A service for the fallen on the Kokoda Track. Ashley Birt's photo was one of the many hung up around the memorial.
A service for the fallen on the Kokoda Track. Ashley Birt's photo was one of the many hung up around the memorial. Craig Warhurst

Mum and brother trek Kokoda for fallen soldier

LINDA Birt's external Kokoda trek was a fitting metaphor for an even more arduous inner journey, one she knows she will never complete.

Mrs Birt is learning to bear the unbearable after her soldier son Ashley was killed in Afghanistan on October 29, 2011 - murdered by one of the Afghan soldiers he was helping to train.

The former Gympie man was heavily involved in the Maryborough hockey community and was well-known across the Fraser Coast.

Mrs Birt's journey to recovery, if anyone can ever be said to recover from such a loss, is one she must take - like the Kokoda Track - one slippery, discouraging and painful step at a time.

With her on the external journey was her son Dale, who brought his brother's body home and who had his own inner journey of grief to manage.

"October's never a good month," said Mrs Birt said.

And nor is November, as Remembrance Day now includes a whole region's sense of loss.

Ashley Birt's was the first new name in 41 years to be added to the honour board of Gympie's war dead.

Linda and Dale took part in the RSL's Soldiers' Memorial Walk, along with another 15 representatives of the five families who have lost loved ones in the war.

About 40 civilians went on the trek, along with 27 Afghan veterans dealing with their own post-trauma emotions.

"We all integrated and shared our experiences.

"We did the trek together as a healing process.

"It was a very challenging experience," she said, "emotionally and physically."

Dale took five footballs to give away to villagers.

"We had to climb for three hours to get to one tiny village.

They only had about 40m across the hilltop where they were living and Dale gave them a football.

I said 'They better not kick it, because I'm not going back down to get it back!"

An eerie feeling of presence at the war memorials and graveyards along the way was another remarkable experience.

"It was very bonding for Dale and I too and we made some good friends.

"But it was by far the most physically and emotionally challenging thing I have ever done."

Dale Birt crosses one of the many bridges on the Kokoda Track.
Dale Birt crosses one of the many bridges on the Kokoda Track.


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