A fighting retreat

The month from the Japanese landing on 22 July 1942 to the action at Isurava can be seen as an Australian fighting retreat...

Allied Intelligence was aware that the Japanese force which had landed at Basabua was very much greater than that which the Papuans and Australians had on hand north of the Owen Stanley Range. It followed that if they stood and fought for long they would be surrounded and annihilated. Captain Sam Templeton, who commanded the Australians early in the campaign, told his subordinates: 'Your action should be contact and rearguard only - no do or die stunts.'

Templeton's policy was followed during brief rearguard stands at Awala, Wairopi, Gorari and Oivi but the two Kokoda engagements were, to a degree, an exception. Whoever held the Kokoda airstrip could fly in reinforcements and supplies, a factor of such importance it was worth risking Maroubra Force in something more than a short rearguard fight. Lt Col William Owen, who took over after Templeton's capture at Oivi, stood at Kokoda but was defeated and Owen was killed. His successor, Major Alan Cameron, was briefly able to recapture the strip ten days later but he too was eventually forced to fall back into the mountains.

August1942-Aerial Photo of the terrain south of Kokoda

August 1942. Kokoda. Aerial photograph of the terrain south of Kokoda, taken by a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft at 25,000 feet, shows the tangle of mountains, ridges and gorges with dense, humid jungle and rainforest. The two Myola lakes, one large and one small, can be seen in the top right quarter. Eora Creek, which rises in the larger of the two lakes and proceeds to Kokoda via Isurava, can also be identified. [AWM P02018.125]

Teaching and learning activities for the classroom

Planning to walk the Kokoda track

For the teacher

This task can be done by students individually or as group work. Students should first make their own list of things to take with them on the Kokoda track. Then they can complete the worksheet. Alternatively the questions on the worksheet can be done as a class discussion.

For the students

Have a close look at the photograph (at the top of the page) of the mountains which the Kokoda track winds its way through. Then make a list of at least 20 of the things you would need, and how many of each, for a ten day walk along the track. Remember that you have to carry everything yourself so keep it down to a bare minimum. The only things you don't have to take with you are water and food. Water can be obtained from mountain streams and three basic meals a day will be provided by the tour company which will guide you along the track. After you have completed your list compare it to the list made by experienced Kodoka track walkers and answer the questions there.


You will need the following; clothing, footwear, toiletries and camping equipment. There are many other things that you will need. Some of them will surprise you, so think carefully about what might be useful for a long walk in tropical mountains where there are no shops, hospitals or hotels.

Last updated: 12 March 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), A fighting retreat, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 September 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/kokoda-track-1942-1943/events/fighting-retreat
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