In Memory of Cpl Cameron Baird VC MG
Chris Dyer from Cams Cause shares his thoughts on his recent Kokoda Spirit trek.
If you would would like to join the next Cams Cause Fundraising Kokoda Trek, lead by Chris Dyer to be held on 26 May – 3 June 2019 please email Chris on firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 0417 160 282.
If you would like to run your own charity or fundraising trek check out www.kokodaspirit.com or call 07 5445 2758
After arriving and meeting everyone around the pool bar at the impressive Stanley Hotel the day before, we leave and drive from Port Moresby to Bomana War Cemetery.
The site of over 3700 headstones was very powerful and moving.
After wandering around and having time to reflect on the impact the Kokoda campaign had we boarded the bus and departed for Owers Corner.
When we arrived at Owers Corner the site of the huge arches along the breath taking mountain ranges was a site that took our breath away. The clouds rolled along the mountains and it felt like you could touch them.
We met our porters and made some adjustments to our gear and then porter Nathan led the way through the arches and down the steep decent into the jungle.
We were officially on the Kokoda Track.
After a steep decent we crossed the Goldie river and eased into the trek with a short climb upto our camp spot at dump 66. The name Dump 66 came from the cleared area being used for strategic supply dumps. There were many along the track.
It was our first night to get our camp routine underway. Swimming in the crystal clear rivers to freshen up after a days hiking was awesome.
That afternoon the team bonded while sitting around the pristine village whilst interacting with the village people and playing with the kids. The sound of the children’s laughter while they were playing with the footballs or beach balls we gave them was something we never got sick of.
Every morning we would be woken up at 5am on the dot by Wayne yelling out his routine wake up call at the top of his lungs….“Good morning everybody….welcome to day 2, Mad Monday, Glory Glory to South Sydney!!! Wooooo”………
Needless to say Wayne is an avid Rabbitohs fan!
We would commence our daily routine of packing up our tents and gear in pitch black aided by our head torches. The sun would rise while we would be eating our breakfast which was prepared by our porters. The best days were when there were fresh pancakes and hot porridge 🙂
We left Dump 66 and climbed up and over Imita Ridge. A good climb to introduce the team of the pain that was to come. The “Golden Stairs” as they were named lived up to there reputation.
Imita Ridge which was the last line of defence for the Australian’s.
We ascended down a steep climb to hit the first of 22 river crossings.
At this point id like to give a shout out to Raz’s porter Mac who literally fell down a steep embankment whilst helping Raz down the slippery approach.
We we all relieved to find out he was not hurt. A great example of how dedicated our porters were to our well being.
We climbed out of the valleys which really tested our fitness and showed us a glimmer of the pain that was in store for us over the next week.
We made the steep climb up towards Ioribawa Village. It was a relentless climb that never seemed to end. When we arrived at the top we were then shattered to learn we were only half way up what we needed to climb today.
We were all coming to terms with what we had signed up to do physically.
At this point Brocky thought it was funny to point to the map from Owers Corner to Kokoda which showed that after two days we still hadn’t put a dent in our long course. There was still plenty to go!
We ascended steeply again up to peak of Ioribawa Ridge. This was the farthest point the Japanese advanced to. From there the Japanese could see the search lights of Port Moresby.
We then descended down into Ofi Creek camp. Ofi Creek was stunning. A flat clearing surrounded by bright green mountain tops. And another creek running’s through for us to swim in.
That night we debriefed and i had the opportunity to share some personal stories about Bairdy that were written by people who had the honour of serving next to him.
The sun had just set and we were amazed at the beauty of this village. Then all of a sudden we heard our porters start to sing around the camp fire to the sound of porter Rueban playing his guitar. The sound echoed through the small plateau…
A perfect end to an awesome day.
We didn’t realise that everyday to come would just keep getting better and better.
5am…..Bosso is up and yelling out his wake up call again! I think it was “Terrific Tuesday!!”
We had a huge day of climbing today. Up and over the infamous Meguli Ranges. My porter Clive would point up to the sky and say “up up” which meant we had a steep climb ahead of us.!
We were lucky to have some little mascots in our group who became like younger siblings to us. Richard, Aaron and Cecelia were on school holidays and were constantly showing us up on the track. Whilst wearing only thongs on there feet.
On one steep part of the climb, Cecelia’s school bag broke at the strap. She was standing on the side of the track trying to fix her bag but not having any luck.
Sam who stills currently serves in the Army stopped and showed a heart of gold by stitching it up with a sewing kit he carried.
