Stan Bisset, who died on the Sunshine Coast on 5 October, aged 98, was one of the heroes of the Kokoda campaign in WWII, and Australia’s oldest Wallaby rugby international.
I’ll never forget watching Stan as he stood in front of his beloved brother Butch’s grave at Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Morseby. It was August 1998, during what Stan and his fellow Kokoda Diggers called The Last Parade, their pilgrimage to say a final farewell to the mates they left behind.
It was the first time Stan had visited the grave since Butch had died in his arms on the Track 56 years earlier. He stood there silently for a long time. I could see the emotions surging through him. As always, he stood ramrod straight but tears welled in his noble eyes as the memories flooded back.
There before him lay Butch, his life cut short by the terrible random selection of war like so many others on the Track. Stan had vowed to lead a good and productive life to honour Butch’s sacrifice. And he had been as good as his word. He had raised a fine family, forged a long and successful career and had done all in his power to keep Butch’s memory and the story of Kokoda alive.
While I watched, Stan gently wiped the tears from his eyes with his powerful hands and then brought them to his side. He squared his shoulders and paused. Then he swept his right arm up in a crisp, practised salute: an homage from a warrior, a farewell from a brother.
Stan has a deep rooted sense of duty and an unshakeable sense of honour. He had, and still has, star quality: that indefinable amalgam of physical presence and character that sets the remarkable ones apart. He was a genuine sporting hero who blossomed into a military hero in the cauldron of war.
I vividly remember when I met him for the first time, doing interviews with the veterans for a documentary. My immediate thought was that they’ve ordered a hero from Central Casting and they’ve sent the perfect specimen.
Stan’s former commanding officer and lifelong friend, the late Phil Rhoden, told me that Stan had no time to grieve for Butch during the battles along the Track and took many years to recover from the loss. Like so many other Kokoda veterans, the campaign was one of the defining experiences of Stan’s life. Somehow, Stan dealt with the blows and got on with his life.
Stan Bisset is quite simply one the finest men I have met. I have been privileged to call him a friend and a mentor for twenty years. He personified so many attributes of the Digger to me: courage (both moral and physical); compassion; selflessness; independence; loyalty; resourcefulness; devotion; coolness; and humour.
He carried himself with the bearing of a natural leader and a champion sportsman. Even as he neared his century, he continued to inspire me and all those who know him with his dogged refusal to surrender any ground to Father Time.
Since the rediscovery of the Kokoda story about 15 years ago, barely a day would go by without someone wanting to contact Stan and meet him. Without fail, he gave his time and his support.
In 2000, Stan was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to veterans, particularly through the 2/14th Battalion Association.
Stan is survived by Gloria and his children and grandchildren
Stan Bisset, like his story, is timeless.