On track for a Kokoda train

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ROGER MARCHANT LYNE­HAM, ACT

Years ago in a for­got­ten war I did a bit of deep jun­gle­bash­ing, with ri­fle, am­mu­ni­tion, backpack, six other fright­ened Nashos and a sub­al­tern with acne and a ten­dency to panic. What fol­lows might be con­sid­ered the out­come of that trav­eller’s tale.

Kokoda creates its own awe and many of us con­sider it as near-holy ground be­cause, back in 1942, a Ja­panese in­va­sion of the Aus­tralian main­land seemed in­evitable. Now it has me think­ing. PNG has an un­en­vi­able air safety record and this, com­bined with the grow­ing num­ber of Aus­tralian trekkers who fall by the way­side, made me won­der whether a light rail­way might not be con­structed along­side the Kokoda Trail? It’s only 100 klicks, of which more than half is more or less straight, the sort of thing trains like. There is a bit of up and down but mod­ern en­gi­neer­ing should eas­ily cope.

I visualise air-con­di­tioned car­riages slowly mak­ing their way in­land, al­low­ing pil­grims to wit­ness, then ponder, the sort of im­pos­si­ble con­di­tions in which our young Dig­gers fought so gal­lantly. There is no dis­re­spect here, only an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the route wends its way through cli­mate and ter­rain ex­tremely un­friendly to older Aus­tralians.

Prece­dent ex­ists in govern­ment fund­ing for the grow­ing num­ber of Aus­tralians vis­it­ing Gal­lipoli and the Western Front. Plus, I reckon the train could pro­vide much-needed work op­por­tu­ni­ties for the peo­ple of PNG. And not only in con­struc­tion. Con­sider the jobs in tourist ho­tels that would spring up ad­ja­cent to the rail­way, maybe at Isurava, Efogi and Tem­ple­ton’s Cross­ing. Th­ese pos­si­bil­i­ties are worth se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion by an Aus­tralian govern­ment that would, I’m sure, be de­lighted to be seen as con­tribut­ing in a mean­ing­ful way to the wel­fare of our north­ern neigh­bour.

Per­haps the con­tract might be of­fered to Ja­pan, a coun­try that has a well-known his­tory of pro­ject-man­ag­ing the con­struc­tion of rail­ways in par­tic­u­larly con­fronting cir­cum­stances (you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate my irony, I’m sure). It’s not be­yond the wit of the Depart­ment of De­fence to achieve some sort of quid pro quo in re­la­tion to any con­tract to build those new sub­marines.

My plans are made and should it hap­pen in my life­time, I’ll be on the first train. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive Nour­ish­ing Gera­nium and Laven­der Hand Cream from So­dashi, en­riched with av­o­cado oil, shea but­ter and rose­hip; in a 50ml tube ($85.50). More: so­dashi.com.

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