Semi-retired butcher Perry and son, Bryce, embarked on the Kokoda Track in to pay respects to family members who served in WWII and share a sense of the Australian wartime history. They did that, but it turns out a personal discovery while on the trek had much greater long term impact.
Before Kokoda, the biggest shared travel adventure Perry and son Bryce had embarked upon was a well-planned fishing trip.
“When Dad expressed an interest in trekking Kokoda 18 months ago, we both knew it was a bit of a case of now or never,” said Bryce. “It’s not every day you get to do this type of trek with your Dad. And as he kept pointing out he’s not getting any younger.
“Once we booked the trip it was very exciting, but I was anxious on two counts,” said Bryce. “I wondered whether we had done enough training to take on the Kokoda Track, but I also worried for Dad who had almost broken his ribs just a month before we flew out,” added Bryce.
Busted ribs or not, Perry was determined to go and set about consuming as much history about the Kokoda Track as he could. “Dad would call me almost every second day about things he was reading or new information he was discovering about Kokoda and the trek”, said Bryce.
While many Australians with family connections to the wartime campaigns in Papua New Guinea prepare with much the same gusto, it was not until they hit the Track that something remarkable happened – something that neither Bryce nor Perry could have predicted.
“Within two days of the trek, I saw something in my father I had never seen before – and I would say I have a pretty close connection with my Dad, so this surprised me even more.
“I always thought of Dad as not a particularly outgoing person, but suddenly I was amazed as Dad threw himself into the dynamic of the group. He made genuine connections with people, developed amazing interpersonal skills and pushed himself well outside his comfort zone”, said Bryce.
“I was surprised, and so proud. I thought to myself – who IS this man?”
The metamorphosis was not lost on Perry. “I am usually pretty stand-offish – sure I’d mix with people and listen in on a group conversation happening, but I wouldn’t normally initiate anything,” said Perry.
“Suddenly I became very confident talking to people. It was almost as if I was thinking, ‘If I can do this (the trek) then I can do anything,” added Perry.
“Prior to the trek, I had a mindset that it was going to be my job to get Dad to the end,” said Bryce. “But suddenly I realised this wasn’t a concern. I had never seen Dad so relaxed and confident before. Even after the trek we were in a bar in Port Moresby and suddenly I heard my Dad striking up a conversation with (footballer) Petro Civoniceva, who also happened to be in PNG. I had never seen this side to him before!” added Bryce.
This new found confidence hasn’t stopped upon Perry’s return to Australia.
“For me the experience was just awesome – I couldn’t shut up for two days when I got back!” said Perry who is already coordinating and coercing other family members to go with him on a some noted European and Australian walks.
“It’s been a personal experience Bryce would be happy to duplicate. “The trek was awesome, but the most amazing thing of all was that I came back with a whole different Dad!”