The heroes of Fuzzy Wuzzy Day

Next month marks the 70th an­niver­sary of an Aus­tralian tri­umph on PNG’S Kokoda Track, but the lo­cal peo­ple also re­mem­ber their vi­tal role, writes Vin­cent Ross

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - MEMORIAL KOKODA -

NESTS of long, slen­der bird-of­par­adise plumes sway on bob­bing heads above painted faces streaked in yel­low, red and black.

Kauri shell vests tin­kle in the tide of sound and boars’ tusk grins leer from dec­o­rated mouth­pieces.

It is a scene the an­cient ra­zor­back ridges of the Owen Stan­ley Ranges of Pa­pua New Guinea have wit­nessed count­less times over the cen­turies as the sound of kundu drums thumps through the green cathe­dral of the sur­round­ing jun­gle.

Through dancers’ move­ments, the vi­brancy of life pays homage to the mys­tery of death. But this year it is more sig­nif­i­cant. Early next month, the peo­ple of the Owen Stan­leys will gather at Kokoda to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of the Kokoda Cam­paign in World War II.

In pre­vi­ous years it has been called Kokoda Day, but two years ago the PNG Gov­ern­ment ini­ti­ated Na­tional Fuzzy Wuzzy Day to com­mem­o­rate not only the Aus­tralian sol­diers who fought and died on the track in 1942 but also the na­tive porters who helped them. On Novem­ber 2, 1942, ad­vance scouts from the Aus­tralian Army’s Maroubra Force en­tered the Kokoda gov­ern­ment sta­tion to dis­cover the Ja­panese had re­treated.

By evening, Kokoda was oc­cu­pied by the bat­tal­ion.

The next day, mem­bers of the Aus­tralian 25th Bri­gade stood in si­lence at a memo­rial ser­vice fol­lowed by a flag-rais­ing cer­e­mony in which Gen­eral Ge­orge Vasey marked the re­cap­ture of Kokoda af­ter three months of bit­ter fight­ing.

In Kokoda on Novem­ber 2, Fuzzy Wuzzy Day cel­e­bra­tions will be a mass of feath­ers, face paint and pos­sum fur cloaks as the lo­cals gather for this spe­cial sing sing.

The Koiari are proud of their fore­fa­thers, the Fuzzy Wuzzy An­gels, who were among more than 50,000 tribes­men who worked as porters for the Dig­gers in Pa­pua New Guinea dur­ing World War II.

The ‘‘ an­gels’’ helped stretcher out wounded Aus­tralian sol­diers over count­less kilo­me­tres of steep, muddy, slip­pery track.

In the week lead­ing up to Novem­ber 2, Koiari fam­i­lies and clan groups walk the rugged Owen Stan­leys, some­times for days, to reach Kokoda for the cer­e­mony.

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