When a group of The Armidale School students spend the next school holidays trekking Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track, their back packs will contain not just their camping gear and supplies, but 20 rugby balls that will give joy to village children along the way.
“Last time we did the trek we brought along one rugby ball and it was a great way of breaking the ice,” tour leader Mark Taylor said. “This time we thought it would be great to bring along enough flat packed so we can pump one up to leave each village with one.”
The balls, donated by Armidale business Sportspower, will be carried by the five TAS students, staff and family members who will take part in the third Kokoda expedition, the last one being in 2011.
Running for 96km over the Owen Stanley Range – the mountain spine that runs across PNG – the Kokoda Track goes up and down steep hills, across fast flowing streams, and cuts a swathe through rainforest and choko vine. With tropical downpours dumping rain most afternoons and nights, mud and slippery walking conditions just add to a feat that isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Combining personal challenge and respect for service, each day’s outing starts out with a
briefing about the withdrawal and attack of Australian troops, and at certain points, a closer examination of the positions taken by the Australians and the Japanese during conflict -something Adam Jenkyn says will be particularly poignant.
“My great-grandfather Burt Jenkyn served there during the Second World War, so it will be great to get a glimpse of what he and the Australian soldiers had to endure – though of course his experience was a lot more challenging than ours will be,” he said. “Sport is significant for children in every setting and visiting some of those remote communities will be a real reminder of how much we take for granted and that something like a football can make a big difference.”
Sportspower proprietor Paul Schmude said it was a pleasure to support the efforts “and help give a lot of enjoyment to those that don’t have the same opportunities”.
Adam said the trekkers had been training for the past three months doing a lot of walking up steep hills.
“Our tour guide says you can only ever train eighty per cent for Kokoda because you can never be prepared for it – so I guess we are as prepared as we can be.”