Thinking back to 2009 feels like a stretch sometimes, but when it comes to the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program the memories are clear. I recall a school assembly for year 11 and 12 students where we watched a presentation and were told about the program and what it entailed. I liked how it sounded – being challenged physically and learning more about WWII. That day at lunch I spoke to some friends and found that some of them had done it the year before and recommended it. Doing the program in year 12 felt like a challenge but I had a feeling that I needed to apply. 

I spoke to my parents who agreed that it would be a great opportunity for me. We met Doug and Anna and attended an interview. I got in! I was so excited. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time but that feeling remained that I needed to do this. 

I met my peers for a fitness test at Burleigh Beach. I can still recall having many thoughts racing through my mind. The day went well and by the end everyone was doing their best.  

From then on it was weekly hikes with our Team Leaders. Sometimes, I really enjoyed seeing how much I could push myself when I was already tired, I felt a sense of pride in that. It was nice to be on my own in a group, silent with my thoughts or just taking in the fresh air and native bird sounds. I also got to chat with the other members of my crew and found it a little easier to come out of my shell with each conversation. It felt like the barriers that I had built up in my head were being broken down and I felt freer to be myself. 

It came time for the ultimate challenge, we had become much closer as a group and had gotten fitter too. The Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge. I am sure I wasn’t the only one with a lot of feelings as we crossed the starting line, heading out with excitement and knowledge of the pain to come. I made it halfway when I had to be taken out due to exhaustion and a bad knee. At the time it was hard to bear that I hadn’t been able to finish it but reflecting on it now, I’m proud of how far I’d gotten and the person I was developing into. 

Middle Min

Flying out to Papua New Guinea came quicker than I could process. Seeing the City of Port Moresby and the surrounding villages as we were bussed to Ower’s Corner was an eye-opening experience. Truly becoming aware of how different my life would have been if I were born in another country. 

A new level of appreciation was growing inside me. My experience of the Kokoda Track in PNG remains difficult for me to summarise. The rainforest and mountains were breathtaking, and the people were humble. Learning more about what the diggers went through really brought home the sacrifice they made to protect our country. And the human bonds created with the fuzzy wuzzy angels showed a depth of humanity that was inspiring. 

Alongside the values of Mateship, Endurance, Courage, and Sacrifice that were instilled in me was also a nurtured sense of gratitude.  

Over the years I can recognise these values and where they have guided me to make important decisions in my life. Having the Courage to go for things like my motorbike license and scuba diving certificate, overcoming my fears and that voice that tries to hold me back. 

Knowing that life is a journey of endurance, it may take a little long to get where you want but with perseverance you will get there. Understanding mateship and what it means to be there for others when they need it. Sacrificing the creature comforts for a longer-term goal or even just to better appreciate what we have, left such an impact on me during my trip to Papuan New Guinea.  

I have volunteered over the years at the Kokoda Challenge events with my dad who has been helping ever since I was in the Youth Program. I enjoy that we have a common appreciation for nature and have had the opportunity to spend quality time together putting out track signs, moving around the big electronic road signs and even track marking with tree tinsel. 

My favourite part of volunteering at the events over the years would be cheering on the competitors through checkpoints and watching them cross the finish line. Seeing the emotion on their faces was truly touching, and inspiring. It reminded me of what an incredible achievement it is to compete in these events and what I have achieved in my own life thanks to the KCYP. 

I now have the honour of working with the Kokoda Youth Foundation as Admin and Event Liaison Officer and will get to interact with all the wonderful people the KYF involves and looking forward to what the future may hold.