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Monday, 3 March 1997
Page: 1675

Mr COBB(1.09 p.m.) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   recognises the importance of the Kokoda Track campaign in World War II in stopping the overland Japanese advance to Port Moresby, which would have given the enemy a beachhead into Australia;

(2)   pays tribute to the contribution of the Koiari people known as "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels" in carrying items for Australian soldiers in the Kokoda campaign, including carriage of wounded to safety; and

(3)   in recognition of this contribution, urges the Government to:

   (a)   consider efforts to commemorate the significant battle sites and grave sites along the Track;

   (b)   issue an appropriate medal to the remaining "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels" or their surviving families;

   (c)   consider other appropriate initiatives, including making a small ex-gratia payment to each "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angel" in recognition of their contribution over and above the call of duty; and

   (d)   examine funding for a "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angel" Health and Education Foundation to upgrade the health and education status of the Koiari people in the isolated villages along the Track.

This motion is prompted by the first-hand experience I gained from walking the Kokoda Track over a 10-day period recently. I was accompanied by the seconder of the motion, the honourable member for Lindsay (Miss Jackie Kelly), and also Senator Julian McGauran, who is in the gallery today. Our trek leader was the Hon. Charlie Lynn from the New South Wales state Upper House, who did a tremendous job. I acknowledge his experience and his contribution to many of the ideas in this speech because has now been over the track 19 times. In many ways, he is the Des Renford of the Kokoda Track.

We trekked from Kokoda, in the north, 90 to 100 kilometres in a southerly direction over the Owen Stanley Ranges to Owers Corner, just north of Port Moresby. There were 23 people in our party and we had 26 porters, of whom many are grandsons of the fuzzy wuzzy angels.

It was a gruelling ordeal. The jungle and terrain are unrelenting and unforgiving. It throws everything at you and never leaves you alone, right up to the last step. You sweat profusely and you need lots of fluid if you are not going to dehydrate. In the afternoons and evenings you are wringing wet from the downpours of rain but you cannot dry out any clothing; you have to put wet clothing on again in the morning. And yet it can be freezing cold at night up in the highlands.

It is extremely difficult trekking at night because many of the slopes are up to 75 or 80 degrees in steepness, and then you go down again on slippery yellow clay, falling over all the time. You have to be careful where you put your feet because you do not want to twist your ankle on the roots that run everywhere.

Your lungs heave and your muscles ache. Blisters were rife—I had bandaids on every toe, I think. Your boots are wet from stream crossings and your skin sloshing around in your boots becomes like tissue paper. Foot problems such as fungal infections are rife. You can get infected insect bites, vomiting is not uncommon, and I got severe diarrhoea, which is extremely painful and debilitating. Our soldiers back in 1942 cut the backsides out of their pants in many instances. Damien Parer, who filmed the Kokoda campaign, had a tube running from his rectum into a bottle in his sock so he could continue filming. I know I lost six kilograms in 10 days.

Leeches drop out of the trees and fasten onto your neck. We all suffered with tears and emotion at times, and this is on a track which is in some cases only four inches wide—the width of a footprint—and up to four foot wide or more. But move 10 metres off the track and you can get lost. Just to cross this track becomes the ultimate bushwalking feat. We have all seen TV images, I guess, of strapping athletes cracking up, celebrities like Angry Anderson breaking down and trekkers becoming physically and mentally destroyed by the rigour of it all.

The Kokoda campaign was fought between July and November 1942. Our side started off at the village of Kokoda with undertrained soldiers who were outgunned and had an average age of 18½ years. But they fought courageously against an enemy who was battle hardened, superior in numbers and better equipped with artillery.

The Japanese had landed in their thousands at Buna and Gona in the north and were going to sweep south overland to Port Moresby within a period of days. That was done in the context of the Japanese, from late 1941 and early 1942, sweeping all before them in Malaya, capturing Singapore, attacking Pearl Harbour, and taking the Philippines and Rabaul. Within 100 days they had captured all of South-East Asia. It was only the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway and indirectly the campaigns at Milne Bay and Guadalcanal that stopped them sailing into Port Moresby.

