MARK OF RESPECT
The story behind one of the most recognisable names in Australian military history is revealed in Kokoda. Guy Davis spoke with its director, Don Featherstone.
it as anyone else until he read journalist Paul Ham’s book Kokoda fi ve years ago.
“ Growing up in the ’ 50s and ’ 60s, the blokes around us didn’t talk about it much,” Featherstone said. “ When I was working at one of my fi rst jobs with a WWII veteran, Kokoda was something he mentioned in passing but absolutely didn’t want to go into. I think it’s only now that these men, who are now in their 80s and 90s, are thinking that if they don’t talk now, all the nuances of what actually happened there will be lost.”
Taken with the even-handed accounts of the confl ict in Ham’s book, which off ers the perspective of Japanese soldiers as well as Australian troops, Featherstone and producer Andrew Wiseman set about putting together a documentary/ dramatisation that would not only look at the eight-month struggle between the two forces but also incorporate the politics behind the campaign and the public’s response to the war.
In order to document it accurately, Featherstone and a small crew spent nearly two weeks fi lming in Papua New Guinea, spending time on the infamous Kokoda Track. “ It was hard enough fi lming there, even just walking around there, let alone getting shot at,” he said. “ You can’t imagine what it would be like for a soldier carrying a 60-pound pack in that kind of environment.”
Featherstone added that he and the crew were “ deeply moved” by the experience of being in a place that saw both sides suff er casualties and fatalities numbering in the thousands. “ The Kokoda Track needs to be treated with reverence,” he said. “ And as you walk it, the fallen need to be treated with admiration and respect.”
The fi lmmaker hopes he has done that with this documentary, adding that while it recognises the brave eff orts of the Australian soldiers who won the war’s fi rst land victory against the Japanese, it also aims to give its audience an understanding of the Japanese frame of mind.
“ Japan was the aggressor – there’s no denying that,” said Featherstone. “ But as one Australian veteran points out, ‘ We were there because we were told to be there and they were there because they were told to be there’.
“ It’s taken many Australian soldiers a long time to forgive – many of them still haven’t – but the Japanese soldiers we spoke to said how much they respected the Australians.
“ I think the main thing we wanted to do with Kokoda was to create a real sense of these men who fought there and depict what they went through. Every man who was up there thought he was fi ghting for his homeland, thought Japan was going to invade Australia. If you’re invaded, what can you do? You can’t just let them walk in.
“ At the same time, we want to provide a balanced view.”
Jungle warfare: A re-enactment of the battle at Kokoda.