IS IT KOKODA TRACK OR TRAIL?
IS IT "KOKODA TRACK" OR "KOKODA TRAIL"? (Continued from "The Kokoda Campaign ")
In this treatment of the Kokoda Campaign, reference will be made to the "Kokoda Track". This was the name by which it was known to Australian soldiers who fought on it in 1942 and to the civilians who were living in Australia's Territory of Papua before the Japanese invaded it on 21 July 1942. Dissemination of war news in the South-West Pacific was controlled in 1942 by the American Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, and his personal American staff. "Trail" is not Australian usage. "Track" is not American usage. Americans speak of the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. There is a very real possibility that the term "Kokoda Trail" was coined by an American member of General MacArthur's public relations staff writing in terms that would be understood by Americans. The Australian War Memorial has opted since 1992 to use the American term "Kokoda Trail" to describe the location of the most important battle fought by Australians on their own soil in World War II. However, the Memorial concedes that both "Track" and "Trail" have now become acceptable usages. (Continued)
I would like to mention several of the reasons why Major General W.B. Digger James, AC, MBE, MC and I chose to use "Kokoda Track" instead of "Kokoda Trail" when we were debating in 1997 our proposal to commemorate a Battle for Australia 1942-43 and defining its scope in the paper that I wrote for the RSL
I had graduated in Far Eastern history and politics for my BA; LLB degree and when I learned that Dudley McCarthy had served as a Patrol Officer In Papua New Guinea before World War II and had written an official history of the New Guinea Campaign in the Pacific War 1941-45, I acquired McCarthy's "South-West Pacific Area - First Year", read it, and kept it for later reference. When I referred to this work for the purpose of defining the historical scope of the Battle for Australia, I noticed that Dudley McCarthy repeatedly referred to "Kokoda Track" and not "Kokoda Trail". The first reference to "Kokoda Track" is in the list of Illustrations at page vi "Native carriers on the Kokoda Track". Other references to the "Kokoda Track" follow. For example, in the Preface at page xi, Dudley McCarthy says:
"Principally. however, this is the story of the fighting along the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay, in the coastal swamps of the Buna-Sanananda-Gona area..."
In both examples from Dudley McCarthy's official history of the fighting in Papua New Guinea in 1942 the emphasis to "Kokoda Track" has been added by me.
During the six years that I lived in Port Moresby in the 1960s, the native pad between Owers Corner and Kokoda was usually described as the "Kokoda Track".
I regard the film "Kokoda -The Bloody Track" as being one of the best documentaries dealing with the fighting in the Owen Stanleys in 1942. It was made on behalf of the Australian Army by Australian film maker Patrick Lindsay. It includes narration and comment by the distinguished Australian military historian Professor David Horner (then Dr Horner) who describes the fighting as taking place on the "Kokoda Track". Members of the 39th Battalion who fought and blocked the Japanese advance towards Port Moresby across the Owen Stanley Range in 1942, and who can be seen and heard telling their stories In "Kokoda - The Bloody Track", always refer to "the track" and not "the trail".
Confirmation that the Australian soldiers who fought on the track knew it as the "Kokoda track" also came from Lieutenant Don Symonson MC, a platoon commander with the 39th Battalion. Don Symonson won his MC for bravery at Deniki where he singlehandedly silenced two Japanese machine gun posts with hand grenades. Don helped me with expert advice on military details and topography when I was writing my chapters on Kokoda for the Battle for Australia Web-site. In his notes describing the movement of the 39th Battalion across the Owen Stanley Range, he refers to the "Kokoda Track" and never uses the term "trail".
Compelling support for "Kokoda Track" can also be found in the diary of Dr Geoffrey Vernon who served in World War I as an army medical officer and worked as a planter, trader, and part-time doctor in New Guinea between the two World Wars. He was caring for the health of native labourers in Papua when the Japanese landed at Buna and Gona. Upon hearing that the 39th Battalion was crossing the Owen Stanleys to fight the Japanese invaders without a medical officer, he followed the 39th Battalion across the Owen Stanleys to Deniki where he volunteered his medical services to the Australian militia battalion. Dr Vernon's medical skills were gladly accepted by the Australian soldiers. In his diary entries, when referring to the native pad between Owers Corner and Kokoda, this New Guinea "old hand" always refers to "track" and not "trail".
