The beginning of the Kokoda Track

Captain Bert Kienzle on leave in Australia after the Papuan Campaign (Courtesy : To Kokoda & Beyond . Story of the 39th Battalion by Victor Austin)

In July and August 1942 McDonald’s Corner was recognised as the beginning of the Kokoda Track and there is now a memorial at the site as well as a sign announcing the beginning of the “Kokoda Trail”. Nearby was the village of Ilolo, and it was here in July 1942 that officers of the Australian and New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), such as Lieutenant Herbert Kienzle and his medical officer, the elderly Captain Geoffrey Vernon, brought together the groups of native carriers who were needed to support the Australian advance into the mountains.

Ilolo is reached by a road that leaves Port Moresby and winds its way 40 kilometres up a steep hill, past the Rouna Falls and onto the high plateau which includes the Itiki Valley and the Sogeri River. This area provides a slightly cooler climate and in 1942 was considered suitable for training of the units about to cross the mountains. Later it became a retraining and rest area for units that had fought on the Track. It was also the site of a number of military hospitals.

1942-08. Papua – Native bearers (popularly known as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels) carry heavy loads of equipment and supplies for the Australian Troops. (AWM 013004)

From Ilolo Lieutenant Kienzle set out with his carriers to establish a series of staging camps along the Kokoda Track to support the troops of the 39th and later the 53rd Battalions. Staging camps were established at approximately 16 kilometre intervals, which meant that the troops would take about eight days to cross the mountains to Kokoda.

Many of the troops who fought on the Kokoda Track have clear memories of Ilolo, and McDonald’s Corner – a short distance beyond where they disembarked from their trucks before beginning the march. The first unit over the mountains, B Company 39th Battalion, under Captain Sam Templeton, left Ilolo on 7 July 1942. C Company of the Battalion began the trek on 23 July. The first company of the 53rd Battalion left Ilolo on 11 August and the first elements of the 2/14th Battalion began moving on 16 August.

Later an effort was made to push the road beyond Ilolo and a jeep track was constructed to Owers’ Corner, but still the troops disembarked at McDonald’s Corner. The first company of the 2/33rd Battalion departed McDonald’s Corner on 10 September. Eventually, as the track was improved, more troops could be carried forward to Owers’ Corner and thus McDonald’s Corner lost some of its importance. It is still regarded however as the beginning of the Kokoda Track. Beyond Ilolo the first staging camp at the end of a day’s journey was the village of Uberi.