My Kokoda story - Chris Galea
Trekking the Kokoda Trail was the experience of a lifetime, and one he’d recommend to anyone wanting to challenge themselves, and make a valuable contribution to young people in Melbourne’s North West, says Matthews Steer’s Chris Galea.
A participant in the 2017 Victoria Police Kopkoda Project, Chris joined a 37-strong team of police, community members and students who trekked Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail, made infamous by the brave exploits of Australia’s 39th Battalion during WWII, saying it was the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.
“We knew it would be physically tough and we trained hard to prepare,” said Chris, “but what we couldn’t fully anticipate was how tough it was going to be mentally and that was quite confronting.
“It was a smack in the face the first day. The mental battle is what hits you – nothing has ever mentally challenged me like it.”
With plenty of thinking time as the project participants made their slow progress along the trail, Galea said the trek was also a humbling experience.
“We had the best equipment: shoes, kit, medical support and supplies, and porters. When you’re walking for hours you can’t help but reflect on the soldiers, some of them as young as 17, who fought battles on the trail, received medical treatment in the mud at the trail’s edge, even had limbs amputated there.
“Nobody who trekked the trail with us this year left Papua New Guinea without an acute appreciation of the privileges we enjoy and the opportunities we have in Australia today.”
The recipient of the Contribution to the Community award at the annual Matthews Steer Recognise, Encourage, Reward Awards, Chris was so moved by the experience that he penned a poem – "The Walk" – on the flight home, reflecting on the mateship he experienced on the trail, and the lives of the soldiers who bravely laid down their lives for their country during the Kokoda Track Campaign between Australian and Japanese forces during WWII.
“Kokoda is not something you can get through on your own, he said. “You really rely on the others to help you through it, and I was able to help some of my fellow trekkers to get through on a couple of tough days too.
“It was life-changing. I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like and I would recommend it to anyone. The feeling of achievement as we completed each day’s leg of the trek carried us through to the end, and I will never forget the emotion when we reached the finish.”
I walked a path a man once took, not too dissimilar from myself. A father, brother, son, a mate, who travelled to meet a deadly fate.
They walked the track, arms slung to shoulders, some 75 years ago. Some made it back, in whole or part, many buried deep below.
I walked amongst them at Bomana where a young VC now lay. Next to him lay a young man, my age at this present day.
I walked the track as a son, of my parents and my land. I come home safe, I come home free, not a bloodstain on my hand.
As I walk, as I grow, with a chance of getting older, I say thank you, and wish you well, our loved and proud young soldier.
- Christopher Galea