|PNG Highlands....Mount Hagen|
|Mount Hagen (third largest city in PNG) Cultural Show|
|At the Mount Hagen Cultural Show|
|Mount Hagen Hut/House|
|Papua New Guinea Gangs....the Raskols|
|Owen Stanley Range|
|Owen Stanley Range Map|
|Aussie Soldiers...Owen Stanley Range...Second World War|
The day had been long, filled to over-flowing with appointments due to our shortened time to deal with the matters originally we thought we had two full days to handle.
However, individually, we were well-versed in our respective product and the areas we represented.
We each had been well-received and felt satisfied with the results of our day.
Of course, the fruits of our labour wouldn’t begin to come into effect until about eighteen months down the track. Speaking generally, normally it takes that long for the ball to start rolling. When one is dealing with tourism, one is dealing with future holiday periods etc. Holiday-makers usually plan well-ahead. Some may have just had their annual vacation, so another twelve months period comes into contention before their next holiday. Eighteen months became the rule of thumb. There were always exceptions to the rules, of course, as there is in every area of business, and life.
I’d not set foot out of the hotel since my arrival, neither had the rest of my new-found friends, except Graeme, of course, who had, much to the delight of the rest of us, had departed Port Moresby earlier in the day for areas further afield. (Perhaps he would “meat” some cannibals who would be happy to see him). Just kidding…
He’d disappeared to the hills. He wasn’t missed.
In his absence, the rest of us felt like naughty children left at home alone without our parents to watch over us. We relished the freedom! School was out - it was time to play, even if our playground was limited.
Security to us “green-horns” was of utmost importance - our own personal security, that is. I was quite happy to take photographs of colourful postcards to prove that I’d been there. I certainly wasn’t going to be wandering the streets alone, either day or night. The other members of the troupe felt similarly. To the letter almost, they followed my words uttered on the first day about picturing us being chained together by an imaginary chain.
As has happened, and is still happening in developing countries, the young men gain a little education, and then, with high expectations, off they go to the cities i search of work. Once there, the bubble bursts, and reality raises its ugly head. Disenchanted, they become members of gangs of similar young men in like positions. Port Moresby wasn't exempt. We weren't being sooks for preferring to stay together.
This was how the “raskol” - the criminal gang - was born in Papua New Guinea, most particularly in Port Moresby.
I wrote earlier about the abundance of barbed-wire, referred to as “razor-barb” in PNG. It is endless, coiled razor-blade share barbed-wire running along the tops of high, strengthened wire fences surrounding homes and business properties. Its ugliness may, in some places, be hidden by the equally thorny albeit, vibrantly blossomed bougainvillea, but its maiming, dangerous purpose and purpose remain.
As we were willing prisoners of our “home-base”, the “Islander Hotel, the manager of Avis in Papua New Guinea (the manager, David, an Aussie ex-pat actually was the South Pacific Regional Manager. He and his young family were based in Moresby) invited us to dine, as the guests of Avis, on the second evening of our visit. We were to dine in the main restaurant of the hotel. It was an invitation we eagerly accepted.
After packing up our presentation materials, we hastened back to our respective rooms to shower and dress for the evening.
Entering the restaurant, a long table, covered with a starched, sparkling white table cloth had been set up. It was beautifully decorated for our benefit.
The very attentive waiters were dressed in the customary white shirts, bow-ties, red cummerbunds, black trousers. This time no shocks were in store when it came to footwear- no white socks or beige, suede desert books in sight. All were wearing dark socks with neatly polished black shoes. There wasn’t one “Manuel” amongst them.
The amiable waiters hovered politely and efficiently around our table throughout our dinner. It was perhaps amongst the best service I’ve ever witnessed in a restaurant. Our needs were met promptly without asking.
Delectable arrays of various hors d’oeuvres were presented on a cream enamel rectangular contraption that stood about five feet high. The waiter turned a handle on the side of the upright trolley, bringing up individual racks holding matching cream enamel rectangle dishes filled with delicacies for our choosing.
The particular waiter in charge of the wondrous contraption would do the rounds of the table, and then, start again at the top and repeat his actions; another rack bearing enamel dishes filled with different hors d’ oeuvres were at our disposal.
I don’t know if the piece of interesting, intriguing equipment had a name. I’d never seen one before, nor have I seen one since. To me it looked like something from the early part of the twentieth century, of European heritage. Perhaps it had originated in Britain or perhaps, Germany. Perhaps the best description I can come up with is it was an upright carousel…of sorts. I have no idea what it was called, but it was a fascinating and useful food server. In my wild imagination, it looked like something that would have been used on the “Titanic”. It was definitely, in my opinion, of that era, or thereabouts.
Our meal was comparable to any meal I, or the others, had had in Australian restaurants. The service was faultless.
We certainly were a high-spirited, yet well-behaved group that evening. Conversation and laughter flowed freely along and back and forth across the table. The generosity of Avis had no boundaries. David, the South Pacific Manager of Avis, our host, must have had a bottomless expense account. He announced over dinner if any of us wished to join him as a guest of Avis the following day, he would take us for a trip in an Avis Nissan Tarago up to the start of the Kokoda Trail, where we would lunch at the “Kokoda Inn”, now named, I believe the “Kokoda Motel”.
Without hesitation, we accepted his offer. The following day was a public holiday in PNG, and we wouldn’t be able to conduct any business.
It seemed appropriate to do the trip as the next day was July 23rd, Remembrance Day, the day that marks the anniversary of the first engagement between opposing troops, the Australians and the Japanese, on July 23rd, 1942.
The Australian Force was out-numbered, and the long fight, withdrawing over the Owen Stanley Ranges had begun.
