Melina Bath MP’s journey to Kokoda

A sore back, stiff muscles and tired feet are phrases frequently mentioned in recent conversations by The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath.

Those who follow Melina on social media are likely to have noticed an increase in hiking pictures being posted by their local upper house MP.

Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use, Ms Bath is passionate about bush walking and Australian history.

It is no coincidence to learn Ms Bath will be tackling Kokoda in July, trekking the infamous 124 kilometres which winds its way through the Papua New Guinea jungle following the footsteps of our courageous World War II service personnel.

Along with Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, Leader of The Nationals, Peter Walsh and former Member for Narracan, Gary Blackwood, Ms Bath is making the trek alongside 12 Gippsland students on scholarship.

In honour of former Kokoda soldiers, the West Gippsland students received the George Collins Scholarship, (named after a relative of Ms Bath’s), while East Gippsland students received the Arthur Grassby Scholarship.

Through the generous sponsorship from local community organisations, businesses, and support of the MPs, students are taking up the challenge of a lifetime.

Ms Bath said she is equally excited and nervous about her upcoming trek.

“It is an honour to share this experience with respected friends and our leaders of tomorrow, Gippsland students,” said Ms Bath.

The Kokoda track follows the course of one of the most important campaigns involving Australians troops in the Second World War between 21 July and 16 November 1942.

It is where the Australian Army famously halted the southern advance of Japanese forces, forcing them back across the mountains.

The area is renowned for its isolation, rugged mountainous terrain and oppressive heat and humidity.

Ms Bath said Tim Bull has completed the journey on previous occasions, and as Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, I look forward to him explaining the ingenuity, courage, and sacrifice of our Australians as we pass through each site.”

“For me it’s about the values that our service personnel endured – courage, perseverance, mateship, and sacrifice – principles that defined our nation at the time and continue to hold relevance today.”

The hills around South Gippsland’s coastline have featured in training, as has Gentle Annie in the Bunyip State Park.

Ms Bath said Gentle Annie, unlike the name suggests, is challenging terrain and has definitely provided a realistic training experience.

“Along Gentle Annie we have encountered sections where we have had to clamber over logs and use tree roots to keep moving upwards.

“I’ve also been preparing mentally, which included speaking with Morwell RSL Sub Branch President and retired Army Major Wayne Hutchinson who recently returned from Kokoda having successfully arrived in Bomana War Cemetery on ANZAC Day.

“Wayne left me feeling inspired, but he certainly didn’t sugar coat the challenge ahead of me.”

Ms Bath said the group will be carrying a new plaque to replace one that went missing from the Brigade Hill memorial that honours Captain Claude Nye and the soldiers who fought in the 21st Brigade.

“The Battle of Brigade Hill resulted in 87 tragically losing their life and a further 77 wounded – replacing this plaque will be a privilege and a highlight.

“On behalf of family members from my local RSL Sub Branches, I will be reading out statements, finding graves and honouring the names of locals who served on Kokoda.

“Personally, I had two uncles who served in New Guinea, though not on Kokoda – uncle Colin (Bath) died when I was an infant, however twice wounded in battle, uncle Des (King), was a stoic and cherished relative.

“Part of my motivation to complete the Kokoda track is to pay my respects, honour the sacrifice of our service personnel and be inspired by our younger generation – lest we forget.”