, they stumble on,
back down that winding trail.
To reach Ilola far away, they know
that they must not fail.
Staggering on with a face like death,
the walking wounded go,
Their wounds roughbound and stained with blood,
their faltering steps go slow.

Resting at wayside R.A.P.s,
then back on that hideous track.
That sprawls across those jagged hills,
their food on deep bowed backs.
And leaning on stout helping staffs,
they limp on their weary way,
To reach McDonalds rubber grove,
where their salvation waits.

Passing Myola's tangled hell,
and climbing the Golden Stair,
Where every step means a twinge of pain,
and their faces line with care.
Tottering down steep Imita Ridge,
their bearded features worn,
Slashed by many a sword edged leaf,
and scratched by many a thorn.

Not a word they speak, or a word to greet
the men that they sometimes see,
Striding on, back up the trail,
with steps so strong and free,
Once they too, were fighting fit,
and eager for the fray,
But wounds and fever intervened,
sent them on their homeward way.

The shadows of death in many a facr,
looms dark as they slowly went,
Down that cursed trail so deep with mud,
their clothes all soiled and rent,
Weapons and gear all cast away,
to make their burden light,
Striving to reach the R.A.P., ere
caught in the jungle night.

Slowly the walking wounded stream,
firm with a strong resolve,
to reach that pathway's bitter end,
though death does sometimes solve
The anguish of some wounded lad,
as his legs beneath him fail
And he joins his mates who died up there,
on that grim Kokoda Trail.

Corporal Peter Coverdale


The supply situation for our diggers along the Trail was desperate after most of the transport aircraft were destroyed in a bombing raid on Jackson's Airport at Port Moresby. Thousands of native carriers were enlisted to carry urgently needed supplies foward. On the return jouney they would often come across a wounded digger who go not further. Even though they were suffering greatly themselves they would gather round and build a rough stretcher. They would them form themselves into a teak and commit to carrying their wounded patient back to safety. The journey took sometimes took up to three weeks. One of the diggers carried out was Sapper Bert Beros who penned the following poem whilst he was recovering in hospital after his ordeal:

The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels

Many a mother in Australia,
When the busy day is done,
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
For the keeping of her son,
Asking that an Angel guide him
And bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
Up on the Kokoda Track,
Though they haven't any halos,
Only holes slashed in the ears,
And with faces worked with tattoos,
With scratch pins in their hair,
Bringing back the wounded,
Just as steady as a hearse,
Using leaves to keep the rain off
And as gentle as a nurse.

Slow and steady in bad places,
On the awful mountain track,
And the look upon their faces,
Makes us think that Christ was black,
Not a move to hurt the wounded,
As they treat him like a Saint,
It's a picture worth recording,
That an Artist's yet to paint.
Many a lad will see his Mother,
And the Husbands, wee ones and Wives,
Just because the Fuzzy Wuzzy
Carried them out to save their lives.

From mortar or machine gun fire,
Or a chance surprise attack,
To safety and the care of Doctors,
At the bottom of the track.
May the mothers of Australia,
When they offer up a prayer,
Mention those impromptu Angels,
With the Fuzzy Wuzzy hair.

by Sapper Bert Beros


How they managed to carry these stretchers over the mountains and across the raging rivers is almost impossible to comprehend. Corporal Coverdale:


Native Stretcher Bearers

There's a stretcher coming down there lads,
stand back and give them room,
We move close to the edge of the muddy track,
in the jungle's rain soaked gloom.
We see those boongs tail down the track,
with a stretcher held high aloft.
Banana leaves spread o'er a wounded lad,
a pillow of kunai soft.

The horrors of war still show in his eye,
his haggard features pale,
Thankful to be in kindly hands
on that steep and winding trail,
That crawls around the mountain side,
and gorges wild and deep,
Bridges of swaying slender vines,
span these chasms so dark and steep.

Misplaced step means a fatal plunge,
to the rivers far below,
But clambering on through knee-deep mud,
on sure footed way they go.
Muscles bulge under ebony skin,
as they climb over rocks and logs
Sometimes sinking to heaving chests,
in the treacherous loathsome bogs.

Still keeps that stretcher safe and sound,
never a jolt or lurch.
The poles cut deep in to shoulders black,
but never a word of hurt.
Perspiration streams unending,
down each savage tattooded face,
But never a halt for a rest they take,
their burden had pride of place.