Rach topped it off by stocking Cecelia up with lollies 🙂 To see how simply appreciative Cecelia was from Sam’s kindness was awesome to witness.
Japs Ladder was yet another steep climb we had to tackle before heading down into the village of Nauro which was a village which had a amazing view out over the mountain ranges.
We stopped for lunch before heading down along wetlands and into the village of Agulogo.
Another night of great food cooked by our porters, swimming in the rivers and singing around the fire. Alot of the porters songs were written by Kelly’s porter Gibson. They were all about the Kokoda Track which made their singing have even more meaning again.
Today was “Wacky Wednesday!!” and we were woken to the screams of “Glory Glory to South Sydney” yet again. As much as we all didn’t share Wayne’s passion for the Rabbitohs, it was a good way to make us chuckle after being woken at 5am.
Today we had a tough day of climbing ahead of us. THE WALL. And it lived up to its name. This was without a doubt one of the toughest parts of the track physically and mentally. The track was made of of trees roots that intertwined with each other so you had to pick your foot placement carefully.
Once you conquered The Wall you were rewarded with views of Menari which would be our next village. I found it was awesome to look from a mountain top and see how far we had come. Or alternatively how far we were about to go. It made you realise how small we are in the big picture.
Our next break was in the village of Menari. Another breathtaking village that was also the home to a lot of our porters. The sun was shining, kids were out playing. The village people were all out to greet us as were the roosters and chickens. Menari had a really awesome feel to it.
When we arrived we were all pretty exhausted after a big morning.
But compared to what Nicks porter “Junior” did during the night before while we were all sleeping in Agulogo, we had nothing to complain about.
Juniors little boy who was travelling with us the day before was sick from Malaria and needed medicine which was available from Menari.
Junior got to Agulogo and set up Nicks tent and completed his other duties. Then under complete darkness, he trekked to Menari carrying his little boy. Junior got the medicine into his little boy and then trekked back to Agulogo in time to be there when we all woke up and pack Nicks tent up. All while we were sleeping.
This was another great example of the dedication the porters had to their role and honouring the work the forefathers did back in 1942.
When we were in Menari we were all happy to hear Junior’s little boy was okay.
We left Menari and walked through the open plains of this great village. On the way out we passed the grave site of Faole Buhki. A famous village elder who passed away a short time ago.
Linda’s porter Sei Sei pointed out this was his great grandfather. It was very moving for him to show us where he was laid to rest.
We then departed Menari, walked along the airfield and then started the monstrous climb up to Brigade Hill.
Nick, A tough dude who served as a medic over in Afghanistan pushed hard and proved scars from service and a double knee replacement would never hold him back from anything, smashing the mental barrier and pushing up to the top.
Arriving at Brigade Hill, there was a real spiritual feel to the place.
Approx. 100 Australians lost there lives there in a battle that earnt it the nickname “Butchers Hill”.
We gathered around as a group and Wayne told us of exactly what happened there back on the 9th September 1942.
After hearing what went on we had a moments silence. We then played “True Blue” by John Williamson. It was moment ill never forget. Seeing our group sitting in the Sun looking over the picturesque mountains just deep in there own thoughts paying respects to the diggers while listening to this song, you could see what it meant to everyone. A few people wiped tears away. Others were staring at the ground. It was a mixture of pride and sadness.
After lunch we held a service at Brigade Hill where we read poems and readings. Ben, a current serving member in the Army, read The Ode and we then played the last post. After a pause we then listened to “I was only 19” by Redgum.
Again, you could see the emotion on peoples faces….
We left Brigade Hill and walked across Mission Ridge all extremely moved by the service and then started out long decent into Efogi. Some of the edges we walked along had some spectacular views and steep drop offs! We heard a helicopter fly close by over into Efogi. We all thought maybe someone from another trek mite have been getting choppered out. I think it ended up being some supplies being dropped of to the village.
We reached Efogi….. this meant we were Half way across the Kokoda Track!!
The village was stunning and looked steeply down to a running creek that was flowing through the thick green vegetation.
Tania and Amy played with the kids. It was very touching to see two school teachers showing there care and attention to these beautiful kids.
We all chilled out and completed our nightly routines of setting up our tents, swimming in the cold rivers and then food and debriefing by the fire.
