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The Black Cat Track
Tuesday, Aug 03, 2010 at 22:42
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Good news....we are back on track, so to speak for this year, and if all things go to plan, we'll be on the walk in September. Although we won't be taking in Shaggy Ridge due to ongoing trouble in that region.....
Cheers, The Landy
Well...there has been an unfortunate development with this trek. We have had to post-pone (indefinitely) due to civil unrest, which has been ongoing, but escalating, in the area at the beginning of the walk.
Whilst tribal differences, leading to fighting often occurs in this area the situation has become difficult to read and unpredictable to the point that the risk reward of going is no longer worth it.
And the insurance company has now said it will not provide cover if we go, which makes it difficult putting aside the civil unrest issue as the risk of accidental injury is ever-present on this trek in this remote part of Papua New Guinea.
The window for this trek tends to be fairly narrow so it looks like we will not be able to complete until mid to late 2011......
Shaggy Ridge and the Black Cat Track.......
No they are not another couple of undiscovered four-wheel drive tracks in
, but for those with a little more than a passing interest in Australian Military history will recognise them as significant battle grounds in Papua New Guinea.
Many will be familiar with the story of the Kokoda Track. Military historians have written often of the bravery and courage shown by those involved in the New Guinea campaign, and no doubt there are countless stories of others whose sacrifices and bravery are known only to a higher authority.
Today, many Australian’s in increasing numbers are walking the Kokoda Track to pay homage to those Australian’s and Papua New Guinean Nationals, affectionately known as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, who fought to defend
and Papua New Guinea. Most, if not all, are moved by the experience, especially after gaining only a glimpse of the conditions they would have experienced and the enormity of the task they faced against the highly-trained Japanese invasion force.
I worked in Papua New Guinea in the mid 1980’s and this was a great experience for me and my partner, Janet. We relished the opportunity to travel and work in a country so close to ‘home’ but so different in many ways. The experience was humbling at times. Before leaving the country one of my National colleagues, Balthazar Kaprangi, approached me and said that I would return on many occasions in the future, and of course I said I would love to, but he was insistent, telling me that he ‘knew’ things of the future.
And he was correct, since leaving I have returned twice, once for work in the mid 1990’s, and the second to walk the Kokoda Track in 2006.
I have always had a deep interest in Australian Military history and the Anzac Spirit; the Australian commitment to one’s mate that is legendary and unique amongst the World’s fighting forces. And it was with that in mind that I found myself walking the track with a ‘mate’ in 2006. We visited many battlefields; sang ‘Danny Boy’ in honour of Butch Bissett at the site that his brother, Stan, nursed him to his death, and stood in silence to the fallen at Bomana War Cemetery just outside of the country’s capital, Port Moresby. The countryside was amazing and the people warm and welcoming.
Four years later and I am about to ‘return’ once again.
In early September I will be travelling to Papua New Guinea, this time to walk and trek along Shaggy Ridge just outside of Lae, and later along the Black Cat Track in the Morobe Province. Partnering up with a group of like-minded people and guided by Aidan Grimes, whose experience and knowledge of the battlefields of this region are unparallel. Aidan will help us retrace the steps taken by those who fought in this region over 60 years ago, expertly guiding us through the jungle and over mountains, although I don’t expect we will ever be able to walk in the boots of those that trod this region during the War Days......
Shaggy Ridge is a six and half kilometre long razor-backed ridge that is the highest feature in the Finisterre Mountains in north-eastern New Guinea and is named after Captain Robert ‘Shaggy Bob’ Clampett, Commander of ‘A’ Company 2/27th Infantry Battalion, the first Allied ground unit to reconnoitre the area during World War II. In 1943 it was the site of the main Japanese defensive position blocking access from the Ramu Valley to the track and road network that joined it with the north coast. Operations by the 7th Australian Division in September and October 1943 caused the Japanese to withdraw from the Ramu Valley and the lower features of the Finsterres and consolidate their defences around Shaggy Ridge.
Many battles took place and eventually the capture of Shaggy Ridge cleared the way for an advance across the Finsterres to the northern New Guinea coast to link up with the Australian forces advancing from the east and thus complete the capture of the Huon Peninsula.
After leaving Shaggy Ridge we will head towards Wau to walk and trek down the Black Cat Track to the coast at Salamaua. Many say this track makes the Kokoda seem like a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. And whilst I’m sure some literary licence has been taken with that comment it is not an established track like ‘The Kokoda’ on which thousands of trekkers regularly tread, but a forgotten World War ll track that passes what has been described as some of the toughest and most-hazardous terrain in the world.
David Dexter, the Australian official historian, referring to the Wau-Salamaua campaign said it was one of the most difficult and unpleasant areas ever to confront our troops. It was a little-known area of New Guinea over which thousands of Australians, New Guineans, Americans, and Japanese fought and died. Dexter goes on to explain ‘.....they found it difficult to find enough unpleasant adjectives to describe the country, which, for the most part consisted of rugged mountains clothed with dense, almost impenetrable jungle, and in the higher areas with moss forest. Occasionally hills covered with kunai grass, such as those in the Snake Valley, stood out against the jungle background. (quoted in David Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives,
In an account of his experience in The New Guinea Narrative 2001, Signalman Lloyd Collins, 3rd Division Signals, explained; ‘...there was little conversation. You neither had the time nor the inclination. Talking required energy and energy was a scarce resource. When passing a mate you sometimes glanced at his face, a face dull from fatigue and dripping with perspiration. You saw his sticking clothes, his muddy boots and trousers. You noticed the heavy pack and you could hear his heaving breath as he struggled past. Then, as you pitied him and felt sorry for his plight, you realised that you looked the same to others. Even though no words were spoken the silent glance conveyed sympathy and understanding.
This hardly sounds like a holiday I hear you say, and I guess it isn’t, but more of a test of one’s own ability to draw on inner-strengths, to test what you are capable of, and to be inspired and stand in awe of those who fought to protect our country on those very
-sides and mountains. I don’t intend to go into any great detail here on the military history of this track and area, I wouldn’t do it justice and it is covered in other texts. But it is fair to say that some of the bloodiest battles in Papua New Guinea were fought in this region during World War ll
We will arrive in Port Moresby on Friday 3 September, and fly to Lae on 4 September spending three days around Shaggy Ridge, before heading towards Wau for our trek down to the coast at Salamaua. To add to the adventure we will raft down the San Francisco River from the village at the end of the track to Salamaua on rafts, made locally, before resting overnight and completing our journey back to Lae by sea.
It is said that Salamaua is one of best kept secrets in the world and one of the most idyllic
you will ever go!
There’ll be no opportunity for me to update this story as it unfolds but I hope to bring an account of the experience on my return in mid September. During the trek I will be using my
tracking device, being a recent convert, and hopefully it will be a good way to be able to show the progress of our group.
And those that followed our recent tour to Outback
& the Gulf Savannah will know that we (I) enjoyed many camp oven roasts, scones, and dampers, not to mention the odd beer or two. And whilst having a reasonable level of fitness it is fair to say that I am back in the gym, rowing, boxing, and weight training to get back up to speed for the upcoming trip!
Cheers, Baz – The Landy
Baz - 'The Landy'
Ps. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might have military or other information associated with this region.
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On Tour in Outback Queensland & the Gulf Savannah
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Cheers, The Landy
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