Gunnedah’s Mick Kennedy has just returned from an emotional journey along the treacherous Kokoda Track in the unforgiving mountain ranges of New Guinea, where Australia’s brave Diggers fought to defend the northern borders of their homeland against a merciless foe in World War II.

The journey began more than a year ago when Mick was discussing Kokoda with his brother-in-law who had already organised to walk the track before COVID hit and had not had a chance to reschedule it.

“My grandfather, my Mum’s dad, was a Rat of Tobruk before returning to serve in PNG, so there was a family connection as well,” Mick said.

“So, I started my preparation which included was pack-walking up and down the front of Porcupine Lookout and a longer walk through the Great North Walk around the Hawkesbury region of the Central Coast.

“Between us we had a group of dads all around 50 years old and nine of our “kids” from 16-24 years -unfortunately, I couldn’t take either of our kids but was glad to have three nieces and a nephew along.

“Our group was escorted by a fantastic guide, Richard James, who owns On Track Expeditions. They provide guided treks to Kokoda, Mt Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp.”

A very experienced guide from a family of adventurers, Richard James had walked the track 30 times.

“His father Bill was one of the founders of Top Deck Travel in the UK and also wrote the Field Guide To Kokoda – a bible for anyone wanting to walk the track,” Mick said.

“There are two ways to walk the track over the Owen Stanley Ranges – our route was from south to north, beginning at Ower’s Corner, an hour’s drive north of Port Moresby. We trekked for seven days, stopping in villages at night, including Ioribaiwa on the first night, then Nauro, Menari, Naduri, Templeton’s Crossing, Isurava and Kokoda.”

A river crossing on the Kokoda Track during Mick Kennedy’s trip to PNG.

The group stopped multiple times during the trek to look at historical battle sites and pay tribute to the soldiers who fell there.

“Brigade Hill was particularly moving,” Mick said.

“This is where under orders from his superiors, Brigadier Arnold Potts was tasked with stopping the withdrawal along the track and making a stand on Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill – sadly 87 Australians died that day and 77 were wounded.

“When we stood on the exact location it happened, it was hard to conceive how they were able to fight in such terrain.”

A plaque on the site commemorates the soldiers who died there with 87 sticks pushed into the ground, each with a red poppy on top.

Here the group listened to a detailed account of how the battle had played out and then joined together in a short commemorative service, which included a reading of the Mates Poem (Duncan Butler 2/12th Field Ambulance) by a member of the group, followed by the Ode of Remembrance and reading of the names of all the fallen on that spot.

“One of our trekkers Jock, from Cudal, had carried his bagpipes and he played Flowers of The Forest while the others laid poppies on the top of the makeshift memorials,” Mick said.

“It was very emotional.”

On the second last day, as the group trekked from Templeton’s Crossing to Isurava, their guide Richard asked them to leave their packs on the track and follow him down a short walk to a place referred to as Con’s Rock.

“It was here that an Australian soldier had a foot amputated by a medical orderly called Con Vapp,” Mick recalled.

“The rock is known more famously, however, for the death of Thomas Harold (Butch) Bisset, an Australian Lieutenant in the 2/14th. He and his brother Stan, a Wallaby footballer before war broke out, had served together in Syria before being sent to Kokoda, where they fought together at Isurava and other places along the track.

“On August 30, 1942, Butch was mortally wounded and was carried to this place while word was sent to fetch his brother Stan. Stan held his hand as morphine was administered and sat with him until he died on the rock several hours later.

“Our guide Richard had personally known Stan and his brother has written a biography on him. Stan asked Richard that anytime he passed Con’s Rock on his travels that he would stop and lay a flower and sing Danny Boy, their favourite song they often sang with their mates during hard times on the track.

“After Richard told us the story of the battle, the history of the rock and the story of the Bisset brothers he sang Danny Boy to our small group. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.”

Walking the Kokoda Track was no easy feat for Mick and his team even by 2024 standards, let alone in the midst of war in the 1940s.

Another moving ceremony followed at the Isurava Memorial where the group learnt about the epic battle that took place there.

“It was a special moment to hear Waltzing Matilda on the bagpipes at dawn looking down the valley to Kokoda,” Mick said.

“On our final day walking down from Isurava to Kokoda we met the entourage of the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese and PNG Prime Minister James Marape coming the other way – they had been at a ceremony at the village of Hoi and were beginning the climb to Deneke when we saw them. They stopped briefly for a photo and a chat before heading up to Isurava where they were to have the Anzac Day service the following day.”

The group walked into Kokoda late in the afternoon with a great sense of accomplishment and camped there overnight.

“We visited markets and museums in Kokoda and spent time with the villagers before flying back to Port Moresby, where we were still on a high after completing the trek,” Mick said.

After a night in Port Moresby, the trekkers attended the Anzac Day dawn service at the beautifully maintained Bomana War Cemetery, which is the final resting place of more than 3800 Commonwealth soldiers, 700 of whom are unidentified.

“Here we were shown the final resting places of well-known soldiers such as Butch Bisset and Private Bruce Kingsbury, who was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his heroics at the battle of Isurava,” Mick said.

“I would recommend it to anyone who wants a physical challenge, but also is interested in learning more about the sacrifices our previous generations made to ensure we live the way we do today.

“I was so impressed with the young people on the trek, they were so respectful and I am sure gained a great deal from the journey – I am sure they will attend every dawn service they can in their future lives.”

What goes up must come down – one of the many steep hillsides encountered by Mick and his group on the Kokoda Track.


Approximately 625 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail and more than 1600 were wounded.

Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4000.

Originally used by natives to travel between villages and the hinterland, the Kokoda Track linked Ower’s Corner, approximately 40km north-east of Port Moresby, and the small village of Wairopi, on the northern side of the Owen Stanley Mountain Range. From Wairopi, a crossing point on the Kumusi River, the trail was connected to the settlements of Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the north coast. Its name was derived from the village of Kokoda on the northern side of the main range and was the site of the only airfield between Port Moresby and the north coast.

Fighting on the track was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in World War II. Victory on the Kokoda ensured that Allied bases in northern Australia, vital in the coming counter-offensive against the Japanese, would not be seriously threatened by air attack.

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