The Kokoda campaign finds a new online home | Pacific Beat

The Kokoda campaign finds a new online home

The Kokoda campaign finds a new online home

Updated 15 February 2013, 18:02 AEST

A historian and filmmakers is hoping to attract new and young audiences to the story of the Kokoda Track using online technology.

In 1942 the Papua Campaign became the main focus of the Australian military, with real concerns that if they did not turn the Japanese back, the Australian mainland would be invaded.

At the time Australia's main infantry force were deployed in the Middle East, fighting with the British, with the territory of Papua defended by Militia and conscript forces.

And while the battles along Kokoda are recognised by most Australian as an important part of their history, many of them have little knowledge about how the whole campaign unfolded.

Now an historian with a passion for PNG is utilising new techonology to share that story.

This report from Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Patrick Lindsay, creator of the Kokoda live 1942 website, and the Kokoda smartphone app.

Nick Walsh, Kokoda veteran, Damien Parer, World War Two filmmaker (Archival) Chester Wilmot, World War Two ABC Correspondent (Archival)

Dudley Leggett. World War Two ABC Correspondent (Archival) readings from the website, Steve Rice

COONEY: In 1942 Australian audiences watching the award winning newsreel "Kokoda Frontline", were given this introduction by the man who filmed it, cameraman Damian Parer.

DAMIEN PARER: Eight days ago, I was with our advanced troops in the jungle facing the Japs at Kokoda. I've seen the war and I know what your husbands, your sweethearts and brothers are going through.

COONEY: It's now over 70 years since the Papua campaign began, and while walking the Kokoda track has become a rite of passage for many young Australians and the other battles feature in the country's military history, and to a degree, in the Australian conscienceness, how the battles unfolded, the background of many of the young men taking part and the impact on locals are not as well known.

For Australian author and journalist Patrick Lindsay the campaign, and the people of PNG have become a passion.

PATRICK LINDSAY: I first went up to PNG in 1983 and I was doing stories, believe it or not for '"The Today Show" on Channel 9 and I was just doing general stories around PNG. We travelled a lot and we got to Kokoda and I was immediately struck by the place and it had a special aura and I realised, I just didn't know anything more than this was a very important place for and a battle. And my dad had fought in New Guinea, not on the track, but he'd been up there and so I made it my business to find out more about it and I have the feeling that it was because they started to feel mortal around those times and it wasn't that they wanted to talk about it, but they didn't want their mates stories to go with them. I've always said it's an extraordinary story. If they'd been Yanks, there would have been 20 movies.

COONEY: One of those soldiers was Nick Walsh.

In 1942 he was a young Lieutenant.

NICK WALSH: Well, I think a lot of the terrible stories and the sacrifices that were made where these 2,000 boys trying to defend the place against 10,000 and they made terrific sacrifices and they lost, and we lost a heck of lot of boys then and they were untrained and they did a wonderful job.

PATRICK LINDSAY: They mostly joined up, they mostly volunteered, but they volunteered to join a militia unit, which meant that they would defend Australia, rather than be sent overseas necessarily too, with the AIF. So what they'd forgotten was the sort of fine print that Papua New Guinea was Australian territory, so they found themselves on a boat. Most of them joined up about October of 1941, and by Christmas that year, they were already on a boat heading up to Port Moresby. People hear they were called chockos and that was short for chocolate soldiers, because the AIF blokes reckoned they were pretty weak and they'd melt in the sun and they also called them Koalas at one stage, because they were a protected species. And so there was that little rift. It wasn't, I don't think, a great one. There would have been a few fights in pubs and stuff like that, but it wasn't enormous, but it was solved a the Battle of Isurava, which was the first really serious battle on the Kokoda Track, where the 39th. who were the militia guys held on against remarkable odds just in time for the guys from the AIF to be rushed back from the Middle East and to fight together and that disappeared. And these guys will talk about it today and tell you how, oh, they loved these young kids, because the average age of 39th. was probably less than 20 and they had not been trained properly, because they had been used as labourers and loading parties and things like that and building defences, and not been trained in jungle fighting or proper, proper fighting and yet they were able to rise to the occasion at Isurava and really it was the critical battle.

