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Old Collegians tackle Kokoda together

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17 Sep

Old Collegians tackle Kokoda together

A group of SPC Old Collegians from 1990 tackled the Kokoda Track together recently. The group, pictured above, included Stefan Seketa (1985-90), Michael Hughes (1987-90), Mark Bond (1988-90), Robert Calnon (1985-90), Paul Barry (1987-90) and Paul Fogarty (1988-90). We thank the men for sharing the trip with us, and Stefan Seketa writes about their  experience.

 

Stifled by the tropical heat, we descend almost 1000 metres from Isurava to Kokoda Village. Any gravitational alleviation is countered by the muddy root-shredded mountain track, by our aching bodies and sapped spirits. We are saturated by previous rains and with our own sweat. The air is still, but charged with moisture and we have fallen silent under the strain.

 

The descent from Isurava to Kokoda Village is the culmination of the northerly trek completed by SPC Old Boys Mark Bond (1988-90), Paul Barry (1987-90), Robert Calnon (1985-90), myself Stefan Seketa (1985-90), Michael Hughes (1987-90) and Paul Fogarty (1988-90).

 

Why did we trek from South to North? The relevance of that question becomes poignant at Isurava.   Here in 1942 the weary elements of the 39th militia conscripts, who were both poorly equipped and already dealing with dysentery, had to stand alone against the might of the Japanese South Seas Detachment.  Their gallantry over four days saw them become the most decorated battle in the history of Australian war and included VC winner Private Bruce Kingsbury.  They held long enough for elements of the 2/14 AIF to arrive and bolster their ranks but by then the numbers were overwhelming.  Their fighting withdrawal back to Imita Ridge, in which they continue to inflict many casualties on the Japanese, allowed enough time for other elements of the AIF to arrive and eventually push them all the way back along the track.

The retreat from Isurava led to an eventual reversal of fortune for the Allied forces and the subsequent retaking of the track in October 1942 was a culmination in the Kokoda Track Campaign which in the folklore of our nation has become a pivotal exemplar of the Spirit of Anzac.

We walk ghost-like into Kokoda Village, flogged out by fatigue and a lashing tropical rain storm; it is the last day of our journey. We have endured a toilsome routine of 5.00am starts, treacherous descents along slick and slippery single-track and a relentless, demanding, staggering march through the tropical terrain. The environment here is confronting to our modern sensibilities and the simple day to day necessities we take for granted. Our bully-beef and two-minute noodle lunches evoked fond memories of the boarding school meals which, despite our own folklore as boarding students, now take on the characteristics of a high tea.

These reminiscences are inevitable; perhaps it is our weariness through adversity that prompts us to gaze rearwards through both the mists of time and through the haze that overhangs the track. Our passage has included many highlights and lowlights. We have had uplifting moments of success over adversity and moments of abject desperation - near misses and moments of joviality. They are too many to encompass here – but to a man we recommend the trek to any and all who are considering it. Our recommendation comes not from a desire to glorify war, but instead as an honourable pilgrimage to the power of friendship and determined cooperation, qualities which in us were first fostered at St Patrick’s College.”

- Stefan Seketa, Kokoda, July 2017.