Australians need to draw on the spirit of mateship that binds us in order to tackle the adversities we face in the modern world, Dr Brendan Nelson AO, Director, The Australian War Memorial told attendees at the 2018 Kopkoda breakfast held on the August 10.
Dr Nelson captivated more than 400 guests with immensely moving tales of World War II’s Kokoda Trail Campaign and the heroes of the 39Militia Battalion who fought to preserve Australia’s place in the world when everything we stood for was at risk.
“We are shaped most by our triumphs and failings, our heroes and our villains. How we have faced adversity and how we will face the adversity that is coming”.
“On the stepping stones of courage and despair, these young Australians inflicted Japan’s first defeat on land and, at the same time, instilled a belief in what it means to be Australian.”
Dr Nelson’s speech brought to life the purpose behind the Kopkoda Project, a Victorian Police initiative launched 12 years ago to tackle disengaged youths within Melbourne’s inner north-west community.
Run annually by the Victoria Policein conjunction with major sponsor Matthews Steer, Kopkoda aims to decrease the incidence of youth involvement in crime and improve the relationship between the youth, police and the wider community by providing local youth with the opportunity to walk the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
Kopkoda raises participants’ awareness of others within their community, and provides them with opportunities to develop their leadership, communication, judgement and social skills. Guests at this year’s breakfast were treated to the insights of three participants of the 2018 trek.
Corporate participant Mark Foote said the trek was harder than he expected, but a worthwhile experience. “It’s all mental, if you have a general level of fitness you will be able to cope, but it is quite physically and mentally draining. It’s a really great program. You create really great bonds with the people on the trek and it’s a life changing experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough”.
Local student Eddy Russell said “I was lucky to meet people from all different backgrounds, and they were sensational. I’d always had my eyes on trekking Kokoda because it is part of my national identity. It’s an emotional roller coaster and you go from having a good laugh to a really solemn moment in the blink of an eye. It’s an amazing experience”.
A recent immigrant from Ethiopia, trainee nurse Lydia Gebrehiwot took part in Kopkoda thanks to The Huddle, a joint initiative of the North Melbourne Football Club, the Scanlon Foundation, and the Australian Multicultural foundation. The Huddle was established to address the causes of disengagement among young people.
Lydia, nicknamed ‘Florence Nightingale’ by her fellow Kopkoda participants, shared her nursing expertise to many of this year’s trekkers and says she can’t thank The Huddle enough for the experience.
“It gave me a chance to talk to everyone, to exchange how our day was going, if it was good or bad, and to let all the emotions out” said Lydia. “Before the trek I didn’t know anything about Kokoda or Australia’s relationship with PNG. The briefing gave an overview of the battles and history and to live it on the track brings it to life. I can’t say how lucky we were to be a part of it.”
The annual Kopkoda breakfast encourages attendees to consider sponsorship options which provide the much needed funding for a young person to attend within their participation fee.