The wind roars through the tree tops as it makes it way up the valley before hammering our hut. You can hear it steaming up the hillside like a steam train and you mentally brace for the impact. Each time I woke up through the night I could see a little more of the sky. By the time dawn arrived the wind had ceased altogether and the floor was covered with roofing. There were some giggles through the night as we lay in the dark and listened to sections of palm thatch crash to the floor. Fortunately we had moved our sleeping bags far enough out of the way and no one was struck by anything dangerous. And it did not rain.
We have another emotional moment when we meet with Ovuru Ndiki who is one of the last of the Fuzzy Wuzzies, and verifiable claim at that. He greets us all with a twinkle in his eye and with a handshake, his weathered skin as smooth as vellum. His son Andy tells us some of his stories (the old man is 104 or thereabouts and talking tires him out) and of his work for our “grandfathers, fathers and uncles”. He pays these Australians respect and acknowledges God for his well-being and Australians for his freedom. He tells us this was known by the Angels as “the painful track” (to which we say ‘amen’) and each night when escorting wounded he would stop at a camp fire and sing. Then Ovuru breaks into a soft, melodious song, the same as he sang to those wounded. If there was a dry eye in the group they were travelling in another dimension. We are heartened to hear these heroes find the track is a hard thing. They are human after all and tire like the rest of us. But on the way to “1900 Crossing” the porters with their packs still bound uphill past us and we wonder at their endurance.
The country we pass through is now different again. Yesterday the forest opened into the kunai grass and in the heat it was punishing to walk through. Today the hardwoods are mammoth moss covered sentinels that tower over the ridges, fern and moss coloured limbs silhouetted against the sky. Small ferns and flowering plants decorate the ground as undergrowth thins out under the heavier canopy. The breeze picks up and is pleasantly cool, partly a reflection of the 6000’ altitude. But it is still humid and we have to mind our water intake.
We reach 1900 Crossing without too much rigour though as always the early morning sun can take its toll if we are exposed to it. Which we were. Camp was set up in quick time, everyone well into their routines by now. We have an early lunch and head out to walk a circuit that takes us in a loop via Myola 2 then Myola 1. The walk takes us through some remarkable beech forests laced with giant pandanas that reach sixty feet or more into the air, their prop roots reaching out into the air grasping for the ground below. The further we press in the darker and quieter it becomes. Hair lace lichen has fallen onto the track and moss seems to hang from every available point and the underfoot mulch dampens our footfall. If Ents live anywhere then it is here.
We walk up and over the lip of the basin at Myola and stare in amazement at a grassed area that is vast and deep. Here is the set for Parer and his filming of the DC3 resupply drops. We walk up the valley for twenty minutes and then drop over the top of the rim and head down through the beech to Myola 1 and then through that clearing to a munitions dump of mortars, grenades, primers and boots. From these we walked through to the B-25 (“Happy Legend“) wreckage site where the US military has dug around to retrieve the fragments of the crew. It’s a long way from home for a handful of Yankee boys to die. We look at the remains and are reminded in a different way of the cost of this war.
The breeze has snapped up and is chilling us. We camp around a smokey fire and try and get warm. The porters tell us they are lighting a fire tonight and singing. They better hurry up as we are all chilled and are looking for our tents. The shrill crickets start up right on 6pm and run for ten minutes. They sound like air being let out of a balloon – more screech than sonorous.
The boys finally lit a fire and sang some songs, but this time to themselves. I wonder at this place and the spiritual significance it has for the porters. Many don’t like the forest we have come through, others refuse to walk over Myola. I wonder at a huge fire designed to burn all night and the fear these men might have of this place. They sing and dance, are distracted by a rhino beetle and sing some more. We drift off and leave them to it and I drop off to the sound of the jungle night. Insects. Boys chatting and singing. The clatter of pots as they clean up and get ready for tomorrow. Another ten hour day in front of us. Now the news of such length is no longer daunting. I drop off thinking “bring it on”.
Photos: B25 Crater: Peter Irving; others, Chris Gersch
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