Following ‘footsteps of giants’: PM embarks on Kokoda

Dominic Giannini and Andrew Brown |

Anthony Albanese will walk the Kokoda Track with Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape.
Anthony Albanese will walk the Kokoda Track with Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape.

The prime minister has paid tribute to the Australian soldiers who etched their name into military history along the Kokoda Track as he prepares to walk “in the footsteps of giants”.

Anthony Albanese is set to become the first sitting prime minister to walk the mountainous trail in Papua New Guinea, starting on Tuesday and culminating in a dawn service on Anzac Day on Thursday.

“The Australians who fought here saved our continent, literally, and they stood side-by-side with their brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea,” he told ABC TV ahead of the hike on Tuesday.

“The Australians showed sacrifice and courage and extraordinary valour during what was a battle that went over many weeks and it will be an honour to pay tribute to them.”

As well as honouring the sacrifices of troops who fought on Kokoda, the trip will also centre on forging closer ties with PNG as China seeks to expand its influence in the region.

Anzac Day dawn service at Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby
Mr Albanese and Mr Marape’s trek will culminate in a dawn service on Anzac Day. (HANDOUT/GOVERNOR GENERAL’S OFFICE)

Mr Albanese said he was reassured by his PNG counterpart at a state dinner on Monday that Australia remained the security partner of choice when questioned about China’s role in the region.

“This is a relationship that has never been closer, as symbolised by the fact that we’ll be walking side-by-side down the Kokoda Track,” Mr Albanese said.

“We want the Pacific family to look after security in this region.”

 The ties between the nations were inextricably linked due to the battles of World War II, Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese hosed down concerns about a visit to PNG by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier in April, saying Australia would continue to be a strong ally.

“I don’t regard (the visit by China’s foreign minister) as anything other than business as usual,” he said on Monday.

One of the many river crossings on the Kokoda Track
Mr Albanese will be the first prime minister to walk the track while in office. (Linda McSweeny/AAP PHOTOS)

“China seeks to improve its standing in the region, we know that that is just a fact we are dealing with.

“But I am very confident that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia.”

Australian troops fought on the Kokoda Track in 1942 as part of efforts to ward off a Japanese invasion.

While other Australian prime ministers have walked the track, Mr Albanese is the first to do so while in office.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd walked the track in 2006 as opposition leader, while Scott Morrison made the journey in 2009 when he was a backbencher MP alongside now-Education Minister Jason Clare.

Undated photo of Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track
Australian troops fought on the Kokoda Track in 1942 as part of efforts to ward off Japanese forces. (HANDOUT/SUSAN RAMAGE)

Former leaders Paul Keating, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull have also visited memorials at the Kokoda Track during their tenures as prime minister.

The visit by Mr Albanese comes after he became the first foreign head of government to address PNG’s parliament in January 2023.

Mr Marape also addressed the federal parliament in Canberra in February during a three-day visit to Australia.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles will visit Gallipoli to represent Australia as part of Anzac Day commemorations.

Mr Marles will also visit Australian troops stationed in the Middle East during a side trip to the United Arab Emirates.

AAP