By EMMA CORNFORD
WAR history is a topic some people delve into with unbridled fervor and the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea is a treasure trove of information for enthusiasts.
Before walking the track I knew little of what happened there. But as I made my way through the Owen Stanley Ranges, I followed in the footsteps of soldiers who were there 63 years earlier and discovered that the track is more than just another place where soldiers died to defend their country.
It was the site of some of Australia's most crucial conflicts and, in military terms, shocking and unacceptable losses. As a result, it is steeped in bloody history.
Stories told along the track are never-ending; Australian artillery being dragged up the near-vertical mountain sides of Imita Ridge, vicious hand-to-hand fighting between the Japanese and Australians at Brigade Hill, local 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' ? one of whom I was lucky enough to meet ? carrying stretches along slippery and treacherous cliff-sides. There are tales of heroics, defeat, and of troops pushing on despite incredible odds, often paying with their lives.
At the beginning of the trek, our group visited the Kokoda War Museum where soldiers' accounts gave some idea of the conditions diggers endured:
'The days go on. You are trying to survive, shirt torn, arse hanging out of your pants, whiskers a mile long, hungry and a continuous line of stretchers with wounded carried by Fuzzy Wuzzies doing a marvelous job. Some days you carry your boots because there's no skin on your feet. But when you look around at some of the others ? hell! They look crook!'
?Laurie Howson, 39th Australian Infantry Battalion.
Signs of the conflict are everywhere along the track; old barrels, hubcaps and tins create rusted memories. At one stage my local guide Nelson stops to point out a large, flat rock with moss sprawling over the top and sides.
"That was the surgeon's table," he said, telling me it was where Australian troops would perform make-do surgery.
Since my return, I have discovered my great uncle served in PNG and I feel honoured to have seen just a portion of what he, and thousands of other diggers, experienced.