In which our intrepid hero draws an unfortunate parallel.

It’s like a scene from BabaKiueria.

Between July 1942 and January 1943, Australian and Japanese troops battled fiercely for a long, single-lane trail through the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Had the Japanese won, they could have taken Port Moresby with minimal resistance, granting them control of the Arafura Sea and a base from which to strike at eastern Australia.

The Kokoda Track has become not only part of Australia’s military history, but part of its national bildungsroman as well. The campaign towers as a symbol of national identity and the mythical Australian ethos, so much so that hiking the Track is seen as one of our society’s last remaining rites of passage.

So, when local tribesmen felled a tree across the Track and declared it closed, there was bound to be trouble.

“The track is closed,” said a village spokesman, Barney Jack.

“From today no trekkers will pass by here,” he said.

“If people come here and trespass on our land we will use force to stop them.”

Australian mining company Frontier Resources determined that about $AUD6.7 billion worth of gold and copper lay beneath a 600-metre section of the Track, and offered 11 local clans a five percent stake in the claim. Not surprisingly, the locals are pretty enthusiastic about the whole idea, despite heavy pressure from Australia to block the mine:

Villagers waved placards carrying the messages “What has Australia done for fuzzy wuzzies in 65 years?” and “Rudd wants fuzzy wuzzies to live in perpetual poverty”.

Mr Jack said the last thing the villagers wanted was to stop seeing Australian trekkers, who had for years been welcomed with plates of food and showered with petals. “We have closed the track because we want the Australian Government to listen to us.”

And they kind of have a point: New Guinean porters never received the compensation or recognition that they deserved for their service during the Kokoda campaign. They helped Australian soldiers through their compassion and never consented to an Australian monopoly of the Track in the post-WWII era.

In just a couple of days, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will host a meeting in Canberra, a long-awaited apology to the nation’s indigenous peoples for the treatment meted out to them since settlement in 1788.

Many conservatives—including former PM John Howard—have refused to say “Sorry,” citing potentially enormous compensation claims, and Rudd is carefully massaging his speech to try and avoid a deluge of court cases against the government.

Surely, though, a conditional apology is little better than none at all—a cynical, populist, token gesture to appease the so-called “doctors’ wives” and the occasional demagogue in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

This gesture will only be the more empty and hypocritical if Australia continues to pressure Papua New Guinea to block Frontier Resources’ mine and the wealth it would bring to the area’s forgotten tribesmen.

Perhaps, too, this could allow a greater conciliation between Australia’s modern settlers and its indigenous peoples. Maybe, having suffered the desecration of one of our most sacred sites, we can begin to understand the pain of those who walked these lands for millennia before us.

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