A trip sponsored by a South Coast RSL Club has proved to be an invaluable journey for Vincentia’s Jeremy Head.
The Year 12 Vincentia High School Vice Captain took part in the Kokoda Leadership Youth Challenge thanks to Sussex Inlet RSL.
Compelled by the experience of his ancestors who fought in World War II, Jeremy did the Kokoda Trail in the October school holidays.
“Both of my great-grandparents fought (for Australia) in the war (in the Pacific),” Jeremy said.
“It’s important to understand what they went through, they didn't really talk about it at all.”
Jeremy carried a 16kg pack for 150km, climbing 7000m and descending 7000m in 10 days.
“Our rest day was 17km,” Jeremy said.
“We were at Bomber’s Campsite, where they were doing drops (aerial resupplies in WWII), walked around Lake Myola where an old airport (disused airfield) and hospital was built for Australians (during the war).”
Jeremy was captivated by the wartime relics and infrastructure.
“We stopped where they had weapon pits and mortars,” he said.
“It was really eye-opening. When we saw the trenches it was kind of daunting, a bit scary.”
Jeremy said the group encountered a more imminent threat. Crime has plagued travellers on the Kokoda trail in recent years – trekkers have reportedly been killed, robbed and assaulted.
“The scariest part was, where we were camping there were police with shotguns, there were a few issues with locals at some point along the trail,” Jeremy said.
For safety purposes, tourists are advised to hike the trail with local porters.
Jeremy’s group hiked with 20 porters. They walked ahead carrying tents and food, setting up camp upon arrival and preparing meals for the group. Some of the men from the support crew wore shoes which had been given to them, some walked bare-footed and others wore thongs.
Even with hiking boots, Jeremy developed some painful foot injuries. Another young man tore a ligament in his knee early in the trek, but they soldiered on.
“I ended up getting really bad blisters on the bottom, my arches started to collapse from weight of pack,” Jeremy said.
Parts of Jeremy’s pack was divided among his peers, and one, who worked as a paramedic, came to his aid.
“He’s a champ, he helped me out a fair bit,” Jeremy said.
When his journey came to an end, he flew home, slept and ate.
“I ate a whole bunch of food, hot dogs, chicken schnitzel, popcorn; whatever I could find,” he said.
Then, expecting to have dropped a few kgs, Jeremy weighed himself.
“I didn’t lose a kilo,” he said.
“It was surprising because I felt like i wasn’t eating enough. Some kid lost 10kg.”
Despite the challenges, Jeremy’s been bitten with the Kokoda Trail travel bug.
“I liked being over there, it was a nice place,” he said.
“When you’re walking you forget about what’s going on in the world around you.
“My dad wants to do it now, he wants me to take him. I probably will. His knees aren’t too good, at least we’d be going at a steadier pace.”