WHEN Mollymook resident Milton Lay spent time on the Kokoda Track back in 2003, he didn’t think it would spawn an eight-year love affair with the tiny Papua New Guinean village, and become the springboard for a mammoth charity project from home soil.
This week, Mr Lay a kick-started a $68,000 fundraising mission as part of the Kokoda Hall Steering Committee, which is working alongside the long-established charity, Kokoda Track Foundation.
His dream, along with other committee members, is to build a community hall on a remote part of the infamous Kokoda Track, which will be used by local women to create and sell their craft, and for the training of young people in the village.
“In several trips over there, we have established a close bond with the villagers in Kokoda and are more determined than ever to bring our dream to fruition,” Mr Lay said.
“The plan has been two years in planning already, and we are talking about a remote area with complicated logistics, so it’s a big call, but all we need now is money.”
The steering committee group includes members from all parts of Australia, but Mr Lay said there has been strong local support for the initiative in its early stages.
“We have had a lot of people who’ve said they are interested in supporting the project, whether it’s with funding or physical labour or support over there,” he said.
“At this stage, everything is ready to go – we just need to get our funds sorted and the exciting stuff can start. I hope that can happen at the end of April this year.”
The “exciting stuff” involves transporting a prefabricated hall structure to Old Kokoda Village and constructing it on-site with the help of local villagers and qualified labourers – hopefully within a short, 10-day timeframe.
Once the hall is in place, Shoalhaven City Council has outlined plans to include the building on its annual Kokoda Youth Experience, “to maintain a local connection”.
The project reflects many Australians’ strong connection to Kokoda, but Mr Lay said his own link came from the family history books.
“My father served in PNG during World War II, and retained a strong link to the Kokoda people as a result.
“After I did the track and then started going back with some of the committee members to do social volunteer work, I fell in love with it.”
To donate to the community hall project, or for more information, visit www.kokodatrackfoundation.org.