News & Media

Lessons learned from the Kokoda Trail

By: Euan Ferguson

  11.00 AM 2 July, 2012

Views: 3412

Recently Kristin and I (with son Jack) walked the Kokoda Trail. Thanks to Steve Warrington and the team for keeping things humming in my absence. We found the walk challenging - but we thoroughly enjoyed every part of it. The story of the Kokoda campaign is well documented. For Australia, this forms a crucial part of our history - and something all Australians should appreciate. Reflecting on the trek, there are a number of lessons I have learned. Here are a mixed collection of thoughts that may have some relevance to the job that we do in the community. I share them with you:

1. Get yourself sorted:
Preparing yourself, physically and mentally is vital to being able to approach this challenge with confidence. Being physically fit and having trained and practiced in challenging terrain was essential to a successful trek. Just as important was selecting the right gear, testing it and making sure everything was packed with a "minimalistic" approach (what you take someone has to carry...). Finally, keep your gear sorted. When the leader says "Five minutes to packs on!" - That's exactly what he means.

2. You are one of a team:
Your progress (and the enjoyment of the trek) is dependent on other members of the group. If someone is slow, sick, injured or not enjoying the experience, it affects everyone. So it pays to get to know others in the team. Find out their strengths and weaknesses. Look out for others and help those who are doing it tough.

3. Success depends on strategy - but individual actions may change the game:
There were many situations during the Kokoda campaign where, despite the strategy faltering, the courageous actions of individual soldiers and leaders made the difference between success and failure. Some of these actions were instinctive and heroic. Many resulted in death. Amongst these, the actions of Private Bruce Kingsbury VC at Isurava stand out. Today, a serene and moving memorial at Isurava commemorates the men of the Kokoda campaign. Four pillars, engraved with the words Courage, Endurance, Sacrifice and Mateship stand as testament to their memory.

4. The strategy will fail if your logistics fail:
To varying degrees, and at different times, both the Australian and Japanese advances were stalled and ultimately thwarted because of an inability to re-supply with food, equipment and ammunition.

5. Always consider the terrain:
Failure to have an adequate appreciation of the terrain may mean that the job you are asking your people to do is impossible to achieve. Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.

6. Every day, set a goal to achieve:
Daily goals give us focus and a purposeful direction. They take our mind off our troubles and promote positive thinking.

7. There is always someone who is doing it tougher than you:
Even though they may not show it or admit it, there will be others around you who are struggling much more than you. Keep your complaining to yourself. Be positive. Ask fellow travellers about how they are feeling. Offer help when it is needed.

8. Local knowledge saves time and effort:
The local tribes have the knowledge of the land. They know the effects of weather and terrain. They understand customs and culture. Ask questions. Listen, observe and learn from them.

9. Today's actions will be tomorrow's history:
Ensure your actions reflect the values of these courageous men. Be inspired by their sacrifice.

"Any fool can be uncomfortable in the bush."

- Rowan Tracey

Last Updated: 10 December 2015