COONEY; As part of the passion Patrick is the Chairman of the "Kokoda Track Foundation" which works to improve the education and access to healthcare of those villagers living along the track.

He's also written a number of books on Kokoda and other military campaigns and leaders, and also produced a number of television documentaries.

But today's younger generation are those he wants to attract the interest of, and it's a generation used to getting information in small bite sized portions, and who have the access to instant information wherever they are.

To attract their attention he's utilising the power of social media and online technology.

First is the website, titled KOKODA 1942 LIVE.

DIARY 1: Twenty fifth of June, 1942, at 0700 hours, B Company of the 39th. heads off to start of Kokoda Track in trucks led by Captain "Uncle Sam" Templeton. When it arrives at McDonald's Corner, it finds that rations and supplies supposed to have been sent ahead are not there.

PATRICK: It's designed to just give an impression of how things happen in real time and my aim for really doing it was to try to present the story in a snap shot way just as the digital generation gets it. It just came to me when I was fiddling around with Twitter and learning a bit about Twitter and understanding how powerful it was and then I thought, well, this is a great way to sort of look back and that's why I called it "LIVE". It's "1942 LIVE". What was happening on this day, that year and it was a vital year for Australia. That's the thing I'm trying to bring across that the revisionist historians would have us believe that we were never really in great danger in Australia and you can always look back with 2020 hindsight and make it whatever you like. But the reality on the ground in Australia and in PNG was that everyone was expecting there could be an invasion at any time and the same with the Japanese soldiers. And I interviewed 17 Japanese veterans back in 1991 in Japan, and they represented a fairly solid proportion of the ones who survived, because only 10 per cent ever did survive. They all believed they were coming to Australia.

COONEY: What sort of response have you got to the site. I mean if you grabbed my attention, what about others?

PATRICK LINDSAY: It has, it's a slow build up. There's I get I suppose about 100 and something everyday or more. I think it gets up probably 150 something click in everyday watching it.

DAIRY 2: Twenty ninth of July, 1942. The enemy attacked Kokoda around 2 am in large numbers, charging up the slopes of the plateau from three sides, greatly outnumbered and now under mortar fire, the Australians withdraw through the rubber plantation behind the plateau, back to Deniki, further down the track.

COONEY: In 1942 Chester Wilmott was covering the Kokoda campaign for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

CHESTER WILMOT: There are two teams of traffic where there's only room for one. Coming back is line of troops who've just been relieved after a month's fighting near Kokoda. They're tired, muddy and unshaven, and only kids of 19 and 20. They've done a grand job and earned their rest,.

Here's a steep pinch and a wounded digger's trying to climb it. He needs both hands and both feet, but he's been hit in the arm and thigh. And I say to this fellow that he ought to be a stretcher case. And he replies, "I can get along. There's blokes here up worse than me and if we don't walk, they'll never get out."

DAIRY 4: Twenty ninth of August, 1942. A group of the 39ths wounded, unfit to fight, are sent back down the track to safety at Alola when they hear their mates are in dire straits, 27 out of the 30 head straight back to Isurava. Those who couldn't have lost a foot, had a bullet in the throat and a forearm blown off.

CHESTER WILMOT: About five minutes later, we run into Hugh, the Brigade Major and then the 2IC of Battalion and the Brigade Major says, it's no use you going forward Chester, we're coming back. They both flew on the left of Coffey's crowd this morning. Then another message. The Nips have hoisted their flag on the ridge where we were last night and a patrol reports they're swarming over it in 100's. You can drive men like this back, but you can't conquer them. Nothing tests troops as much as a withdrawal, and they're standing this test. But neither they nor you want anymore talks about the glory at withdrawal.

COONEY: As the battles went on the Australians were able to push the Japanese back off the Owen Stanley Ranges. But that didn't mean an end to the fighting.

