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Killer Kokoda

Another Australian has died walking Kokoda Track in the footsteps of our soldiers fighting in WWII against Japanese invaders heading towards Australia through PNG’s mountain rainforest; making a total four dead this year.

Despite tabloid-style headlines, the track did not kill anybody! That is actually impossible. Debate about whether they were fit enough for such an arduous adventure is naturally muted by respect for their families. Discussion turns around whether they had proper medical checks beforehand and so on. Responsibilty for one’s own actions is diffused.

Terrain on the track is difficult & muddy, humidity and temperatures are high, mossies are plentiful. Unsurprisingly walking conditions are beyond the capacity of some of our suburban citizens and described as a ‘tropical nightmare’. But this information is readily available, so when adventure calls, would-be walkers must evaluate their own ability to endure.

Are some foolhardy, unprepared, unthinking, unrealistic, unaware of their own limitations or underlying medical conditions? No doubt. Or simply unlucky. In 2001 there were 70 walkers and last year 6000, becoming a $50m business with substantial impact on isolated village communities.

While showing sympathy for those whose loved ones met an untimely death, we should also recognise their deliberate decision and responsibility for embarking on an adventure with some danger. The risks are extant.

Sentimentalising of Anzac ‘legends’ gives literal meaning to that mis-used word ‘iconic’ for this jungle pilgrimage, with the increasing spiritual vacuum of Godzone conjuring up new forms of worship. Kokoda walking seems like more mawkish nationalism than historical reflection.

PNG crash

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