Seven Benalla P-12 College students went on a 10-day trip to Papua New Guinea, and walked the Kokoda Track.By Kaitlin Thals
Seven Benalla P-12 College students say they arrived home very different people after a 10-day trip to Papua New Guinea.
Eight of those days were spent walking in steaming hot temperatures along the rugged, steep landscape of the Kokoda Track.
The Year 11 group, plus one teacher and one parent, explored the site of the battle fought by Australians during Word War II in 1942 — where 625 Australians were killed and more than 1000 were wounded.
‘‘My brother went last year, plus I had two granddads who fought in the war. They weren’t on Kokoda, but they were sort of near the islands around there,’’ student Jillian Cook said.
‘‘It was emotional. We had three services along the way; they were really moving, listening to the Last Post while thinking, ‘Wow, all of these people have fought and died here, just right where I’m standing’.’’
‘‘You just think, as they play the Last Post, people were just laying there. Yeah, that’s emotional,’’ student Brookelyn Tuckett added.
For others, it was a chance to gain an appreciation and understanding of the events that played out in the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea during the war.
‘‘I don’t think we have a very good education or appreciation of the war, and how important the battles on the Kokoda Track were for Australia today. Also, it was the physical challenge of walking the track,’’ student Daniel Schulz said.
‘‘I just did it because I wanted to change my mindset, it certainly was an eye-opening experience,’’ student Riley McCloskey added.
Teacher Richard Hubbard said visiting Third World city Port Moresby was confronting for all.
‘‘When we hopped on the mini-bus and drove through the city, you saw people sleeping against cyclone fences, which are eight-foot high — and it’s a school,’’ Mr Hubbard said.
‘‘Then you get to the hotel and there were three gates to get in and there were guards everywhere.
‘‘But when you got on the track, we felt completely safe, and you’re passing people who are holding machetes. The contrast between the city and the track was amazing, and the contrast between Papua New Guinea and Australia was amazing.’’
The group prepared for the trip by doing stair climbs three months prior to their departure on July 9.
Teacher Daniel Hogarth has recently become a Kokoda Track guide, and went along with the group.
‘‘It was more mental than physical, if you’ve got your head right then you can do it,’’ Brookelyn said.
‘‘But I don’t think anything can prepare you for it — and the humidity.’’
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