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The Kokoda Trail: A History
Port Moresby: Taim bipo
Image of Kokoda Trail front cover
$30 (plus postage)

ISBN 9781921920202. 300 pages, with index, 84 black & white photos, 13 chapter maps. First published by Central Queensland University Press 2003 (ISBN 1876780304). This edition published by Boolarong Press 2011.  230mm x  160mm.

The Kokoda Trail is a remote jungle track in the old Australian Territory of Papua where Aussie Diggers and Fuzzy Wuzzy angels battled against Japanese invaders to save Australia in 1942. The Kokoda Trail campaign, fought out over six months and two days on a narrow front in appalling conditions has become an honoured part of our Australian heritage.

But there is much more to the Kokoda Trail than this. Historian and adventurer Stuart Hawthorne looks back 130 years over the Trail’s captivating past. He traces the explorers, gold seekers, missionaries and colonial officials who pushed this tiny footpad across unbelievably harsh country to set out a fascinating account of the fortunes of this 96.4 kilometre track. Did you know a surveyor set out the route of the first Kokoda Trail before Kokoda even existed? Or why it’s the Kokoda Trail, not Track? Or who gave the Trail’s ‘Golden Staircase’ its name?

Thirty years in the making, The Kokoda Trail: A History provides the first complete account of this sinuous little footpad that holds such an esteemed position in the Australian psyche. This book reveals for the first time there is another, larger, history of the Kokoda Trail which is every bit as compelling and intriguing as the grim war years of 1942.


A fascinating insight into the turbulent history of the Trail, comprehensively illustrated with early photographs and easily understood sequential maps. Stuart Hawthorne displays a clear understanding based on his personal knowledge and experience. A definitive resource and a major contribution to the historical record
Brigadier Gordon Jones AM.

****  Extremely well researched … a very readable and engrossing account of the most cherished of Australian icons. —Group Captain Greg Ison.

**** Stuart Hawthorne has woven a tale that was most definitely worth telling, and he has done it well. The writing is crisp and clear … Obviously the work of an experienced researcher, writer and historian with an intimate and long-term knowledge of the subject. Queensland Parliamentary Library Review.

**** Much debate has occurred as to whether it should be called “Track” or “Trail” and this book does not try to settle that issue although the author freely uses both terms and does give the impression–at least to this reviewer–that he favours “Track” but acknowledges that the PNG Government has decided to officially use “Trail”.

XAs members of the 39th Battalion, we tend to sometimes think that we “pioneered” the Kokoda Track but that is very far from being historically correct. For more than 130 years, attempts had been made to establish a route for a road–albeit a pack horse or mule track–from Port Moresby to Yodda (a name which pre-dates Kokoda) in order to service the gold mines which existed in the area. This reviewer was very interested to read of the problems with the “hairpin bend” near the Rouna Falls as he remembers a vehicle in which he was travelling almost going over the edge as the driver made the several backwards and forwards movements that were initially necessary to negotiate the bend.

    This book gives a very interesting account of the efforts of these early explorers who ranged from entrepreneurs to devout missionaries to government surveyors. It tells the story of risks faced from cannibal tribes and how eventually the tribesmen came to accept the invasion of their territory as something they might be able to use to their advantage. A regular mail service between Port Moresby and Yodda was established during the 19th century and was operated usually by two armed “police boys”, travelling on foot with the mail in pouches, and recording quite amazing times for the journey. At the same time, mail and supplies were brought by boat to the northern coast and manhandled overland to the several mining areas and on occasions the complete journey was made between the two coast lines.

    The later chapters deal with some of “our” history and what happened post war.

    This is a very readable book.
 —Review from The Good Guts ( Newsletter of 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941-43) Association), April 2011, No 170, p23.

**** This interesting and very detailed history of the Kokoda Trail from its earliest beginnings covers ground which has not been available in most other accounts which, in the main, concentrate on the famous 1942 battle by Australian soldiers against the invading Japanese. The author, who spent much of his early life in Papua, is to be congratulated on his meticulous research over a period of thirty years – the result is a fascinating read for any ex-resident of PNG.

    The many maps included illustrate the determined attempts over the years to find a land route over the intimidating heights of the Owen Stanley Range, which still today separates Port Moresby from the rest of the country. There are comprehensive descriptions of several attempted crossings. These include Rev James Chalmers in 1879, William Armit from the Melbourne Argus newspaper in 1883 shortly followed by George Morrison of the Melbourne Age newspaper. It was an altercation involving Morrison’s party that left a legacy for some years of a hostile attitude to any other parties attempting to penetrate that area. Explorations organised by the Administrator, Sir William MacGregor, who scaled Mt Victoria, 4072 metres, in June 1889 and who also crossed British New Guinea from north to south in 1896 via Mt Scratchley, 3810 metres, are covered.
—James Porter in Una Voce September 2005.

 **** When the route of today’s Kokoda Trail was inaugurated as an overland mail route in 1904, the Administrator, Francis Barton took along a bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion. Ceremonial toasting took place in The Gap on 22nd December when Barton’s expedition, travelling from Port Moresby, rendezvoused with another party under Resident Magistrate Henry Griffin, who had climbed up from Kokoda. Unfortunately, no one had remembered to bring the champagne flutes so they had to make do with enamelled iron mugs.

    This is one of the fascinating anecdotes about the Kokoda Trail revealed in Stuart Hawthorne’s new book The Kokoda Trail: A History.

    The Kokoda Trail: A History
is well-written and thoroughly researched. With more than 100 fascinating historical photographs and detailed maps, this volume gives us a new insight into the harsh early years of this simple little footpad that has become one of the great symbols of the Australian Anzac legend. And the book is no less intriguing for the glimpse it affords readers into the little known era of Australia as a colonial governor.
—Professor David Myers, Central Queensland University.