One teenager’s trek to­wards re­demp­tion

Com­pass: Cronulla to Kokoda 9.30pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Jill Row­botham

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

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