PATRICK LINDSAY: Buna, Gona, Sananada, they're right on the coastline, they're sort of swampy kind of areas and it was appalling swamp when they fought in it. And while they're fighting there, bodies were floating by. It would have been the most unhealthy, horrible area that you can imagine.

COONEY: As the fight moved onto Buna, reporter Duggley Leggett, gave this description from the battlefield.

DUGGLEY LEGGETT: This the ABC Field Unit at Buna and it's just after first light on Christmas Eve. Once again this attack is going in against the Japanese positions at Buna. The tanks have been warming up and are ready to move out from the coconut grove, and the thick undergrowth were they have been lying overnight on the edge of the new aerodrome, the new airstrip of Buna which we captured three days ago.

DIARY 5: Twenty fifth of December, 1942, a violent Christmas Day in the swamps and creeks at Buna, as the fighting continues unabated, and the allied troops try to root out the remaining Japanese fortification. Safe in Moresby, General Blamey and his staff feast on a huge turkey.

GENERAL BLAMEY : There are the MGs opening the tank and infantry attack. The attack's the best part of a 1,000 yards from here, but there's almost a complete open stretch between us and where are troops are now attacking in the jungle nearly halfway along the sides of the main air strip. Well by the sound of it, the attacks well underway.

COONEY: To get the story to a generation of audiences used to having access to information at their finger tips. Patrick Lindsay is not stopping with just a website.

He's launched an App, for use on Smartphones and tablets. It's simply titled "Kokoda".

PATRICK LINDSAY: I tried to establish it so that it made sense and it's based along a map which is the track in the area up there, so that you click in to the various places along this map and the story of what happened there unfolds and it incorporates video, so you've got grabs there, interview grabs of, from the diggers from the documentaries I've done in the past, so they're actually telling their own stories. We've got 3D interactive maps, so you can get a feel for the terrain which is some of the toughest terrain in the world and also it's got there you can look up, all of the, all of the casualties, all those who died are all listed. There's a timeline, all that sort of stuff. So, and then from there, I'm hoping that particularly kids, who get that kind of information in that way, that they don't read in that, they don't learn that in a linear way normally nowadays. They'll dip in and they'll dip out and that's what it's designed to allow them to do, to go in here, go in there, find out about the Fuzzy Wuzzies, find out about this, where did this happen?

COONEY: The App that you've created. This is not just some, like Angry Bird's game. It's pretty significant in size and that, and I would imagine, you mention you got into this because you were learning about online and Twitter. Then you're in a whole new world of pain when you start going to Apps creation?

PATRICK LINDSAY: Absolutely, I learned an enormous amount in the Apps department, but it's the future. This is where everyone is going to learn in the future and the beauty of it is, that you can carry so much in you're whether you've got an Ipad or whatever you're smart device in, you're phone. You can carry that around the whole time, particularly if you're travelling. But I love it because never in human history have we had access to knowledge and information the way we have at the moment, particularly the average punter who can now get online and study at Oxford if he wants to.

COONEY: And the response to both the web site and the App have been positive and not just from the younger generations.

PATRICK LINDSAY: The Diggers love it. The Foundation has a big annual dinner and we also, we're very closely connected with the old Diggers, who I say are all in the 90s, so we're very careful, we look after them. We went up only in November, I went up with five of the Diggers for the 70th. anniversary of the Battle of the recapture of Kokoda and they were absolutely blown away by, when they saw the App and we, they went through the App, because they're really an adaptable group. These guys if they had been around today, they would have been loving all of this sort of stuff.

DAIRY 5: Twenty third of January, 1943. The Papuan campaign has seen 1,972 Australians die, 1,449 killed in action, 127 missing presumed killed, a further 286 have died of wounds and 110 died from accidents and illnesses on active service. The campaign's been catastrophic for the Japanese invaders. Perhaps only 10 per cent of the 14,000 troops from the South Seas Force, who landed in July, 1942, ever returned home.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Text/SMS
Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Tweets
Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email
Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.