On July, 21st 1942, forty-five years to the day before our band of merry folk arrived in Papua New Guinea, Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of New Guinea. They began their march over the Owen Stanley Ranges, intent on capturing Port Moresby. (Port Moresby lies in the rain-shadow of the Owen Stanley Range, hence the dryness of the area).
Of course, had the Japanese succeeded, mainland Australia would be next in their sights. Australia was already in their sights.
Our 21st Brigade consisting of 1,500 men, under the command of Brigadier Potts was rushed to New Guinea.
There they attempted to position themselves to stop the advance of the Japanese, who, at that stage, had over 10,000 men.
This was the start of a historical part of World War 11, for both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Kokoda became Australia’s most significant campaign of the Second World War. More Australians during that campaign died than in any other campaign during the war.
The average age of our fighting men was between 18 and 19 years. Many of those young men lie buried in the Bomana War Cemetery, on the outskirts of Port Moresby.
Much of the Kokoda Track was through dense rain-forest, mud, mist; thick bush with steep, near-impenetrable ridges to deep valleys below - flanked by mountains rising to over 2,000 metres.
Our men had to battle not only rapidly-running creeks, but moss-covered rocks and logs.
It was on January, 23rd, 1942 the Japanese landed at Kavieng on the island of New Ireland and at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. There they overcame the Australian forces. Feeling mighty confident, on March, 8th, the Japanese firmly established themselves at Lae and Salamaua in Morobe.
Shortly afterwards, the Battle of the Coral Sea progressed off the coast of Queensland between May 5th and 8th. This battle averted the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby.
In June, a few weeks after the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Americans had success at the Battle of Midway.
The Japanese, who were regularly bombing Port Moresby, then decided on the overland attack across the Owen Stanley Range.
On the Kododa Trail the Australian 7th Division resisted the Japanese overland attempt to capture Port Moresby. The advance was halted within 30 miles of the city.
A small force of Australians known as "Maroubra Force" arrived at Buna on July 21st, 1942, as the first Japanese force of 1500 men landed at Gona, eight miles to the west.
What followed will forever go down as one of the most heroic defensive actions in the annals of military history.
The first engagement between the opposing troops was on the July 23, 1942. From that engagement, as the Australian force was progressively outnumbered, began the long fighting withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range.
*“Kokoda is a small plateau on the north-east slopes of the Owen Stanley Range and possessed a small airstrip the retention of which, for at least as long as it would take Australia to fly in supplies and reinforcements, was of great importance.
However, the remnants of "Maroubra Force", exhausted by a month's constant fighting, were unable to achieve this.
Valiant though their effort was, they even recaptured the plateau after being driven out, the Japanese need was of equal importance as they required a forward base at Kokoda for their drive over the ranges along the "Kokoda Trail" to Port Moresby and they struck before the Australians were able to muster sufficient strength.
The initiative now remained with the Japanese and Australian withdrawal began again - through Isurava, Alola, Templeton's Crossing, Myola, Efogi, Menari and Nauro until at Ioribaiwa Ridge, beyond which the Japanese could not be permitted to penetrate, a final stand was made.
From August 26 to September 16 in 1942 Brigadier Potts’s Maroubra Force, consisting of the 2/16th Battalion, together with the 2/14th, the 2/27th and the militia 39th and scattered elements of the ill – trained 53rd Battallion - outnumbered and outgunned by an estimated 5 to 1 - fought the Japanese to an eventual standstill on the ridges overlooking Port Moresby.
Two main battles were fought during that period (Isurava August 26 to 29 and Brigade ‘Butchers’Hill from September 6 to 8).
In the main, the desperately tired but determined force kept themselves between the Japanese Major
General Horri’s South Sea Force and Port Moresby – defending, retreating and then counter – attacking in a masterly display of strategic defence.
Conditions were almost indescribable.
It rained for most of the time, the weary men endured some of the most difficult terrain of the world and they were racked by malaria and dysentery.
But they kept on fighting, making the enemy pay dearly for every yard of ground.
They bought time for those being prepared to come up from Port Moresby to relieve them.
he Australians, however, had a surprise in store for the enemy.
This was in the form of 25-pounder guns brought from Moresby to the road head at Owers’ Corner and then laboriously dragged into position at Imita Ridge, opening up on the enemy's barricades and it was now the turn of the Japanese to suffer what the Australians had suffered in the preceding two months.
Australian shelling smashed Japanese defences and aggressive patrols inflicted severe losses.
On the morning of September 28th the Australians were closing in and it became evident then the Japanese were withdrawing.
The chase, with the Australians the pursuers, was now on.
The Japanese, despite sickness and hunger, were still formidable and tenaciously defended all the places in their withdrawal as the Australians had in their retreat some weeks earlier.
Kokoda was entered on November 2 and this was the beginning of the end of Japanese hopes in Papua.
he campaign now entered a phase known as "The Battle of the Beaches".
The Japanese were bottled up in the area from which they had commenced their drive on Port Moresby some months previously - Buna, Gona, Sanananda.
This final campaign commenced on November 19, 1942, and ended on January 22, 1943, when all organised resistance by the Japanese in Papua ended.
Lt Col Honner DSO MC, who commanded the gallant 39th in the campaign, later wrote of these men in the foreword to Peter Brune’s book ‘Those Rugged Bloody Heroes’: “They have joined the immortals.”
f those that did not survive, he wrote: “Wherever their bones may lie, the courage of heroes is consecrated in the hearts and engraved in the history of the free.”
*Taken from Second World War Kokoda Trail Annals.
Of course,without a doubt, I wanted to go to the start of the Kokoda Trail, or “Track” as it is also known. I knew I would never again get the chance to do so. It never entered my mind to say “No” to the trip offered.
To Be Continued... (Chapter Five...Final Chapter)