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
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.