From the frontline bloodsoaked R.A.P.
where their wounds are quickly dressed,
By doctors and first aid men
with the gift of mercy blest.
To the C.C.S. at the nearest point,
to where the jeeps can climb,
They carry their burden tenderly,
all the way from the forward line.

And there's many a mother far away,
and many an anxious wife,
Has cause to thank the lowly boong,
for her dear one's chance of life.
In the halls of fame their names will live,
and as long as Australia stands,
We'll honour that brave and loyal boong,
those sons of a wild strange land.

by Corporal Peter Coverdale

 

To our eternal shame successive Australian governments have never issued these 'fuzzy wuzzy angels' with a medal for their service. Those who have trekked across the Trail in recent years are ashamed and appalled by this omission. Unfortunately the ignorance of the bureaucrats seems to be as great today as it was in 1942 - some things never change!

Kokoda

Long days in brooding jungle,
With never a glimpse of sky,
Pale phosphorescent gleaming,
As fire-flies flutter by;
Then from the gloom emerging -
Kokoda lies below,
a prospect of enchantment
And scented breezes blow.

Kokoda - wild and lovely -
Where fairies seem to stray,
And Mountain streams make music,
As in the glen they play.
Now war has come to blast you
With bomb and shell and flame -
Yet flowers some woman planted,
Are blooming just the same -
Like symbol of the beauty,
Awaiting our return,
To well-remembered places,
Where home fires brightly burn.

by Sapper Bert Beros

 

Beverley Partridge knew she had to trek across Kokoda to understand the father she never really knew. There was no counselling for our young diggers when they returned from the horrors they experienced during the campaign. She often felt he had left his spirit on Kokoda and it was waiting their for her:

Waiting

He knew I would come, had always known
So he lay there, resting, while maggots feasted
on his flesh, and I, inexorable drawn to him,
took an age to comprehend
while he waited.

Preparation, in rain and sun, muscles honed
and lonely hours on the road - to build
an inner strength. The toll I paid in full
to prove good faith.

As time grew near, with patience put to test,
he wandered in his sleep. I saw him, in the sunlight
opaque as glass - etched upon my study wall.
His head was turned. I couldn't see his face -
walking up a mountain, showing me
the place where I could go.

Muddied and torn, his uniform,
tin hat and pack are clearly in my mind.
His body tired and thin, a dignity and steady pace
that clamed my beating heart.
And as his image faded, he slowly turned
and smiled, because he knew
that I would come.

Through steamy jungle, choking vines,
across rivers edged with moss,
Throught the wriggling mass of leeches,
I climbed higher - through fatigue
along the Kokoda Track.

At night I'd feel the power of this inner driving force,
each morning stride with purpose and never
did I feel I'd lost my way. While camped beside a river
with urgency frightening
I jolted wide awake!

He called my name - with dying breath.
In that moment, we were one.
Then, at last,
he was at peace.
He knew that I had come.

by Beverley Partridge


After the Australians had halted the Japanese advance at Iorabaiwa Ridge and began the offensive to recapture Kokoda village on the northerns side of the Owen Stanley Range they would come across mates who had been killed in earlier battles. Sometimes they were not able to identify them properly but they would gather for a dignified burial service. Sapper Bert Beros captures the spirit of these burials with his poem 'WX Unknown' ('W' indicated that he came from Western Australia - 'X' indicated that he was a regular soldier of the AIF):


WX Unknown

We knew he came from the Western State,
Though to us he remained unknown;
For the WX was marked in his hat -
The rest a mortar had blown.

We buried him there, on the mountain spur,
where the trees are draped in moss;
We thought of his mother, no news for her
of that irreplaceable loss.

Just a boy he looked, with his snowy hair,
As we laid him down in the clay;
The padre's voice was low and clear,
No others had words to say.

Yet we knew a mother would watch and wait,
for a letter sent by her boy,
How she would dream of the things he did,
How his first words caused her joy

And as he went off to school or game,
he'd wave her fond goodbyes.
Just as he did when the great call came,
And the hot tears hurt her eyes.

Perhaps she will know in some unknown way,
Of that little rugged cross,
The remains of her hero beneath it lay,
Where the trees are draped in moss.

We cursed the foe, who stripped the dead,
No pity on them can be shown.
We marked his cross so it can be read,
"WX" Unknown.

by Sapper Bert Beros

Goodbye New Guinea

Australia, we are coming,
We will soon be leaving now,
So we'll say good-bye, New Guinea,
Before we take our bow;
We see the tangled mountains,
Raising finger-points to God,
Jungle hides the rough-hewn stairs
Our weary feet have trod.

