This was our darkest hour, the time of our greatest peril and our greatest generation. The first among them were men who stood tall in the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range. Our official war history, penned by Colonel F. Kingsley Norris, contains a stirring description of the track they fought along:
Imagine an area of approximately 100 miles long … Cover this thickly with jungle, short trees and tall trees tangled with great entwining savage vines … through the oppression of this density cut a little native track two to three feet wide, up the ridges, over the spurs, around gorges and down across swiftly flowing happy mountain streams.
Where the track clambers up the mountainsides, cut steps-big steps, little steps, steep steps-or clear the soil from the tree roots … Every now and then leave beside the track dumps of discarded putrefying food, occasional dead bodies, and human foulings.
Fighting was tough. Success came at an enormous price: 625 Australians were killed in action on the track and more than 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
Every year there are fewer voices left to tell this story. It is important that this story is passed on to the next generation of Australians. That is why I have organised a special event, to be held at the Bankstown Town Hall on 18 November, for school students and members of the public to hear more about Kokoda. Peter Fitzsimons, author of the popular history of Kokoda, will speak. We will also screen a documentary. The cost of entry will be a gold coin donation to raise money for Legacy. It is hard for us who are born at a luckier time to truly understand what they endured or what was at stake. Events like this help.
Another way is to make the trek from Owens Corner to Kokoda. Next year with my friend and colleague the member for Cook I will lead a group of young people along the track: young people from the beaches of Cronulla and young people from the streets of Bankstown-young people who have clashed in the past but who have more in common than they realise. Kokoda is the place to realise this. It is a place where character is formed and mateships are forged. It is a place where many lives were lost but something special was gained. It is a place that explains who we are as a nation, what Curtin called ‘forever the home of the Anzac people’-a nation worth fighting for.’