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Staying on track

In 2007, AFP member Mark Scott passed away after a plane accident in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, while he was on posting to Jakarta. Twelve years on his wife Sally, and daughters Emily and Stephanie, have remembered Mark by walking the 136km Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.

With the backing of AFP Legacy, it was a fitting tribute to an AFP member who had given so much during his time in the AFP both as Detective Sergeant and a Federal Agent.

Despite the obvious challenges of Kokoda, Sally kept a keen note of all her experiences, expanding on them for Platypus Online on her return home…

Kokoda Arches in sight for the family

"After a 35 minute flight north-east from Port Moresby to the capital of the Oro Province, Popondetta, myself, Emily and Stephanie embarked on a four-hour bus ride - soon arriving at 'The Arches' that mark the beginning of the Kokoda trail. The time it took us to travel from our hotel lobby to reach this point heightened our anticipation and excitement of what was to come.

Three women pose for a photo together
From left, Stephanie, Sally and Emily on the bus ride to Kokoda Village.
Four people pose for a photo under a sign that reads Kokoda Trail
The family - and their guide and 'legend' Johnathon - at the Kokoda Arches before heading out.

Kokoda Trek Leader Aiden Grimes then brought us together for a few words before we headed out.

"Everyday people go to work, and everyday people get out of bed," he said. "Then they put their uniforms on and turn to their kids and say 'I'll be back home to help you with your homework'. But, you know, some never make it."

"When you walk the track they will be with you, here with us at all times. These people should never be forgotten."

Hello, and welcome to the challenge

A group of people mingling around large back packs and camping equipment
Organising and weighing packs and equipment after the welcome ceremony at Kokoda Village.

The day started with an early rise for our group, which included officers from across Australia, a medic team, other servicemen and women, and finally, the legatees.

Although nothing could have prepared us for what was ahead, we received a beautiful welcome at Kokoda Village and met the Legends - our guides - who were going to embark on this trek with us. Through 'The Arches' we walked, with a bounce in our steps, soon to realise that the walk was not going to be this flat for long.

Vertical uphill, vertical downhill

Over the next eight days we walked 136km though some of the toughest terrain we've ever encountered. The uphill sections were almost vertical at times and downhill were equally as steep. There was so much mud and everyone was taking tumbles - some more dramatic than others.

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

Two people hiking up a steep trail
Stephanie carries her pack up a steep section of exposed tree roots.

Our guides were very mindful of taking us along the safest routes - some of them walked barefoot while we skated clumsily in our hiking boots. In some ways the uphill was easier than the downhill - you could stop to take a few deep breaths - but on the downhill you try and not skate and slide.

Challenges bombarded us in more ways than one.

We crossed rivers and creeks on makeshift bridges constructed from fallen tree trunks. It was tough on many levels and a real test of staying in the present. Aiden taught us to live in the moment, to not worry about the future – and the hills to come. I think he meant literally putting one foot in front of the other.

Many crossings, makeshift bridges

There was certainly no time to take our boots off before we negotiated The Goldie River on the second last day (16 crossings in all!). We squelched into camp that night, carrying what seemed like an extra kilo of mud and water on each foot. It made me think about the WW2 soldiers walking though the horrendous conditions, with no end in sight.

A narrow tree log bridge over a river that has been damage towards the other side
This 'bridge' was one of the more challenging river crossings.

On days that felt tough for us I thought of the hardship that these men endured, with little resources. It would have been unimaginable for these brave soldiers. At least I knew I only had a couple of days to go after the crossings. Quite literally walking in their footsteps gave me an indescribable sense of admiration and pride.

We were extremely lucky with the weather - only one afternoon of rain. That afternoon comprised walking (falling) down mud-filled, cascading waterfalls. My daughter Emily told me that I reminded her of a pinball machine, bouncing off one wall to the other in rapid succession! It was practically a slip-and-slide ride.

That same daughter ironically managed to perform the splits for part of her descent, thanks to the exposed, slippery tree roots. Nonetheless, many laughs came from this messy afternoon. When it's raining it's very humid – you're completely soaked in sweat.

I'm sure we all smelled delightful.

Basic facilities, incredible people

Each afternoon we made camp at or near a village. The bathroom facilities were basic to say the least, but after a day of sweating though the jungle, an ice cold shower piped from the river was wonderful!

Other than that it was rinsing off in the river. We ate carb-loaded meals and were generally in our tents heading to sleep by 7.30-8pm. The best parts of the afternoon? Sitting by the fire after a great meal having conversations with some pretty incredible people.

