Mateship…along the Black Cat Track

Menari Village, Papua New Guinea

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

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Suitable only for Masochists and Israeli Paratroopers

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…

Grey's Peak

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

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice…

Kokoda Track This morning, just prior to the rising of the sun, Australian’s for all walks of life gathered in the parks of our cities and our small country towns to honour the men and women of our military who made the ultimate sacrifice so we may enjoy the life we do today.

 A life in Australia that is governed by a democratic process and free from many of the troubles that we see around the world today.

As I stood silently by the Memorial in our local park the sun was piercing the eastern horizon on a glorious morning, the Kookaburras’ were heralding the arrival of a new day and I thought how lucky am I to have grown up in this great Nation of ours.

Our outback travels take us through many small towns and communities in this vast country of ours and it was from these places that the young men of a new Nation enlisted to serve the Empire…

Bluey and the Boys, people just like you and me, men, just boys, that didn’t think twice about serving King and Country.

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915, a place where the term ANZAC was forged on that small wind swept peninsular, stained forever with the blood of our brave and courageous…

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.”

Lest We Forget

Australian Military

No Ordinary Moments; No Ordinary People; No Ordinary Lives

There are no ordinary moments, no ordinary people, no ordinary lives…

No matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing…

 This photograph was captured in the village of Menari, in the jungles of Papua New Guinea with myself and a truly remarkable man.

He was one of the “fuzzy-wuzzy angels” who helped Australian and American troops in the fierce jungle battles along the Kokoda Track and other places along the Papuan Coast during the second world war.

 We have much to thank them for…

 

The Jungles of Papua New Guinea (The Kokoda Track)

Isurava Village, situated along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.

I am making plans to head back into the Papuan New Guinean jungle in April next year to walk the Black Cat Track.

I tried to get there a couple of years ago, but civil unrest in the area prevented it. So plans have been made once again, and will provide a great lead in for some climbing in Nepal later in the year!

 This area has some of the most pristine jungle in the world…

 Photo: Baz, The Landy

Remembering our Courageous Fallen (ANZAC Day)

Baz and a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, Menari Village, Papua New Guinea
Baz and a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, Menari Village, Papua New Guinea

The 25th of April is a day that Australian’s reflect on the military service Australian men and women have given to our country. 

To remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice; to remember the Australian men and women who are currently serving in theatres of war, and in peace keeping roles around the world.

To all I say, thank you.

Something close to me is the time I spent living in Papua New Guinea and the times that I have visited since leaving, more recently in 2006 when I walked the Kokoda Track with a good mate, Bob Todd.

The Kokoda Track saw some of most fierce fighting that Australian troops have ever faced.

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice - Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice – Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea

And we should never forget the sacrifices that were made by our good friends, legends of the Kokoda Track, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angelsthe Papuan New Guineans who carried supplies and our wounded, often making the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of an unyielding foe.

Standing at the top of the final hill after six days along The Track, Bob and I looked back over the ranges and I swear we could hear that distinctive Aussie drawl…

 The sounds of mates helping their mates.

An enduring Australian quaility - Mateship. Bob and Baz, the Kokoda Track trails into the distance behind us
An enduring Australian quality – Mateship

And I’m sure that on this day if you were to stand on the battlefields of the Somme or the beaches of Gallipoli, if you listen carefully, you too will hear our boys and girls; the men and women who never returned home to loved ones!

Our memory of them will live on forever…

Lest We Forget

Kokoda
Our memory of them will live on forever – Lest We Forget (photo credit: Australian War Museum)