Photo: Baz – The Landy
The Black Cat Track is not another four-wheel drive track that I have discovered in Outback Australia, but for those with a little more than a passing interest in Australian Military history will recognise it as a significant battle ground in Papua New Guinea.
Many will be familiar with the story of the Kokoda Track.
Military historians have written often of the bravery and courage shown by those involved in the New Guinea campaign, especially along the Kokoda Track, and no doubt there are countless stories of others whose sacrifices and bravery are known only to a higher authority.
Today, many Australian’s in increasing numbers are walking the Kokoda Track to pay homage to those Australian’s and Papua New Guinean Nationals, affectionately known as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, who fought to defend Australia and Papua New Guinea. Most, if not all, are moved by the experience, especially after gaining only a glimpse of the conditions they would have experienced and the enormity of the task they faced against the highly-trained Japanese invasion force.
In the mid 1980’s my partner, Janet-Planet, and I lived in Papua New Guinea and we relished the opportunity to travel and work in a country that was so close to ‘home’ but was so culturally different to Australia
The experience was humbling at times.
Before leaving the country one of my National colleagues said that I would return on many occasions in the future. Of course I said I would love to, but he was insistent, telling me that he ‘knew’ things of the future.
And he was correct, since leaving I have returned twice, once for work in the mid 1990’s, and the second to walk the Kokoda Track in 2006.
I have always had a deep interest in Australian Military history and the Anzac Spirit; the Australian commitment to one’s mate that is legendary and unique amongst the World’s fighting forces; on the sporting field, anywhere for that matter. And it was with that in mind that I found myself walking the Kokoda Track with a ‘mate’ in 2006.
We visited many battlefields; sang ‘Danny Boy’ in honour of Butch Bissett at the site that his brother, Stan, nursed him to his death, and stood in silence to the fallen at Bomana War Cemetery just outside of the country’s capital, Port Moresby.
The countryside was amazing and the people warm and welcoming.
Ten years later and I am to ‘return’ once again.
In May next year I will be travelling to Papua New Guinea, this time to trek the Black Cat Track in the country’s Morobe Province.
Yes it sounds like a long time off, but time flies, right, especially when you are trying to get your fitness “up to speed”.
Partnering up with a group of like-minded people we will be guided by Aidan Grimes, an Irishman with a great sense of humour and who now calls Australia home. Aidan’s experience and knowledge of the battlefields of this region are unparalleled and with this knowledge in hand he will help us retrace the steps taken by those who fought in this region over 60 years ago, expertly guiding us through the jungle and over mountains.
Although we will never be able to walk in the boots of those that trod this region during the War Days……
The Black Track Cat starts in Wau and winds its way down to the coast at Salamaua, with many suggesting this track makes the Kokoda Track seem like a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park.
It is not an established track like ‘The Kokoda’ on which thousands of trekkers regularly tread, but a forgotten World War ll track that passes through what has been described as some of the toughest and most-hazardous terrain in the world.
In an account of his experience in The New Guinea Narrative 2001, Signalman Lloyd Collins, 3rd Division Signals, explained;
“…there was little conversation. You neither had the time nor the inclination. Talking required energy and energy was a scarce resource. When passing a mate you sometimes glanced at his face, a face dull from fatigue and dripping with perspiration. You saw his sticking clothes, his muddy boots and trousers. You noticed the heavy pack and you could hear his heaving breath as he struggled past. Then, as you pitied him and felt sorry for his plight, you realised that you looked the same to others. Even though no words were spoken the silent glance conveyed sympathy and understanding…”
This hardly sounds like a holiday I hear you say, perhaps it is more of a test of one’s own ability to draw on inner-strengths, to be inspired and stand in awe of those that fought to protect our country; laying down their own lives so we may enjoy the freedoms and way of life we do today.
To add to the adventure we will raft down the San Francisco River from the village at the end of the track to Salamaua on rafts made locally before resting overnight and completing our journey back to Lae by sea.
It is said that Salamaua is one of best kept secrets in the world and one of the most idyllic places you will ever go!
Those that follow my expeditions into the magnificent Australian Outback will know that I enjoy a camp oven roasts, scones, and Janet’s dampers, not to mention the odd beer or two. And whilst maintaining a high level of fitness it is fair to say that I am back in the gym, rowing, and weight training as well as spending time much time in the “hills” the Australian “bush” with my backpack on…something that I need little encouragement to do!
Cheers, Baz – The Landy
The Shed…a place where tall stories can be told, a few laughs had, where you can grab a “coldie” out of the fridge to share with mates and if you are motivated it can double as a training gym.
Since arriving home from the Outback a few weeks back I have been heading up the driveway to “The Shed” in the pre-dawn darkness to exercise on my rowing machine and lift a few weights.
Don’t worry, I’m an early morning person…
Over the coming months my exercise regime in “The Shed” will involve high intensity workouts on the rowing machine and weight resistance training in preparation for my expedition to Papua New Guinea early next year.
And rest assured, there will be plenty of hill climbing with a 20 kilogram backpack and I could never go a week without getting in a couple of paddles on the surf ski.
And this weekend’s weather in the harbour city is set to be perfect for all kinds of outdoor pursuits…
Crikey, bring it on!
Baz – The Landy
Stretching between the villages of Salamaua and Wau in the island Nation of Papua New Guinea is a long-forgotten second world war track called “The Black Cat Track”.
It has it all…dangerous river crossings, swamps, cliffs, precarious rock-ledges, venomous snakes, and leeches that will suck the blood from your veins after the malaria carrying mosquito’s have finished with you…
The Lonely Planet guidebook describes the Black Cat Track as “suitable only for masochists and Israeli Paratroopers”.
This region of Papua New Guinea has some of the most spectacular jungle scenery on the planet and is the habitat of the country’s national emblem, the superbly beautiful Bird of Paradise.
I had to postpone a trek along the Black Cat Track a few years back due to civil unrest in the region, something it has been prone to from time-to-time, but I have been anxious to undertake this adventure and revisit a country Janet-Planet (Mrs Landy) and I lived in as newly weds many years ago…
And whilst I have not given up on my desire to climb amongst the world’s highest peaks in the Himalayas, the earthquake and tragic devastation it caused to Nepal and its people earlier this year has added a layer of complexity to that ambition!
But crikey, I need to “feed the rat” with adventure and an opportunity has arisen to join a trek along the Black Cat Track in May 2016 with a group of Papua New Guinean Nationals – “Legends” as they are rightly referred to and ably led by Aidan Grimes.
Co-incidentally, it will be almost 10-years to the day that I walked the Kokoda Track with Aidan, a veteran of 100 traverses of the Kokoda Track; a track that is synonymous with Papua New Guinea and the battles fought by our brave and courageous “diggers” during World War Two.
It will make a change to the Australian Outback and snow covered mountain peaks…
What an adventure, hey!
So strap on your backpack and get your hiking boots out…there is plenty of training to be done…
Baz – The Landy