Kokoda Spirit Officially Launched

Patrick's latest book, Kokoda Spirit, was launched in Melbourne today by one of the Kokoda Campaign's "Ragged Bloody Heroes' of the 39th Battalion, George Palmer.

Kokoda Spirit Launch PL George web.jpg

Speaking at the Old Observatory, near the Melbourne Shrine, George was joined by his old comrades, Alan 'Kanga' Moore, Peter Holloway and John Briscoe. George welcomed the book and paid tribute to his comrades who never returned home.

"It is an essential part of our heritage that this story is kept alive. We were a unit that was unprepared for warfare. We had very little training for what was ahead of us, having spent months unloading boats and digging fortifications," George said.

"However, the tremendous bond which was developed is exemplified by the magnificent pillars at the memorial at Isuurava. They are Sacrifice, Mateship, Courage and Endurance. Each pillar signifies the tremendous spirit of the soldiers battling under overwhelming odds.

"When I returned there a couple of years ago, I sat on a log looking back through the valley towards Kokoda. I felt a great sense of serenity and peace which was so different to where the terrible carnage occurred."

George said he hoped the book would bring he and his mates' experiences to every Australian home.

"The men of Kokoda drew on an inner spirit to withstand overwhelming odds and prevail against a formidable foe. This same spirit lives on today and I believe ordinary Australians can use it to overcome obstacles in their own lives. We have seen this in times of crisis when Australians have banded together and selflessly helped each other -times like the Bali Bombing, Cyclone Katrina and our recent bushfires. You don’t have to walk the Track to understand the spirit of Kokoda and use it in your own life," he said.

"When you read Kokoda Spirit, think of us in 1942. We were not trained for the events that overtook us. We had no experience of such situations. We had no expectations of what we would find or have to do. This is the true essence of what these events should tell us today. The resilient Australian Spirit is shown in this new book and it gives a more human story to the events. Other veterans and I still talk about events in the world as they happen. Our bond goes back to the “Track”."

Speaking at the launch, Patrick said that in the book, for the first time, he tried to capture the spirit of Kokoda in words and pictures

"Last year I was talking with my cherished friend, Stan Bisset, around the time that he turned 96. As we chatted I found myself marvelling at him … at his quiet modesty, his noble carriage, his boundless energy, his grace and his refusal to surrender an inch to father time," he said.

"I began to think of the other men of Kokoda I’d met over the years. And how many were of the same calibre as Stan … so many of them now gone  … Phil Rhoden, a cherished friend and mentor, Ralph Honner, a prince among men, Teddy Bear, Alan Avery, Chas Butler, Maurie Taafe, Sam and Charlie Pike, Harry Mortimore, Doug McLean, Laurie Howson, Stew Gedye, Spud Whelan and many more.

"I thought of those whom I never met but whose sacrifices created the Kokoda legend … Bruce Kingsbury, Charlie McCallum, Butch Bisset, Claude Nye and Lefty Langridge, John Metson, Sam Templeton, Bill Owen, Mocca Treacy, Bob Dougherty, Alan Haddy and so many others who now sleep at Bomana.

"And finally, I thought of those Kokoda men still with us, men who’ve become friends and who ensure the stories of their mates are passed on … George Palmer, Col Blume, Dud Warhurst, Bede Tongs, Arnold Forrester, Ken Phelan, J.D. McKay, Harry Barkla, Peter Holloway, Kanga Moore and many other wonderful characters.

"They were, and are, special people … from a remarkable generation of Australians.

“Interviewing the Diggers I became aware of the spirit they possessed. Some, like Ralph Honner and Phil Rhoden, could describe it beautifully. Others simply lived it.

"Ralph Honner described the superhuman performance of his young diggers of the 39th Battalion – men who had never fired a shot in anger before the cataclysmic battle at Isurava and yet were able to hold off a battle-hardened enemy that outnumbered them by six to one until they were reinforced: 'Indeed, the strangest feature of their story is that the weaker they became, the stronger and fiercer waxed their resolution to hold on at all costs until the long-promised relief should become a reality.  In the testing crucible of conflict, out of a welter of defeats and disasters, of mistakes and misfortunes, of isolated successes and precipitate withdrawals, they were transformed by some strong catalyst of the spirit into a devoted band wherein every man’s failing strength was fortified and magnified by a burning resolve to stick by his mates.'

"Phil Rhoden was the commander of the battalion which relieved Ralph Honner’s young men. Many years ago, I asked Phil to define the spirit that enabled the Australians to prevail on the Track. He thought about it for a long time and he said: 'Interdependence, one upon each other … the ability to fight on when there’s scarcely a breath left in your body … and, finally, respect for each other.'

"The story of the battles along the Kokoda Track and their importance to Australia is now comparatively well known.  The word Kokoda is recognised, indeed, revered by many Australians. And, after all these years, the men of Kokoda are receiving some recognition for their sacrifices and their achievements.

"Yet, still, I believe, there remains confusion about the spirit, which sustained these remarkable men. For a start, it won’t die with them. It’s a spirit we can all use today. The fact is that we’ll all walk our personal Kokoda Tracks at some time in our lives.  It may be the death of a loved one … the loss of a job … a marriage break-up … illness … a child battling an addiction.

“I received a wonderful bonus during the latter stages when I was once again chatting with Stan. I was showing him some of the shots I’d taken on the Track for the book when, out of the blue, he mentioned that he’d had a camera on the track.

"He completely gobsmacked me! I said ‘Stan I’ve known you 20 years and you’ve never mentioned that before.’ In his wonderfully understated way, he said ‘Yes, I don’t know where I got it from … Dad must have sent it up, I s’pose.’ When I asked whether he still had any of the shots, he asked his beloved Gloria and, twenty minutes later, Glor emerged with a box full of about 50 wonderful prints … some absolutely iconic.

"They’ve never been published before and they give the book a special insight, an aura … as do those given to me by other diggers, like George and Phil Rhoden’s widow Pat.

"I wrote this book … to explore the spirit that sustained these men; to celebrate it; and to try to bring it to life in words and images. I had a vision for this book – inspired by the works of Carla Coulson, Italian Joy and Paris Tango. I wanted try to express the spirit of Kokoda equally in words and pictures. I wanted the result to be unique among the works dealing with the subject.

"And the team from Hardie Grant has turned that vision into reality. I’m delighted with the production.

"It’s dedicated to Stan and Phil and George and all the men of Kokoda … and it’s aimed at all those who have walked the Track, following in their footsteps, or all those who wish they could walk it.

"I hope it does them, and the spirit of Kokoda justice."