Conquering Kokoda

Michael Evans is the Radiographer in Charge at Douglas Discovery Drive and has been part of the Queensland X-Ray family for nearly 11 years and recently completed the Kokoda Trail with fellow radiographer Edward Yates and radiologist Dr Peter Brookfield.  Below he shares this incredible journey with us.


Having completed Kilimanjaro a few years ago and with an upcoming 50km Ultra Trail Australia trail run in the Blue Mountains, the Kokoda Trail appealed to my sense of challenging myself physically and mentally. The trail's history also made the trek appealing.  

When we first arrived at Port Moresby airport to fly to Kokoda and saw the ‘crop sprayer’ small prop plane we had to fly in, the trip became real. We flew over what had to be covered on the trek. Seeing the valleys, climbs, and descents we had to cover seemed like a crazy undertaking. After a smooth grass landing and getting a warm welcome from locals, the hike was on.

At the start of our journey, we visited the memorials and small museum to understand better what this trip cost the first soldiers who reached this point. The emotional focus was there for all. The first day was a learning curve for all.

We had read and heard from the experiences of others that aside from the physical challenge, the Kokoda Trail is a huge mental challenge with the continual theme of 'the relentless up and the relentless down' of the terrain. 

The trek took six nights and seven days, with around six—ten hours of walking daily. I needed to try to keep my mental space clean and concise. I took on the mantra of keeping it simple and chipping away: 'One step at a time, one morning at a time'. Luckily, we acclimatised quickly, as the weather was very similar to Queensland in that it was sunny and humid, and when it rained, it rained!  

The cold baths/showers in the rivers were considered an afternoon 'pusher' to keep moving forward. It was a great leveller to remember the hardship that our heroes had to endure without the comforts we had. The trek was challenging enough in modern times without the continual threat of diseases such as dysentery, malaria, infections, hunger and having to fight for your life and country against an enemy unseen in the jungles of PNG that our diggers faced on daily basis. 

One of the most poignant moments on the trek was the dawn service at the Isurava Memorial. In a touching tribute, we listened to the history and story of our Australian heroes. Poems were read, and the PNG tour guides and ourselves shared thoughts. The emotional intensity of the service meant that Ed and I just made it through the singing of the Australian national anthem. It was, for us, a moment of deep reflection. 

The Isurava Memorial features what is known as the Four Pillars of Kokoda, with each granite pillar inscribed with the words  Mateship, Sacrifice, Courage, and Endurance and without realising it, the Kokoda track instils these values in you automatically. There is much time on this trail where you are in your headspace. You use the time for inner reflection and to ponder your life and those who bring and don't bring meaning. On a physical level, you focus on your mates in front and behind you as you prepare for the next challenge and dig deep to find the endurance to continue. 

 A definite highlight of the trip was the trekking through the local villages, of which there were many. Each trekker had brought gifts in their backpacks, and we could share them with the local children. I will never forget the sounds of pure joy as I kicked a few rugby balls into groups of children and watched them play. 

The footballs will be the 'gift that will keep on giving' for the months ahead. I will also never forget the squeals of laughter from a group of children playing in a mud-filled puddle. The simplicity of the activity brought home how lucky we are in Australia, yet also a message that children do not need material things to play with to be happy.  Simple presents like footballs make a massive difference to their daily lives and bring so much joy.




Trekking Kokoda was challenging and an experience for which I will forever be grateful.