Kokoda Mateship Trek

The Australians were outnumbered five to one. Their headquarters was about to be overrun. At that moment, Kingsbury grabbed a bren gun and charged into the enemy, mowing down 30 before he was struck and killed by a sniper’s bullet. His actions halted the Japanese offensive and earned him the first Victoria Cross on Australian territory. His commanding officer said it could be argued that his actions saved Australia-an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing.

In the public gallery tonight is proof that there is a Bruce Kingsbury in every one of us: young Muslim Australians from Bankstown, young surf-lifesavers from Cronulla, young people whose communities have clashed in the past, young people who helped to heal those wounds in the place where Kingsbury fell. They are the young men and women who on Anzac Day followed me and the member for Cook along the Kokoda Trail: Abdullah Albarq, Matt Read, Mariam Kourouche, Kane Hughes, Kim Short, Hiba Ayache, Ben Thompson and Mecca Laalaa.

Kokoda is a place that works on you. Over seven days we prayed together, we laughed together and we cried together. We cried tears of shame one day when we heard the heartache of an angel, a fuzzy haired angel whose efforts had never been deemed worthy of a medal. We cried tears of pride the next when we heard that this government would right this wrong. In the middle of the jungle we prayed for the soul of a young man who had died the day before, ripped from his village by a preventable disease. We cursed Charlie at night and his cooees at dawn. We found a panther in the mountains and we found something special in ourselves. It is inscribed in four words on four granite tablets at Isurava: courage, endurance, sacrifice, mateship-qualities that these young men and women displayed in bucketloads along the track. At Bomana they turned to face the graves of 3,348 Australians and promised to live a life worthy of their sacrifice. In truth, they already have. If those 3,348 are looking down tonight, I know they would be very proud. Looking up to the gallery, I could not be prouder. You have honoured their memory and left footprints for others to follow.

There are a lot of people who helped us make these footprints-people like Jamal Rifi and Jihad Dib; John Azarius and ‘Father’ Charlie Lynn; Chris Bowen and Tony Smith; Brett Mason, the first journalist to file a story via satellite from the jungle of Kokoda; companies like Qantas and Leightons; the surf clubs of Cronulla and the great community clubs of Bankstown; Malek Fahd Islamic School and the Australian Federal Police; and Tim Quadrio from my office-not just for helping us get there but for helping us along the track. Finally, I want to thank Scott. I guess we have proved that politicians really can be mates, and I think we really are mates now-a mateship forged in a place a lot hotter and uglier than this.
What began as a mission to bring two communities together became a pilgrimage to a lost part of Australia’s history, lost in the minds of too many Australians. Too few Australians know the story of Isurava or of men like Bruce Kingsbury. They should be as well known as Gallipoli or Simpson and his donkey. We have to fix this. As Paul Keating said 50 years after the guns fell silent on the Owen Stanley Range:

The Australians who served here in Papua New Guinea fought and died not in defence of the old world but the new world. Their world. They died in defence of Australia … That is why it might be said that, for Australians, the battles in Papua New Guinea were the most important ever fought.

It is our collective responsibility not just to live a life worthy of their sacrifice but to ensure their sacrifice is not forgotten. This is our solemn duty, lest we diminish as a nation. Lest we forget.’