The younger legatees walked together for most of the track and seemed to have good fun. There was never a dull moment during the walk or in the afternoon at camp. The eruption of laughter during card games and chats was contagious. The bond they made seemed to be a special one.

It was a real break from the modern world - no technology, no hassles or burdens of everyday life. After all, "Life isn't measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away".

A man and woman standing together posing for a photo
Amazing who you bump into on the track! Sally with AFP member Mark Laing – who was hiking with a separate group.

Reflection at sunrise

Each morning started with a beautiful poem about the men who walked this walk in WW2, read by one of our leaders, Peter. It was a truly moving way to enjoy the 5am wake ups.

Aidan was also passionate about delivering the history of the track during the war - something I knew very little about. It was fascinating to hear him recount the battles and the amazing story of the Australians, who were outnumbered by the Japanese approximately 10 to 1 – but managed to hold them at bay.

People crossing a bridge made of tree logs
This was a sturdy bridge... but the hand rail was a loose piece of rope.
Huts and tents alongside a fast moving river
Templeton's crossing on the Kokoda Track.

When you walk the track and experience the conditions in which these brave young men fought you realise just how remarkable this feat actually was. Even more remarkable was the work of so called 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels', local men who carried out the injured Australian soldiers on stretchers back to makeshift hospitals or Port Moresby.

I still can't believe they were able to do that. The strength and courage these men held left me speechless.

Dawn service, two-up...and a beer

We finished the track on 24 April and attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service the next day at Bomana cemetery, where over 3,500 Australian soldiers are buried. This was a very moving experience and something that I will remember forever.

We had a breakfast at the police college after the ceremony and then went to the yacht club for some two-up, music and in the true Aussie spirit...a beer...or two.

Walking the track gave me plenty of time for self-reflection and history appreciation. Every day seemed to bring tears to my eyes. Moving poems and heartfelt songs. At times there just wasn't a single pair of dry eyes in the group.

The Kokoda Track tests endurance, not just the physical strain but the emotional as well. It took me out of my comfort zone, but finishing the walk and seeing those Arches came with an enormous sense of achievement.

A large group of people posing for a photo
An Anzac Day Dawn Service was held at Bomana cemetery.

Hearing the stories of other police widows and their various journeys was such a beautiful experience. It was amazing to talk to people who have walked a similar path. They are all amazing ladies and I am delighted to have them as friends. We recently all caught up for a fun weekend in The Hunter Valley. They are all amazing women and we provide great support to one another, I am looking forward to the next catch up.

Closer to Dad

I know this walk meant a lot to my daughters, too. My youngest, Emily, said that it was an opportunity for her to feel closer to her dad, since the trek was something she would have loved to share with him. This was truly something neither she nor Stephanie will ever forget.

For anyone thinking about taking part in the Kokoda Trek, my only advice is to just do it. But don't forget to train as the hills are very unforgiving. My body is still sore but the sense of accomplishment and new formed friendships is something I wouldn't change for the world.

Four people posing for a photo under a sign with the words Kokoda Trail
136km later the family reaches the end of the track. Pictured with Acting PNG-Australia Policing Partnership Mission Commander - and AFP Legacy President - Shane McLennan.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to walk this track with my two daughters - I know their father would be exceptionally proud of them (and me) for accomplishing such a monumental hike, and just a little bit amazed at our strength!

And a massive thank you to all those who donated to our fundraising page.

Post-Script

AFP Legacy Board Member Terina Bruhn also completed the 2019 Kokoda Track and raised $5,431 for AFP Legacy. AFP Legacy Legatees Sally Townley, Stephanie Scott and Emily Scott raised $9,260. In all, $14,691 has been donated to AFP Legacy.

AFP Legacy – how do they assist AFP members?

AFP Legacy was created to support the police family and to perpetuate the memory of those fallen AFP members.

It provides support - including financial assistance - to the families of AFP members. Should a current member, either sworn or unsworn, pass away on or off duty, whatever the circumstances (accident, injury or illness), sudden or diagnosed, then support will be offered.

This support also extends to where a partner of a current AFP member passes.

The AFP Legacy Board of Management comprises of a team of dedicated AFP employees who volunteer their time and represent a broad cross-section of the policing community. AFP Legacy is governed by a constitution and guidelines and is an Incorporated Association in the ACT.

As a not-for-profit organisation directly supporting AFP families, AFP Legacy relies on the generosity of payroll deductions, sponsors, fundraising and the sale of merchandise.