This was our darkest hour, the time of our greatest peril and our greatest generation. The first among them were the men who stood tall in the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range, the men of Kokoda. Success came at an enormous price: 625 were killed, more than 1,600 were wounded, 4,000 died of sickness. It is hard for us who were born in luckier times to truly understand what those men endured or what was at stake. That is why it is important that we go back to Kokoda.
On Anzac Day this year I will do just that, along with my friend and sparring partner the member for Cook, Scott Morrison, and eight young people from our electorates-four from the beaches of Cronulla and four from the streets of Bankstown; four young men and four young women; four young Anglo-Australians and four young Lebanese Muslim Australians; young people who have clashed in the past but young people who have more in common than they realise. If politicians from different political parties can be mates then so can people from different cultures and different communities. That is why we are calling it the ‘mateship trek’.
We are not doing this on our own. Our patron is Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, the Governor of New South Wales. She will launch our campaign at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Concord on 18 April. Dr Jamal Rifi, the president of the Lakemba Sports Club, the man who led a number of community initiatives after the Cronulla riots, is coming with us. Rusty Priest, the former president of the New South Wales branch of the RSL, is helping as well.
Big Australian companies and small local community organisations are all lending a helping hand. We are especially grateful to Qantas, which is getting us there. Leighton, Servcorp, the NRL, the AHA, Clubs Australia and the Australian Federal Police have all got behind the trek. The Bankstown Sports Club, Bankstown RSL and Canterbury Bulldogs have also put up their hands. So has the motorway that connects our two communities-the M5. We would not get there without them. But to get from one end of the track to the other, 100 kilometres, we are going to have to get fit and we are not leaving this to chance. Scott and I are about to undertake a unique form of training, something that is offered as a privilege to members of this place. In 10 days time we join the Army for five days of basic training at Kapooka in Wagga Wagga, all part of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. It is a chance to spend a week with our service men and women to get a better appreciation of the work that they do for us and to get a step closer to understanding the service and the sacrifice of those who fought and died on the Owen Stanley Range. It was their sacrifice that made possible the new dawn that Prime Minister Curtin talked about, and made possible things that many of us today just take for granted.
After six days on the steep and rugged trail we will arrive at a place called Isurava. There stand four granite tablets each inscribed with a word that captures the spirit of those soldiers-courage, endurance, sacrifice and mateship. That is why we are going to Kokoda-to help to heal the wounds of the events of three years ago, to help to build a generation that understands that being an Australian is not about where you come from but where you are going and to understand what a privileged and fortunate life we lead. Kokoda is the place to realise this. It is a place where character was forged and friendships were formed, where lives were lost but something very special was gained, a place that explains who we all are, who we are as a nation, and what Prime Minister John Curtin called ‘forever the home of the Anzac people’.