Recently, a group of experts met at a talkfest at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was called ‘Kokoda ... Beyond the Legend’. News reports of the two-day event quote Professor David Horner and other military historians there as attacking what they call the “excessive mythology” of the Kokoda campaign. They say the Japanese never intended to invade Australia and Kokoda was not the battle for Australia.
Interestingly, Professor Horner seems to have dramatically changed his viewpoint down the years. Here's what he said (on videotape) in an interview he gave me for the doco "Kokoda ... The Bloody Track", in 1991: "Combined with the Guadalcanal campaign, the Kokoda campaign marked the turning point of the war in the South-West Pacific. No longer would the Japanese be able to pose a direct threat to Australia."
and again: "In terms of the direct affect on Australia, Kokoda was the most important battle fought by the Australians in the Second War. And, in its general importance to Australia, Kokoda ranks right up there in importance with the legendary Gallipoli campaign.”
Back then Professor Horner saw the Japanese as posing a direct threat to Australia, extinguished by the Diggers fighting on the Track: “It was a daring gamble by the Japanese, which might well have come off had it not been for the heroic rearguard fighting of the Australians in the mountains.” He seems to have a polar opposite view today!
A few simple facts point to the Japanese intentions at the time: Firstly, when the Japanese invaded Rabaul and then Papua, they had already invaded Australian sovereign territory. Indeed, the whole of the Kokoda campaign was fought on Australian territory.
Secondly, when they landed at Gona and until they reached Ioribaiwa, the Japanese aim was to capture Port Moresby … otherwise, why were they evacuating their wounded forward down the track and widening the track as they went to accommodate their subsequent horses and supplies and why were they carrying Australian invasion currency?
Thirdly, in 1990 I interviewed 17 Japanese Kokoda campaign veterans in Tokyo and Kochi (for the same doco for which I interviewed Prof Horner). It was a substantial representation of their survivors … and, without exception, every one of them thought they were coming to Australia!
Fourthly, as Capt Bede Tongs MM of the 3rd Battalion, pointed out after listening to the Canberra conference: the Australian Diggers on the track fought, and died, believing they were defending their loved ones in Australia.
And what a price they paid. At Isurava, Brigade Hill, Mission Ridge, Ioribaiwa, Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek, Oivi-Gorari and the beachheads at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda, the jungles were sewn heavily with Australian blood, as so many proud battalions were whittled down to almost platoon strength.
Had the Japanese invaders been able to roll over the Australian defenders along the track - as they originally planned - and been able to capture Port Moresby, do you seriously think they wouldn’t have reconsidered plans to isolate, subjugate or take Australia?
Australians owe an eternal debt to the men who fought in the Kokoda Campaign … those still with us today … and those who have left us ... men like Bruce Kingsbury, John Metson, Charlie McCallum, Butch Bisset, Claude Nye, Mocca Treacy, Tom Fletcher and so many more who sleep at Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby. Those heroes neither sought nor received recognition for their bravery.