One teenager’s trek towards redemption
Compass: Cronulla to Kokoda 9.30pm, ABC
ALI Ammar came a cropper in December 2005 when he tore down an Australian flag from the Brighton RSL during the riots at Cronulla beach in Sydney’s south.
These staggered a nation under the impression its various communities coexisted peacefully.
So they usually do, but feelings ran high that summer and although Ali paid for what he had done with juvenile detention, his family, the narrator of this documentary tells us, was shattered by his action. The RSL judged his remorse genuine and offered to let him carry an Australian flag in the next Anzac Day march, a gesture that so incensed talkback radio callers the scheme was dropped and another, subtler plan devised.
Thus the teenager found himself at the start of the Kokoda Track with a bunch of other young people nominated by RSL clubs across the country. No one except tour leader John Nalder knew his background or why he was there.
The story of teenage Ali’s redemption is not neat. ‘‘ Thinking about it now, it wasn’t a smart thing to do,’’ he says of the flag incident. And of the coming adventure: ‘‘ This trek should make me a better man.’’
Certainly it proves a penance of sorts, 10 days struggling through famously inhospitable terrain, burdened with a secret and fearing the inevitable moment of revelation. It is not clear how he feels about having survived the considerable physical and mental challenges; along with the others, he merely looks exhausted.
Condensing more than a week of trekking and interaction into about an hour requires careful effort, and the program makers have done well.
Nalder seems a man whose heart is
‘ in the right place and he proves a shrewd judge of the limits of psychological and physical endurance, shown when one motivated but unfit walker is gently talked out of continuing while another, days later, is judged able to push through the barriers to keep going.
The more touching moments are not with the modern group but the black- and- white film of the men who fought on the track during World War II. The most poignant scene is when Nalder introduces one of the indigenous carriers from those old days, a fuzzy wuzzy angel, now in a wheelchair and adorned with medals awarded by modern trekkers.
This is an intriguing program that takes in interesting history and spectacular terrain. It is worth a look if only to try to fathom Ali and speculate what he will make of Nalder’s urging that he should go back and become a leader in his community, creating bridges between it and the rest of Australian society.
Make me a better man’: Ali Ammar on his journey along the Kokoda