Kokoda: An epic in Australian history?

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Some twenty-five years ago, on 26 April 1992, I flew over the Owen Stanley Range in a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-130 transport aircraft with Prime Minister Paul Keating as his historical adviser. We landed at Popondetta and then boarded an RAAF Caribou for the short flight to Kokoda. Along the way I tried to describe the Kokoda campaign to the Prime Minister, who, I must say, absorbed the facts and figures with commendable speed and accuracy. At Kokoda Keating was scheduled to lay wreaths on the memorial stones to the troops who had fought on the Kokoda Trail. He duly laid the wreaths on the ‘official’ memorials, but then moved to an unofficial memorial with plaques from the different battalions that had fought in the campaign. While I explained what the battalions had done, Keating said to me, ‘I haven’t got a wreath for this one -; what will I do?’ Before I could gather my thoughts, he stepped forward and kissed the ground at the base of the memorial stone. For a moment I thought he had had a heart attack and had fallen over. The Prime Minister then moved to a dais and delivered a speech, which as far I could see was given ‘off the cuff’. Among other things, when referring to the Kokoda battles, he said: '… this was the first and only time that we’ve fought against an enemy to prevent the invasion of Australia … This was the place where I believe the depth and the soul of the Australian nation was confirmed.’ The previous day at a ceremony in Port Moresby Keating had expounded on the same theme, stating that Kokoda was ‘the most famous battle in Australia’s history’. He continued that the Australians in Papua New Guinea ‘fought and died, not in defence of the old world, but the new world … it might be said that, for Australians, the battles in Papua New Guinea were the most important ever fought.’ At a luncheon held after the Kokoda visit, Keating said that the morning had been ‘the most moving day of my public life’.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationKokoda: Beyond the Legend
    Editors Karl James
    Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    ISBN (Print)9781107189713
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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