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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1564


Senator BARNETT (8:19 PM) —Tonight I advise the Senate that I had the pleasure and the honour of organising a group of 17 trekkers from Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT who walked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea from 20 April to 30 April. The trek was organised to honour our diggers who helped save Australia in 1942, while raising funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. The trekkers funded their own expenses to ensure 100 per cent of the money raised goes to the JDRF.

Step by arduous step we followed the path of our Australian soldiers along the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea, with a special Anzac Day service en route. It was hard physically but just as hard emotionally as we pondered the conditions of our Aussie diggers from July 1942. We did not have to worry about snipers, the odd ambush and booby traps like our diggers did when they took a stand and helped save Australia. Our rations were an improvement on the bully beef and biscuits that were offered to our diggers at the time. Sir William Slim, a former Governor-General, summed up the performance of the Australians in Papua New Guinea when speaking at the opening of the Bomana War Cemetery at Port Moresby. He said:

It was the Australians who broke the spell of Japanese invincibility on land and inflicted on that arrogant army its first defeat. Let Australians never forget this. It is, like Anzac, part of their noble tradition—and these men made it.

We had been in serious training since January because the 96-kilometre track is gruelling—an unforgiving walk through dense jungle, across numerous waterways and up and down steep ridges. It was hot and humid, with the largely clay ground very slippery and dangerous in places. But the training worked. All our trekkers made it with only a few blisters and scratches—nothing serious. Interestingly, during our eight days on the track there were five medical evacuations of sick and injured trekkers from other groups. Last year three people died on the track from dehydration, heart attack and other illnesses.

Our trek’s aim was to honour our diggers while raising funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and it was supported by the RSL. The Kokoda battles of 1942 were some of the most important, yet least recognised, in Australia’s history. More than 2,000 Australians were killed and over 3,500 were wounded. Casualties due to malaria and sickness were three times these numbers. Historians estimate that 200 Tasmanians were among the casualties. The fighting was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War. The southern end of the track is less than 50 kilometres from Port Moresby, a deepwater port where Japan could have established a southern Asian base. Remember also that this historic battle took place on Australian soil: PNG at this time was Australian territory. At a similar time, over a 22-month period the Japanese undertook 64 bombing raids on Darwin and dropped more bombs there than on Pearl Harbor.

Anzac Day was a highlight for all of our trekkers. The two veterans of our group, Ivan Dean MLC, from Launceston, Bruce Scott, President of the RSL in Scottsdale in north-east Tasmania, and I presented two very elderly PNG nationals, affectionately known as ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’, with an RSL flag and Senate gifts as a thank you for their service to our Australian diggers. Ovuru Idiki told us he served the Australian Army by carrying supplies and returning injured Australian soldiers on stretchers for medical treatment for four years and six months at £5 a year. In my view, it is shameful that the Australian government has not yet officially acknowledged and thanked these men for their service. I am advised that a key reason is that it would pave the way for compensation. How ridiculous. I will be working with the RSL to argue that the fuzzy wuzzy angels should be officially honoured.

On 14 August 2002, at the address for the dedication of the Isurava Memorial in PNG, the Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard MP said:

And the true significance of what was achieved here at Isurava and in other battles on the Kokoda Track was the courage, the commitment, the professionalism and the raw love of country of the Australians.

The Australian Army inflicted the first defeat on land of the Japanese Imperial Army. To their everlasting honour and credit those defeats injected heart and hope into an Australian population that grew increasingly worried about the likelihood of direct and overwhelming invasion of the Australian mainland.

I note that Arch Bevis MP and Chris Bowen MP, a frontbencher for the current Labor government, have both supported official recognition for these fuzzy wuzzy angels. On 17 August 2005, Chris Bowen MP said:

I think that it is a matter of some regret that this nation has not formally recognised the efforts of the fuzzy wuzzy angels.

I do hope that this government, and indeed all members of the Australian parliament, reconsider our need to recognise these fuzzy wuzzy angels.

Families of Kokoda veterans asked that their beloveds’ ashes be spread on the track. The ashes of Jack Wood, born in Burnie, were spread at Brigade Hill by my brother, Nick Barnett, together with Kila, a local PNG national, and the ashes of Harry Norton of Launceston were spread at Isurava, the site of a bloody four-day and -night, battle. In this past week, I met with Ian and Bev, his son and daughter, and his sister, Leola, and provided photos of the event. The spreading of the ashes was conducted by Ivan Dean MLC, Baradea, a local PNG national, and me. Bruce Scott, President of the RSL of Scottsdale, delivered the ode. Isurava is also the site of the main memorial on the track, displaying four large granite pillars with the following words inscribed: courage, endurance, mateship, sacrifice. Again at Eora Creek we held a memorial service in honour of Sergeant George Rudd, who was killed in battle at that site. Ron Rudd of Burnie, his son, was three years old at the time. I met with Ron Rudd and his wife, Jane, at Latrobe last week, and I had photos of the memorial for them. It was a very special meeting. Understandably, none of us came home without crying. Each day was emotionally challenging, especially for our veteran trekkers.

The climax of our trek was our visit to the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby, where more than 3,000 Australians are buried under beautiful white marble headstones. It was a well-kept, solemn and humbling place. After a few moments there, there was not a dry eye amongst us. Another trekking group found an Australian Bren machine gun at Brigade Hill and asked if I could help return it to the Australian War Memorial. It was quite a find and in remarkably good condition. It remains in Papua New Guinea while we navigate the protocols and regulations regarding such a possibility.

Whilst all 17 team members struggled through the 96 kilometres of intense heat and jungle, fellow trekker Caroline Burridge of Hobart and I experienced a few extra challenges managing our type I diabetes. Being in a remote jungle location, we undertook regular—hourly, on average—finger prick checks and snack stops to maintain a healthy blood glucose level despite the difficult conditions. In addition to our once in a lifetime experience, the team are extremely proud to have raised over $150,000 to date for much-needed research into type one diabetes


Senator Parry —Hear, hear!


Senator BARNETT —Thank you, Senator Parry. I would specifically like to recognise the trekkers: Ivan Dean MLC, and Bruce Scott, President of the Scottsdale RSL; Caroline Burridge, fellow person with type 1 diabetes; Angela and Will Edwards; Patrick Fleming; Courtney Hogan; and Kristi Seymour—all from Tasmania; my brother, Nick Barnett; Paul Dale; Marco Fragiacomo, who is in the gallery tonight—and I acknowledge Marco’s presence and his strong support and friendship, both along the track and continuing; David Lloyd Jones; Sam McCardel; Alisdair Norton; Matt O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer of Diabetes Australia; and Christopher Perry. I want to give particular thanks and acknowledgement to our platinum sponsor, Medtronic. They gave us tremendous support, and without their support we could not have achieved the success we did. Our gold sponsor was Executive Excellence, our silver sponsor was Eli Lilly and our bronze sponsors were Abbott Diabetes Care, GSK, Medibank Private, Forest Enterprises Australia, Insync Surveys, McDonald’s and sanofi-aventis. It is with great pleasure and great honour that I acknowledge them and thank them for their support. I note that there are special events coming up in the near future in Launceston on 24 May and a dinner in Melbourne on 30 May. In Parliament House in Canberra on 26 June, we will hear from Patrick Lindsay on Kokoda and its importance to Australia.

I thank the Senate for the opportunity to share in this story and this trek.