Kokoda Track: 101 Days

ISBN 978-1-876372-96-5, written by Peter Macinnis, published February 2007 by Black Dog Books in Australia

NB: Short-listed for the NSW Premier's History Prize, 2007.
ALSO: Short-listed for the Eve Pownall award, 2008. It was later named as one of the two Eve Pownall Honour Books for 2008.

For information from the publisher, see this Black Dog page.

Cover, Kokoda Track: 101 Days This book is written for teenage readers, and my aim was to take a complex story and tell it in a simple form.

The story of the Kokoda Track is a complex one because there were so many conflicting interests involved. My first writing got bogged down in the stupidity and malice of General Thomas Blamey. Because he was a self-seeker, Blamey toed the line of an infamous American poltroon, General Douglas MacArthur. My first draft became a brief for the prosecution of this ghastly pair.

I dumped it and started again. Same notes, but I started again from scratch. This time, I made clear one principle:

War is a risky get-rich-quick scheme, where the people who plan to get rich quickly have no plans to take any of the risks.

Kokoda is the story of luck, where the right people happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were sent to defend an entirely unimportant piece of ground, the airstrip at Kokoda, but they ended up fighting a dogged rearguard action as they moved slowly along the Kokoda Track, most of the time with inadequate support and equipment, holding off a far larger Japanese force, until reinforcements could reach them. Even after that, the Australian forces were massively outnumbered, but 101 days after the first fighting began when an Australian patrol chanced on the Japanese invasion force, the Australians walked back into Kokoda.

I have never walked the track, and at my age I probably won't, but when I was the same age as some of the militia in the 39th and 53rd battalions, I was working in New Guinea. It was in peace-time, but I still remember the culture shock of being in that environment.

It is a human tale, a story of courage and grit -- and gutless cowardice by two generals who had oozed their way into command by political means. But I have no plans to write that prosecution brief again. Suffice it to say that I talked to one of Blamey's staff (my uncle, as it happened), and I read what others had to say, and I know who I admire.

There were some good blokes on the Kokoda Track. It was originally referred to as "the Owen Stanley track", and it was only when that super-egotist MacArthur tried to grab all the credit that it became called by that clumsy Americanism "Kokoda Trail". You see, MacArthur tried to control all the press releases, and the journalists who hadn't been there took the lead that had been set by Yank PR men, cowering in a bunker in Melbourne. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Australian War Memorial toed the wrong party line when they nailed their colors to the 'Kokoda Trail' mast. The loudest proponent of that name was a clown who never went north, and who later distinguished himself by his virulent defence of Robin Askin, a well-known Liberal premier and crook who was, if anything, even more corrupt than Thomas Blamey. For more on this, see my comment on Project Wombat.

For classroom use, there are some Curriculum Corporation notes. There are Black Dog Teacher Notes as well.

How I managed the facts

I have been messing with computers for 45 years, so people who know my habits are not surprised by the news that every book I write starts out as a spreadsheet. This is because spreadsheets can be sorted in all sorts of ways.

Facts, quotations and thoughts are added, with a column for dates, a column for people, a column for places, a column for "subject". Later, I add three special columns that are headed ch, pt amd no, chapter part and number, and these are used to arrange the lines as they are likely to appear in the book. In short, the lines are just like filing cards that can be sorted many ways.

One of the big risks in working like this is that a passage taken from elsewhere will end up as text in the book, so I put all my quotes in blue italics (I can't use red, as I am "colour-blind", and red is hard for me to see). I have other worksheets in the same file where I list references, pictures and people whose help needs to be acknowledged. I know that I am highly disorganised, so I work extra hard at organising everything.

While working on the complex tale of the Owen Stanley campaign, I hit on the idea of numbering the days, so I could keep better track of things for myself, and then I realised that I had a good way to package the complicated tale for my readers. Now you know where the title came from.

An author profile/review from the Curriculum Corporation:

Whoever wrote this either knows me, or is bugging my home:-)

Peter Macinnis got his start in writing with text books. He has also been writing science talks for radio since 1985. More recently, he has also been writing science content for an online encyclopaedia. Although Peter has now officially 'retired from teaching', science teaching was his main job for more than thirty years. He also spent some of this time in the education sector as a public servant, and in two museums.

Most of his books are written for adults and look at the curious stories behind everyday things. Recent titles have covered sugar, rockets, and most recently, poisons and poisoners.

Peter began his post-school life planning to be a forester, which is what took him to Papua New Guinea.

He has an independent mind, which is why he admires Jim Cowey. Like Blamey, Peter was an officer of cadets, but let it go after a year because he could not take his 'pompous colleagues seriously'.

He has uncertain views about war. In 2002, he visited Gallipoli and wondered at the stupidity of those military geniuses who sent our young men to die there. A few weeks later, he left Auschwitz with the view that there was such a thing as a just war. But when he left Dresden (fire-bombed late in World War II) three days later, he wondered how he could have got it so wrong.

Macinnis believes that:

War will continue as long as the military geniuses and get-rich-quick schemers are not forced to learn what it is like to scream, bleed and have to shoot back. Until that day, war will go on, and nations will waste the best of their young people to win greater glory and riches for people who will stay far from the front line.

But, even if you are against war, you have to admire those who make a stand and fight - and that goes as much for the Japanese troops who were betrayed by their commanders as it does for the Australians, who were treated, if anything, even worse.

Peter's hobbies are walking - preferably in wilderness places - reading, writing, travel to unlikely foreign places, small invertebrates, and talking. He lives in Sydney with his wife who is also a science teacher. He is currently working on a history of 19th century science, and a book on how we came to be obsessed by neat and tidy lawns.

This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/kokoda.htm

It was created and last revised on September 26, 2014.

Since I started this site, it has drawn visitors.

And now for something completely different

More or less different, anyhow. I visited Gallipoli on the eve of ANZAC Day, 2002, and while I'm not a big fan of war and military stuff, I took quite a lot of pictures. In about 2003, my good friend Bryn Jones was kind enough to upload some of these onto Flickr, which I had not then discovered. With ANZAC Day 2010 looming, I have now put a larger set of full-size photos up on Webshots. Unfortunately, our idea of large digital shots in 2002 was 1024 x 768, so that's all you'll get. Sorry.

There is a permission statement that should satisfy most: if you need more, get in touch. My email is my full name as one word, followed by @ followed by my ISP.