- by Rashmii Bell
Image: Rashmii Bell (Founder & Owner of social enterprise publishing label Hibiscus Three) at Isurava Memorial (Kokoda Trail , Papua New Guinea) on the second last day of a 10-trek with Adventure Kokoda in 2018.
As we pause to reflect on this ANZAC Day morning, I share personal pictures of my pilgrimage of the Kokoda Trail in 2018, undertaken with long time friends and supporters of PNG; Kokoda specialist trek company - Adventure Kokoda.
Across ten days and under the leadership of Trek Leader Major Charlie Lynn OAM OL and the exemplary Adventure Kokoda team of Papua New Guinean Guides and Carriers (Porters), I received an overdue yet comprehensive education about Kokoda Trail's (and surrounding areas) significance in the history of war in Papua New Guinea, and the unique relationship developed between Australians and Papua New Guineans through courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice. I was taught by my dear friends; Charlie, the Papua New Guineans whom I walked alongside, met, and shared their time with me along the Trail, and the young Australians with whom I trekked. I am still learning. Lest We Forget.
What began as pictures that I took throughout the trek, has inspired me to produce an ongoing body of work, as a Papua New Guinean, writing about Kokoda through creative nonfiction; first as a seven-part article series, and recently as a published Young Readers illustrated book. Below I share a sequence of a picture, and as its served as inspiration for a personal essay narrative, and subsequent interpretation through poetry prose. - RB.
Brigade Hill, Kokoda Trail. PNG
SEVENTY-TWO pickets stand in rectangle formation to the back of the lawn corridor.
An artificial red poppy lays pinned to the top of each. Short metres away, a weathered plaque sits centimetres away from the edge of a steep cliff. At ground-level, outlines briefly the events that took place between 5 and 9 September, 1942.
Sitting in a curved line, we form a wall on the eastern face of the mountain ridge. Wedged between trek mates and carriers, I cradle my face with my hands on either side of me, my elbows resting on my bent knees. Trek Leader Charlie is midway through recital of NX 6925 Sapper Bert Beros’ ‘ A Soldiers Farewell To His Son’. “I hope that you will never know, the dangers of the sea. And that is why I leave you now, To hold your liberty..” echoes around me as cold air slices through Brigade Hill. It hovers, as does my blurring focus on the short blades of grass at my feet, unwilling to meet the gaze of those around me.
As Charlie moves to a reading of ‘WX UNKNOWN’, I offer a silent word of eternal thanks to each of the seventy-two Australian heroes signified by the mere, individual hand-cut piece of wood inserted into PNG’s mountain soil. Seen through the eyes of a mother, it seems an unworthy tribute of remembrance for such an ‘irreplaceable loss’.
A sea of headtorch lights guide me to the steps of the monument, its’ grandeur concealed by the darkness of dawn.
Whispers of ‘good morning’ float from trek mates already seated as copies of Adventure Kokoda’s Isurava Memorial Dawn Service are passed around. I scan the program of song, recount of the Battle for Isurava, short readings. I then turn my headtorch off before standing to full attention.
Against the four granite pillars, three short lines are formed by Trek Guide, Bos Kuk, Junior, Trek Medic and the Carriers in their full uniform of red, black and gold. I sight DE in the back row and throw him a wave to which his face breaks into the reassuring, shy grin I’ve become familiar with. Our exchange of morning greetings drifts towards Trek Leader Charlie who has signalled the beginning of commemorations.
On the staircase, I stand with the Australian trekkers, opposite to the side of the monument where DE and the modern-day Papua New Guinean carriers face us. Temporarily, our trek group have divided so that we can take turns, paying our respects through singing our respective national anthems. My life of privilege is illuminated when I am able to add my breaking voice in full recital, to the soulful harmony of my countrymen a few metres away. Then in unison, to that of my outstanding KYLC peers standing beside me, whose homeland has also been mine.
AS the service drew to a close on my second-last morning on the Trail, Endurance, Courage, Mateship, Sacrifice stood tall in the background as the Papua New Guinean men whom are so deserving of respect and recognition, took turns shaking hands and exchanging words of warmth with the proceeding line of Australians. On that morning, we are one day short of completing our ten days together as a team. A feat only made possible and undertaken since because of the leadership, selflessness and bravery given by the generation who went before us seventy-six years ago, and for whom we made the pilgrimage along the Kokoda Trail. -
(excerpt of original writing by Rashmii Bell from seven-part series to be republished by Hibiscus Three. Date TBA)
(excerpt from Roses At Eora Creek by Rashmii Bell with illustrations by Bojana Simic)
Roses At Eora Creek is a collaboration book project by Rashmii Bell and Adventure Kokoda.
Video: Images by Rashmii Bell and kokodatrail_bookproject on Instagram.
Roses At Eora Creek is available for purchase via Hibiscus Three Books. Link here.