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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29457

Mrs GASH (12:20 PM) —Once again, Anzac Day has come and gone. To me, each Anzac Day has its own differing memories and brings many friendships and stories. It is a day that forms most of my focus as chair of the government defence and veterans affairs committee. The services held throughout Gilmore—always too numerous for me to attend them all—help to make clear the sacrifices and the debt we owe to those who preceded us. Such thoughts evoke memories of tales that inspire and motivate many, so much so that the experience undergoes an almost spiritual transformation and many are compelled to make the journey of the pilgrim. For Australians, it is either Gallipoli or the Kokoda Track. When they have made that journey, the pilgrim gains a greater sense of understanding of the legend of Anzac and a personal enlightenment.

Recently I was privileged to share one such experience. Kevin Camm is a Vietnam veteran. He is also head of the Scout movement in the Shoalhaven. Kevin could be described as a patriot, and this is reflected in a diary on his Kokoda trek, which he left with me recently. Reading it, you can feel the spirit of Kokoda coursing through his veins. The diary was complemented by photographs, so I managed to get a bit of a feel of what it must have been like. I could not feel the intense humidity, the flies or the strain on the chest walking up those terrible slopes, but I could begin to understand what he was feeling. There was one photo with a caption that reads, `Absolutely exhausted near the top of Maguli Range', and the expression on his face told the story—there was no need for a caption, except to say where it was.

The photo of the camp site showed tents pitched on a slope in a cleared area surrounded by the gloom of the dark jungle. Later on, there is a photograph of three very old men—natives—sitting on the ground with their walking sticks, their hair grey, their faces wizened and their appearance frail. They were three of the original fuzzy wuzzy angels. Kevin wrote in his diary:

Reg was talking to an elderly native resident. He turned out to be an original fuzzy wuzzy angel, Faure Bokoi by name. He took us back to the back of the village where he introduced two more fuzzy wuzzy angels, Guia Karea and Sori Io. Guia was crippled in his left leg and could not walk. Mind you, they had to be in their 90's. He only had a bush crutch to support him.

A fellow native came out of a nearby house and started sounding off in Pidgin and then in perfect English. He was not happy about trekkers taking photo's of the “Angels” and asking them about their war experiences. I took him aside, informed him that we were Australian and that we did not have to ask them about their war experiences—we knew! All we wanted to do was shake their hands and thank them for looking after our diggers during the War.

He did not realise this and then apologised. We talked on how we could help the angels. We paid 5 Kina (about $2.50 Australian) each to photograph them. At least that gave them some money. I promised that when I got back to Port Moresby or home I would do everything I could to get crutches and a wheelchair for Guia.

That is what the spirit of Anzac is all about. It is about obligation and duty; it is about gratitude and paying our dues. Kevin Camm felt that and he is going to do something about it, and he would like us to do something about paying our dues as well. Over time, I know much has been written and said about these native bearers who helped so many of our diggers, and I am adding my name to the already long list. Although I have not personally trekked Kokoda, I do have a sense of what it must be like for those who do and what they feel. Kevin, in his covering letter said to me:

Jo, what is Australia's position with these “fuzzy wuzzies”? Do we know how many are left? Is anything being done to help these guys? Is there any program to support them?

Wouldn't it be great if we could make their final years comfortable and afford them the recognition that they richly deserve?

I know that there has been some recognition of these people and I know how difficult it must be to identify precisely who they are so they can get some of the dues owing to them. Sapper H `Bert' Beros NX 6925, 7th Division, Royal Australian Engineers, AIF, wrote a poem celebrating the contribution of these native people. I would like to quote a single stanza:

Slow and careful in bad places

on the awful mountain track

And the look upon their faces

makes us think that Christ was black.

Not a move to hurt the carried

as they treat him like a saint

It's a picture worth recording

that an artist's yet to paint.

Many a lad will see his mother

and the husbands, weans and wives

Just because the Fuzzy Wuzzy

carried them to save their lives.

I would very much like to support Kevin Camm's wish, and it is the wish of numerous Australians whose lives have been touched by these kindly, simple peoples. For this is not just about them but also about us and how we see ourselves, both morally and spiritually, as a nation.