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.

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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.

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