A bastion strong you proved to be,
Defending our fair land,
We thank your fuzzy wuzzies
Who gave us helping hand;
Your slippery muddy pathways,
Your mochers and disease,
Helped us stop the onrush
Of the clever Japanese.

Efogi to Imita
They overplayed their hand,
Our reinforcements sent them
Reeling from the promised land;
There tumbling streams make music,
Softly borne on mountain breeze,
and gentle sounds of mating doves
Are heard beneath the trees.

There loveliest tropic butterflies,
Of every colour sheen,
Like strips of flying velvet
Brighten sombre jungle green;
The little friendly fireflies,
That break the dark of night,
The fungus in the undergrowth
With phosphorescent light.

The scented trees with gorgeous flowers,
The orchids fine and rare,
The beauty of the Rona Falls,
With any can compare;
The bower birds' playgrounds in the moss,
And birds of paradise,
Mother nature guards them well,
For man must pay her price.

On Buna's flats you'll see them
Gold specks in the soil,
Near the rubber and coffee plantations,
Where the natives toil;
In the villages Kekenes
Will sing their old refrain,
When the yellow men are vanquished
And peace is back again.

One time we did not like you,
With your rainy afternoon -
But did your blazing sunsets,
the glory of your moon;
the crisp air of Myola
The clod creeks of the lake,
The calling of the bell-birds
When day was on the break.

We leave behind our comrades,
With their names upon your cross,
They are resting in your keeping,
And we know you'll guard our loss;
They are lying in the jungle,
Where the ground is seldom trod,
and in the warm wet coast-lands,
Beneath the Kunai sod.

We leave you now, New Guinea,
With a friendship fast and right,
May the hand-clasp ever strengthen
Of the comrades brown and white;
In Australia's hour of peril
We found you men were true,
Good-bye, good-bye, New Guinea,
May the great God prosper you.

by Sapper Bert Beros


Anzac Day

I saw a boy marching, with medals on his chest,
He marched alongside Diggers, marching six abreast,
He knew it was Anzac Day, he marched along with pride,
And did his best to keep in step, with the Diggers by his side,
And when the march was over, the boy looked rather tired,
A Digger asked, "Whose medals Son?" to which the boy replied,
"They belong to my Dad, but he didn't come back,
"He died in New Guinea, up on the Kokoda Track.
The boy looked rather sad - a tear came to his eye,
But the Digger said, "Don't worry Son - I'll tell you why.
"Your old Man marched with us today, all the bloomin' way,
"All us Diggers knew he was here, it's like that on Anzac Day.

The boy looked rather puzzled, he didn't understand.
But the Digger went on talking and started to wave his hand.
"For this great land we live in, there's a price we have to pay,
"To keep Australia free, and fly our flag today,
"Yes we all love fun and merriment, in this country where we live,
"But the price was that some soldier, his precious life must give,
"For you to go to school my Son, and worship God at will,
"Somebody had to pay the price, so our Diggers paid the bill.
"Your old Man died for us my Son, for all things good and true,
"I hope you can understand, these words I've said to you.

The boy looked up at the Digger, and after a little while,
His face changed expression, and he said, with a beautiful smile,
"I know my Dad marched here today, this our Anzac Day.
"I know he did. I know he did.
"All the bloomin' way!

Matt Lynch, a freelance sound-recordist, was part of a television crew who accompanied a group of students I led from Punchbowl Boys High School. It was a difficult trek in the middle of the wet season - conditions were appalling and gave us all some hint of what our diggers experienced. Matt knew very little of the campaign before he went but felt moved to record his feelings in a poem he wrote under torchlight on a very wet and dark night towards the finish:


A Bit of a Walk

I went for a bit of a walk one day
To see what I could see
And some spirits of our finest
Introduced themselves to me
For seven days and six nights
I walked along the Track
From Ower's Corner to Kokoda
And there was no going back.
It provided me with a glimpse
Of what the diggers must have faced
Fighting the war against the Japs
And dying with their mates
I'll never ever forget that time
When I went for a walk
And if I listen hard enough
I still can hear them talk.
Endurance Courage Mateship Sacrifice
Is what they always say
And those are the things I think about
As I live from day to day.
So when I'm feeling out of luck
I think about those four words
And then I don't give a fuck
Because the human spirit doesn't waver
Lax or even bend
It's forever constant in your heart
It's with you till the end

Matt Lynch
Trekker
March 2004