“And then, it just hit me… keep pushing and keep going. There’s not much more to go. I stood up and got up there bolder and wiser. It was phenomenal. It was unbelievable. I learned to appreciate life more. It still hasn’t changed me in a way that I’d still fall down and get back up, but when times get tough, I will always remember what I went through. It was such an experience I will never forget.” – Dave Fatone
In 2018, I had the opportunity to walk the Kokoda Track alongside the Victoria Police, a group of youth from our community, and students from St. Bernard’s College – Essendon.
Kopkoda and Class Plastics
Also known as the Kopkoda, the Victoria Police’s Kokoda Project, aims to bring the youth and police closer together and decrease the incidence of youth involvement in crime and open opportunities for personal growth. The project brings together students and teachers from schools in the Moonee Valley Local Area Command, Ambulance Victoria, the local police and corporate sponsors to walk the famous Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
Class Plastics is proud to be one of the corporate sponsors for this life-changing event. Corporate sponsors provided funding for the cost of one child and one staff to experience the Kokoda, and luckily that’s me.
The Kokoda Track
Let me start off by saying that the Kokoda Track is no joke. The Kokoda Track is a single-file foot thoroughfare that runs 96 kilometres (60 mi) overland – 60 kilometres (37 mi) in a straight line through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. The track was the location of the 1942 World War II battle between the Japanese and Australian forces in what was then the Australian territory of Papua.
We did a lot of training before we went there. We needed to make sure we were healthy and well prepared both physically and mentally to take on the Kokoda adventure. Every weekend, we would walk 20 km up the mezzanine or climb up and down a couple of stairs. It’s so important not to miss the training and to work hard for it because when you hit the track it’s going to be so physically, spiritually, and mentally challenging. There’s no turning back. I did my training then, but I regretted not training extra.
Our adventure began in Port Moresby. From there, we took a small charter plane and flew over the peaks of the Owen Stanley Range. The view of the mountains is just spectacular. As soon as we landed, we were greeted by the overwhelming heat and humidity. The community welcomed us and we started to walk. They briefed us about the history of Kokoda and everything that happened as we walked up the mountain. It was a very, very hot trip. The sun was beaming on my head and my bag was quite heavy.
As the days went by, I was struggling. My legs and feet were sore. We bathed in the rivers. We ate turnips, noodles, jellybeans, or plain rice. Our drinking water had to be treated and it had a funny taste. We slept in single-man tents. We had no pillows and there were a lot of bugs. We woke up each morning around 4 or 5’o clock and did the same thing over again – up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, down the hill.
The views were spectacular. It was beautiful. There were remnants from the war, gun shells, planes and massive holes where the explosions happened. We got inspiration from the stories they would tell us on the trek. I would remember my grandma telling stories about her husband being in the war. It was emotional and uplifting. I was struggling but mentally I was absorbing all these stories about our brave soldiers and heroes. It was inspiring and it kept all of us going.
We had teams – on each team, everyone was in charge of anyone. It was what the Kokoda Trek was all about – for people of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to work as one. And so, if one needed to stop and take a rest, we all take a rest and not drag that person along. We took care of each other. We were a family.
We walked for 7 days. It was on the 6th or 7th day when we’re probably at the highest point. It was a 12-hour walk and it was the steepest climb. It was a very hot day and that day, I didn’t eat well. The sun was beaming on my head and I was just drinking and drinking. I wasn’t feeling really well. I wanted to sleep.
About halfway through the climb, I stopped. I told them I can’t make it. It was that much of a struggle. They sat me down and the doctor told me I was dehydrated and that I can’t make it. They had me drink some more and gave me jellybeans. They took a little bit of weight out of my bag and I argued with them. The porters put some of my things inside their bags, whilst carrying all our other stuff – pots, pans, food, and tents. They were unbelievable. They walked barefoot but not once had they fallen or slipped. They encouraged me to get up. There’s not much to go but I felt like it was never-ending.
And then, it just hit me – just keep pushing and keep going. I got up there bolder and wiser. Everyone was at the top. We all made it. It was phenomenal. People hugged each other. We were all happy; we were crying. On some days, other people struggled. That day, I struggled but I made it. I was relieved. The doctor put me on the drip and we started walking down feeling triumphant.
After the trip, we ended up going to the memorial. It was emotional knowing we have experienced what our soldiers had experienced, a journey that none of us will ever forget. Then, we went to visit the school in Papua where the funds from the project will go to. Seeing the kids all so happy was such a rewarding experience for all of us.
When I got home, I felt as if I had been away from myself. My wife told me I was different and I looked like I’d been in a battle, and I was.
The Kokoda Track experience is something I will never forget and will always cherish. It still hasn’t changed me in a way that I would still struggle, fall down and get back up. But when times get tough, I will always remember what I went through. I learned to appreciate life more, to be humble, to embrace diversity and to treat everyone like family regardless of culture or race.
– David Fatone, Operations Manager, Class Plastics