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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4171

Mr MORRISON (9:39 PM) —‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.’ Those words have never meant more to me than when I walked the Kokoda Trail with my good mate the member for Blaxland and an extraordinary group of Australians who took part in the 2009 Kokoda Mateship Trek and who join us in the gallery this evening. The trek brought together young leaders from our electorates from very different backgrounds and with very different experiences of Australian life.

From the shire, our four Bate Bay surf clubs were represented by Kimberley Short, Kane Hughes, Ben Thompson and Matt Read. They joined their contemporaries from the Lakemba sports club, who were under the guidance of Dr Jamal Rifi—a great Australian—and Mr Jihad Dib, the inspirational principal of Punchbowl Boys High School. From the shire, the trek received strong support from Qantas, Servcorp, the NRL, our local Bate Bay surf clubs and the Miranda RSL. I would also like to thank John and Patricia Azarias for their generous support and to especially thank Jason and our staff for making the trek possible.

Our purpose was to build further bridges between our communities following the shameful events that took place in southern Sydney in December 2005. In contrast to these events, the Kokoda Mateship Trek demonstrated the true spirit of our communities, as these fine young Australians walked their memorial to our diggers in the original footsteps of the 39th Battalion—the first time they had been so faithfully retraced in more than 60 years. Most importantly, they joined to honour the courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice of those who fought and died along this bloody, muddy track and provided the foundation for our unity as a nation.

Our diggers died for the future of all Australians, regardless of our backgrounds. We share in their sacrifice because we live together in the future that they made possible. The heroes of the Kokoda campaign are legendary: William Owen, Bruce Kingsbury VC, Stan and ‘Butch’ Bissett, Charlie McCallum, Lindsay Bear, Breton, Langridge, Ralph Honnor, Dr Geoffrey Vernon and, of course, the fuzzy wuzzy angels. In their day, on that unforgiving ground, they found something special within themselves to rise to the challenge—ordinary men called on to do extraordinary things. Having stood upon and walked the ground of their sacrifice, a new generation of Australians will carry forward their names and their stories in our communities, and Anzac Day will never be the same again.

Having observed closely the spirit of the young Australians who walked the trail, as they worked together, assisted each other and showed a moving respect in their tributes along the way, especially at Isurava, where we also honoured the memory of Sergeant Brett Till, I have no doubt that the spirit of Bruce Kingsbury and his comrades is alive and well in their generation. When we returned to the Bomana War Cemetery, the young trekkers stood and faced the graves of 3,000 fallen Australian soldiers and made a pledge to be the best they could be—to honour those who were denied their opportunity of life more than 60 years ago. In making this pledge they have decided to be the change we need for our future, and I have no doubt their pledges will be honoured, to the great benefit of our respective communities.

I hope that the Kokoda Trail will continue to grow as a pilgrimage for young Australians. We must not allow expressions of national pride to be reduced to a tattoo or a day of drunkenness wrapped in a flag. We must encourage real contact with the spirit of courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice that defines our Australian character. For this to happen, many things have to change at Kokoda. First, we must protect the integrity of the trail. It is not an endurance sport or a wilderness adventure; it is a memorial pilgrimage. We must ensure that the stories of Kokoda and similar campaigns gain greater recognition in our national educational curriculum. A memorial master plan for the trail is needed to enable new generations to understand, appreciate and honour the sacrifices of our diggers as they walk the trail. Tougher mandatory regulation of trek operators must be introduced to keep the trail safe, or more Australians will die needlessly. This is a dangerous trek in a lethal environment. It should not be taken on lightly. We also need to make sure that our pilgrimage brings benefits to the local indigenous population. We must ensure that their communities and their environment are not exploited, remembering it was their grandfathers who came to our aid, to carry our grandfathers to safety, so many years ago.

These issues and many others have been the subject of an almost 20-year campaign by our trek leader, the Hon. Charlie Lynn, who completed his 55th crossing of the trail on our mateship trek. I pay tribute to his tireless and passionate work in this area. He is also a great Australian whose voice must be heard on these issues.

Whether you walk the trail or not, my hope is that Kokoda will continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us, especially in these tough times, and remind us all of what we are truly capable of when we are true to the values that made our nation great. Lest we forget.