One of the things you quickly learn is that you never really know what is around the corner on the Kokoda Track. After leaving camp just after 6am, we hit a massive climb up to Efogi 2. I remember being halfway up this climb and thinking “gee this is a rude start to the day” 🙂
But what i can say is that when we got to the top the view over the mountain ranges was worth every drop of sweat. To stop and look over the ranges with the morning clouds rolling through the peaks was the best start to any day. We bought some fresh pineapple from the villages which they slice up for you. The sweetest pineapple I have tasted.
We also had a look at the hut where the famous “Bone man” Nishimura lived. This extraordinary gentleman kept a pledge to his fellow Japanese soldiers and came back to try and find there remains to take back to Japan.
We could see Mt Bellamy which was our target for the day. It looked so high and far away.
We left Efogi 2 and started our climb.
This day was one that proved to be very tough. The fatigue from the last five days was catching up with our bodies. Not to mention the mental exhaustion from the constant emotional highs.
We paused as a group at the top of Mt Bellamy which was 2190 meters above sea level. We took a group photo that will forever capture a group of people working together and overcoming any obstacle to honour the diggers that fought here.
To reach the summit of Mt Bellamy was also a significant achievement because we knew in the back of our minds that the track would be more down hill now and that we would not experience anything harder than what we had already been through. We still had alot of hard work ahead but we felt we were starting to put a serious dent in the map Brock pointed out back at Ioribawa.
Glenn pushed through a tough day. A bug had tried to hold him up but he overcame it. At one rest point he was literally lying flat on the ground. We were joking around saying that he was dead. But he showed the true digger spirit that would have been present back in 1942 and pushed through the pain. We had a laugh when we got to 1900, our camp spot for the night, as Glenns bad day got worse. Just as we sitting around hearing more amazing facts and stories from Wayne, a village dog tore into Glenn’s tent and ate his snacks out of his pack.
To add to it, his shorts were burnt while drying by the fire. It gave us all something to laugh at. 🙂
The track can be relentless in many ways 🙂
We enjoyed getting into 1900 a bit earlier in the afternoon.
We sat around and enjoyed the warm sun. Some of the guys were playing cards with Richard and Aaron. Others were chilling out reading letters that family had secretly packed in there bags before they left.
While others were swimming in another beautiful waterway. The swims were getting harder due to the water becoming a lot colder as we climbed higher into the mountains. But it was still awesome.
To top off another perfect day, the porters baked Laura a Birthday cake and came out singing Happy Birthday. These porters were absolute legends!
We left 1900 just as the sun was rising and headed towards Templetons 1.
Linda’s knee which was an existing injury was giving her trouble. But she overcome the pain and showed true heart to complete the rest of the grueling day.
Special mentions also go to Ben, Sam, Tim and Mitch who were carrying there own packs. These four blokes absolutely smashed the mountain ranges with pure grit! And also Viki and Jodie who owned the climbs.
We got into Eora Creek. Our camp for the night. We were blown away by the huge cliff faces above us. We pondered how the Australians attacked the Japanese from down below.
We swam in the river which was nice and deep and had huge rapids which we could hear when we were going to sleep in our tents.
As always we settled around the campfire for a chat and our debriefing. Wayne reinforced what we had learnt and achieved for the day and then briefed us on what we had in store for the next day.
Afterwards i again had the privilege of being able to share some stories about Cam. I read out his Medal for Gallantry citation which every time i read gives me goosebumps about what he did that day in November 2007.
I then shared a story which was written to us from someone that was present that particular day Cam earnt his Medal for Gallantry. The story was about the night back at base how Cam got up and sang Greenday’s “Time of your life” while playing his guitar to honour Private Luke Worsley, who had been KIA that day, and to also get his boys up and about. A great example of the leadership Cam had towards his team even after seeing one of his best mates Luke killed in action. Again, It was an honour to share stories of Cam on the Kokoda Track.
I felt he was there along the track with us the whole time.
Nick and Amy also gave Mitchy a haircut which gave everyone a laugh. One that needed to be fixed up by a hairdresser when we got back to Port Moresby 🙂
After a great night in Eora Creek we were up early as usual.
A bridge crossing across the huge rapids was waiting as we departed Eora Creek.
We then headed along the mountains and went through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. The steep cliff faces were lined with thick bright green vegetation. We were literally walking in clouds that were moving fast along the mountains. We reached Alola village which was where General Potts had his Battalion HQ during the battle of Isurava.
We had a nice moment when Cecelia, our little companion, saw her Aunty in the village and went up and embraced her.
Cecelia and her Aunty were both overwhelmed to see each other. It was awesome to witness.
We left Alola and headed towards Isurava.