Bruce Ruxton, Victorian State RSL President, convened a discussion with senior officers of the 2/14th Battalion in 1997 including the late Colonel Phil Rhoden, OBE, who was one of the commanders of the 2/14th Battalion during the fighting in the Owen Stanleys in 1942. I was present at that meeting and had private discussions later with Colonel Rhoden about the fighting prior to his death a couple of years ago. Colonel Rhoden insisted vehemently that the soldiers who fought on the native pad connecting Owers Corner to Kokoda knew it as the "Kokoda track". I gave him my assurance that I would continue to refer to it as the "Kokoda Track" in my history of the defence of Papua in 1942.
It has been suggested by one commentator that the gazettal in 1972 of the track between Owers Corner and Kokoda as the "Kokoda Trail" by the Australian administrators of Papua (three years prior to Papua achieving independence as part of Papua New Guinea in 1975) justifies putting an end to description of that track as the "Kokoda Track" even in the historical context of the bloody fighting that occurred there in 1942. Logic and history do not support such a view. Speaking as an historian, I would argue that it is justifiable to use the term "Kokoda Track" when referring to the fighting that took place on the track in 1942 because that was how the track was described at that time by the men fighting the Japanese on it. We do not refer to the capture of "Istambul" in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire even though the modern name of the city is Istambul. We speak of the capture of Constantinople in 1453. We do not speak of the Siege of St Petersburg by the German Army Group North between 1941- 43. We speak of the Siege of Leningrad even though that city was renamed St Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It has also been suggested that references to fighting on the the "Kokoda Trail" by the Australian press in World War II justify putting an end to references to fighting on the "Kokoda Track" in 1942. The problem with this argument has been mentioned above. Dissemination of war news in the South-West Pacific was controlled in 1942 by the American Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, and his personal American staff. "Trail" is not Australian usage. "Track" is not American usage. Americans speak of the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. There is a very real possibility that the term "Kokoda Trail" was coined by an American member of General MacArthur's public relations staff writing in terms that would be understood by Americans.
The Australian War Memorial encyclopedia of frequently asked questions has this to say about the question whether we should refer to "Kokoda Trail" or "Kokoda Track":
"There has been a considerable debate about whether the difficult path that crossed the Owen Stanley Range should be called the 'Kokoda Trail' or the 'Kokoda Track'. Both 'Trail' and 'Track' have been in common use since the war. 'Trail' is probably of American origin but has been used in many Australian history books and was adopted by the Australian Army as an official 'Battle Honour'. 'Track' is from the language of the Australian bush. It is commonly used by veterans, and is used in the volumes of Australia's official history. Both terms are correct, but 'Trail' appears to be used more widely. (Emphasis added)
I have to question whether the Memorial can still be regarded as correct in suggesting that 'Trail" appears to be used more widely than 'Track". Over the past decade, it appears to me that the Australian print and electronic media, and especially the national newspaper "The Australian", prefer to use the term "Kokoda Track".
Before finally electing to use Kokoda Track instead of Kokoda Trail, I discussed the issue with Major General Ray Sharp AO who was president of the NSW Kokoda Committee in 1997 when I was writing the RSL paper that became the foundation of the Battle for Australia Commemoration. General Sharp is very familiar with New Guinea and he explained that the narrow path leading from Owers Corner to Kokoda was known as the Kokoda track in 1942, just as the narrow path leading from Gona and Buna to Kokoda and Port Moresby were known locally in 1942 as the Kokoda track and the Moresby track respectively. General Sharp acknowledged that both Kokoda Track and Trail were commonly used today but he preferred Kokoda Track because he believed that was how it was known to the army veterans who fought on it in 1942.