Kokoda; walking into history - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Photos: Supplied.


For seven years, Major Chad Sherrin worked as Development Manager for Legacy. A decorated veteran and the son of a Milne Bay veteran, his first personal contact with the Kokoda Trail was meeting WW2 veterans at the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting on the trail. The personal stories that he heard of the fortitude and dogged determination of the men involved in the conflict left him deeply impressed and he resolved to find out more about this iconic part of Australia’s wartime history.

Chad did his first trek in 2004, wanting to experience, first hand, walking the Kokoda Trail. On his return home, reflecting on the experience he realised that there could be others seeking to relive the historical climb and proposed organising treks as a fundraiser for Legacy.

“Legacy and the owner of Adventure Kokoda, Charlie Lynn – another veteran – jumped at the idea,” says Chad. “Initially, we conceived two treks a year, one for the company and one for Legacy. We hadn’t counted on how very popular they would be and within a few years we had five trek leaders on rotation doing ten treks a year. Trekking became my full-time job.”

The reasons for the treks’ popularity are varied. Some trekkers are attracted by the physical challenge and Chad says that being “match fit” for a trek is demanding.

“Walking, aerobic training and gym work are good,” he says. “Carrying a 20-kilogram pack at five to six kilometres an hour is a good start, building up to 10 to 15 kilometres a day for five days a week. On the trek heat stress is the main thing to avoid but fortunately most people are so far out of their comfort zone that they tend to be very careful. As a trek leader you learn to assess individual capabilities and arrange the climb so that everyone ends up at the same place at the same time.”

Snakes are rarely seen (“Up to thirty trekkers and sixty carriers will scare off most snakes!”) and trekkers seem to be immune from broken limbs. Some trekkers have a more sublime motivation than fitness for tackling the trail.

“Some of our trekkers have a direct link to a family member or a friend who fought on the trail, some just want to pay homage to those who fought up there by walking in their footsteps,” says Chad.

“What everyone experiences – and often it’s quite unexpected – is the emotional impact of the trek. Standing at the memorial of the Battle of Isurava looking into the valley or standing at Brigade Hill, where the blokes had to virtually get down a cliff at night, carrying their wounded – you can’t be in places like that without feeling the spirits around you.”

While the trek program specialises in military history, including talks and anecdotes, Chad – who is an accomplished story-teller – adds poetry to the campfire conversations, including such memorable pieces as Bert Beros’ Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and Sgt. Bede Tongs’ What Do You Say to a Dying Man?

Family commitments, always Chad’s first priorities, mean that Chad has just completed his 98th and final trek but he leaves with a full and rich appreciation of what he gained from his nineteen years as a Kokoda trekker – as well as having walked 14,896km and climbed a cumulative total 796,152m.

“The people are what I’ll miss most,” he says; “the people of the PNG team and the folk who came on the treks, the conversations and the evenings around the fire at night. Life’s so busy nowadays, we don’t get time to just talk to each other. And I’ll miss the rainforests.”

Chad says that gathering stories on the Trail, and the wealth of historical detail that has emerged since information about the Kokoda campaign has become publicly available, has taught him the value of determination.

“Those men fought in in horrific conditions of terrain and temperature against an enemy that was better equipped, better trained and who outnumbered them – and they knew that they were the last line of defence. They set their minds to beating all that and they did it.

“Doing these treks and keeping their memory and their stories alive has been an honour and a privilege. To me it’s a sacred pilgrimage.”

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