We stopped at a place named Cons Rock.
It was a flat slab of rock that was used once as an operating table during the battle of Isurava.
It was a site that had to be seen to be believed.
We sat around the rock and Wayne spoke about two brothers Stan and Butch Bisset, who were both members of the 2/14th.
Butch was mortally wounded and was nursed by his brother Stan as he died in the early hours of the morning. It happened roughly where we were sitting.
We then played “He aint heavy, he’s my brother” by The Hollies on the bluetooth speaker. Another really emotional moment which reminded us of the tragedy that occurs in war.
When we arrived at Isurava, it was very surreal. To see the famous four pillars marked Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice was something we had imagined for a long time. To see them in person was awe inspiring!
We wandered around this incredible site which had more amazing views out of the mountains with clouds rolling in.
We all gathered down at Kingsbury’s Rock for a special service.
The rock was where Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury single handily pushed back a wave of Japanese soldiers that were breaking through the Australian defence. He was then killed instantly by a sniper while reloading his Bren gun.
For his actions and bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
His best mate from childhood Alan Avery was fighting alongside Bruce, saw him get shot and nursed him by the rock. Alan never recovered from seeing this and struggled until he died the age of 77.
One of the most moving moments on the track was when i had the honour to read out Cam’s VC citation and explain it more in depth to the team.
To do this standing at Kingsbury’s Rock for my childhood best mate was emotional to say the least.
After another really emotional day we headed off towards Isurava Village which would be our camp. We were all really moved by the day we had just had.
As we were walking into Isurava village their was a church service going on. It was very cool to see.
We set up camp and again we were greeted by the kids coming down to play.
Every night we would have a debriefing around the camp fire. Every person would discuss there highs and lows for the day.
It was times like these that we seen people true feelings and emotions! People like Kev showed just how much the track and Australia’s military history meant to the them. Kev proved day in and day out he had a heart of gold. A guy who all of us were now proud to call a mate.
We all went to bed knowing that we had one more day ahead of us until we completed the track. It was a weird feeling….
Excited, but also sad that this amazing journey was coming to an end.
We left Isurava Village on our final day on the track. Porter Nathan always started the days hiking with a chant which got everyone up and about.
We marched on to the village of Deniki. This was a special moment as we could look down and see the airstrip of Kokoda from the village. This meant we were about to leave the mountain and get onto the Kokoda plateau. We descended and made it to Hoi which was another stunning village that looked like a postcard.
We all sat in the running creek waters and had a good time just talking and pondering about the fact we were so close to the finish. There was a real buzz in the air but also a sad feeling that this amazing trip was about to come to an end. It was a great village to spend our last stop in.
We had lunch and then laced our boots up for one last time.
We then set off towards Kokoda.
We got off the mountains and the hiking poles are packed away. This was a great moment as we knew we were on off the Owen Stanley Ranges and onto the Kokoda plateau. There was a real buzz in the air!! Village people and children lined the track, our porters were starting to show there excitement and everyone was smiling.
The track evolved into tyres marks in the grass which was now a dirt road. Powerlines Start appearing and we knew we were close!!
We stopped about 400m from the Arch’s that we had been envisioning walking through for over 12 months.
Wayne gave us one last speech and respectfully requests our serving members, Sam, Ben, Nick and Laura to lead us home.
The walk from there to the archs is one i can not describe. It was like walking on a cloud. Tears of pride were welling. Not just for the diggers and what they did back in 1942, but pride for what this amazing group of people were about to achieve.
To walk at the back and watch our team march proudly towards the finish line is a memory etched in my mind.
It was awesome to see Tim and Kelly walk together holding hands towards the finish. They have just set a great example for their six children to look up to.
We crossed the arches and the reality started to set in what we had just done. A feeling we will cherish forever.
For me personally, to stand for a brief moment amongst the celebrations and look back at the Archs with my sister and remember our Grandfathers was a very sentimental moment.
To see our group embracing each other was so special.
I imagined what Bairdy would be doing if he was there with us.
I can imagine his reaction and smile.
I know Bairdy would have been so proud of this incredible group of Australians.
He would have been proud of our PNG porters who had worked hard to help get us through.
He would have been proud of the way all of us, trekkers and PNG crew, became one unit working together to get to the end.
We achieved something that we will remember for the rest of our lives and memories that will always make us smile…
We Made it….
Bairdy, this one was for you mate ??
In honour of CPL Cameron Baird VC MG
KIA Khod Valley Afghanistan 22/6/13