Nowra Anglican College student Bronte Heslehurst has returned from trekking the Kokoda Track with a newfound perspective on life.
The 17-year-old Year 12 student believes after completing the 144 kilometre trek in 10 days in some of the “toughest, mountainous country” she is prepared to tackle whatever challenges life throws at her.
Bronte was one of 25 students from around the country to take part in the adventure.
“This was a huge challenge,” she said “but one I was proud to be able to rise too.
“I’ve learnt so many things from the adventure, especially about myself.
“It was an amazing experience - extremely challenging.
I’ve learnt so many things from the adventure, especially about myself. It was extremely challenging.Bronte Heslehurst
“You have to learn to keep going. You come to a mountain and look up - they were huge.
“You just have to take it one step at a time. Keep doing that and you can overcome anything.
“And I think that is one of the main things I will take away from the trip. Whatever challenge is put in front of you, take one step at a time and anything can be attained.
“If you have a positive attitude and determination anything can happen.”
She said it was an amazing time and she learnt a lot about the Australian soldiers and what they faced against the Japanese.
“I had researched what happened at Kokoda but didn't really know the extent of it. To be able to see where the Australians fought, what they faced, not just in an advancing army that outnumbered them six to one but the conditions they encountered,” she said.
“It is really hard to put what I felt into perspective.
“The heat and humidity was incredible and the mountains massive.
You have to learn to keep going. You just have to take it one step at a time. Keep doing that and you can overcome anything.Bronte Heslehurst
“We were hiking with 15 kilogram packs and we struggled to get to the top of some mountains. On the top of one mountain we stopped and our trek leader told us 150 Australian diggers had died where we were.
“That was confronting - shocking.
“But it also made the experience a lot more special. We were able to reflect on what the Diggers went through. I didn't really know how underprepared they were for the campaign.
“It gave me the chance to fully appreciate what they did. They never gave up, their dedication to keep fighting was incredible.
“We found it hard just trekking with our gear, let alone having to dodge bullets or an advancing opposition force.
“We had medical supplies, food. If anything went wrong we could get helicoptered out.
“If the soldiers got shot they often had to get back get down the track to get medical supplies.
If you have a positive attitude and determination anything can happen.Bronte Heslehurst
“It gave us all the chance to understand, appreciate and respect what our soldiers did.”
She said a dawn service at the village of Isurava, one of the main battlegrounds on Kokoda, was also a special experience.
“Isurava also has one of only two war memorials on the trail,” she said.
“Being there as the sun was rising, looking at the four large pillars was mind blowing.”
She said another highlight was their amazing trek leader. Himself a veteran of 25 years military service, at 73, he has completed the track 83 times.
“His insight and perspective was just incredible,” she said.
The challenge will be happening again next year, with the Nowra RSL again looking for applicants aged between 17 and 25-years, around March.
“I would definitely encourage other kids to take part,” Bronte said.
“It is an incredible experience and the Nowra RSL was a great support.”
She recently presented a talk to local RSL members, describing her experiences.