It was 4 p.m. on 23 July when only 30 Australian soldiers, in the first instance, made the first campaign stand at Kokoda. They had rifles, revolvers, one Lewis machine-gun and one drum of ammunition. Eventually they were overwhelmed and that started the history of Kokoda. They fell back from position to position, from village to village, from hill to hill, fighting and delaying the Japanese on every inch that they conceded. They had battles at Deniki and Isurava, which was our Alamo, I guess, and where the first VC was won on Australian soil—because New Guinea was mandated territory—by Bruce Kingsbury. Other battles were fought at Alola, Eora Creek, Templetons Crossing, Myola, Kagi, Efogi, Manari, Brigade Hill and Iorabaiwa Ridge.

By doing that even though they were outnumbered six to one on many occasions under atrocious conditions and showing enormous courage, they eventually weakened the Japanese, who had previously been invincible on land. They stretched their lines of supply so long and the Japanese were so starved by having only half a handful of rice and a bit of seaweed to eat—and in some cases by resorting to cannibalism—and they were so debilitated that the Australians turned the Japanese round in September when they were only 40 to 60 kilometres from Port Moresby and steadily drove them back the full length of the track and recaptured Kokoda on 2 November.

It is an epic story; it is a story that is the spirit of Kokoda. Kokoda to World War II is what Gallipoli was to World War I. However, while we lost Gallipoli we still won the war. But if we had lost Kokoda then we would have lost Port Moresby and the Japanese would have had a launching pad into Australia. It was a very significant campaign. We fought it on our own. The heroism displayed at Kokoda was no less than at Gallipoli, the odds facing us were no more favourable but the terrain and climate were far more foreign and horrific—so Kokoda is very special.

Regrettably, Australian governments of all colours have, in the past, done very little to recognise the importance of the track. To his credit, previous Prime Minister Keating went to Kokoda but unfortunately he was made head of the Orokaevian tribe who carried for the Japanese. He put money into an airport terminal at Kokoda at the wrong end of the strip. Three pillars are all that remain of it now, as depicted in this photograph. I was alarmed and surprised to find that nobody has ever acknowledged the Koiari people—the fuzzy wuzzy people. Little has been done to commemorate the famous battle sites along the track—particularly Isurava and Brigade Hill. It appears that there are 72 soldiers buried at Brigade Hill. I believe that should be fully investigated and perhaps made an official war graves site.

We have to get `ownership' of the Kokoda Track before the Japanese move in more than they have. Already the first monuments that have gone up on the track are Japanese ones. It seems that all that has been done—apart from a little at Kokoda—has been by an expatriate dentist, Ross Bastian, working out of Port Moresby. Through his own initiative he has put up three or four plaques on the way.

Not one cent of our foreign aid—over $6 billion since Independence in 1975—has gone to the Koiari people, even when we are giving $320 million this year. To our detriment we have not fully acknowledged what the fuzzy wuzzy angels have done. They carried supplies and ammunition for us. We could not have won the campaign without them. They carried out our diggers when they were wounded. They were never paid for that. Many thousands of them contributed; only 20 or 30 odd remain alive. We met some of them on the trip and it was very emotional. I believe we should strike a carrier service medal for them. It is a simple thing to do. It is basically all they want. We could probably do more and give them a small ex gratia payment. We have to do more for the Koiari people who   did so much for us.

I believe a health and education foundation should be set up and a scholarship scheme established. We already support 550 scholarships in Papua New Guinea but none for the Koiari people. Scholarships could be given for medicine, education and perhaps sport. Malaria is rife along the track; TB is also prevalent, particularly in the north; and there are respiratory problems. Village museums could be set up at very little cost and the local people could look after them. Military equipment, which is now corroding there, could be restored properly and displayed with photographs, maps and explanations.

We could set up sister school relationships between Australia and these people and arrange pen pals and the donation of old sporting equipment. We came across a football field with no footballs, so they had never played a game on the track. It would encourage an appreciation of the history between Australian school children and the Papua New Guinean school children along the track.

We could give advice on setting up simple guest houses in each village. The villagers are very isolated; some have no radio contact with the outside world. We could also set up solar HF radios. By these simple low cost measures we could create enormous goodwill and repay the debt that has been outstanding now for 55 years. The children and grandchildren of the fuzzy wuzzy angels—they are still angels themselves—would really appreciate these simple little gestures—at no cost to the Australian government. I would appreciate bipartisan support for the motion. (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Is the motion seconded?

Miss Jackie Kelly —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.