Noble Words | Field Guide to the Kokoda Track (3rd ed.) by Bill James
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Field Guide to the Kokoda Track (3rd ed.) by Bill James

The Kokoda Track occupies a special place in the hearts of Australians. As one of the most significant WWII battles in which we fought the enemy without the support of Allied Forces, it’s the gripping true story of a group of under-resourced, outgunned young men who displayed immense bravery, endurance, sacrifice and mateship to beat the odds – and defeat a truly terrifying enemy.

Around 3000 trekkers visit the Kokoda Track each year, ploughing more than $2m into the local economy and allowing a new generation of Australians to pay their respects to the 2000 soldiers who died there. The Field Guide to the Kokoda Track (3rd edition) is the most comprehensive, up-to-date guide to the track available.

Bill James’s passion for military history was ignited in the early years of the legendary double-decker bus tour operator, Top Deck, which he co-founded. A beloved fixture on the European backpacking scene, Top Deck took Bill to some of the continent’s most famous battlefields, and they left an enduring impression.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s, on a team bonding trip at his next travel venture, Flight Centre, that Bill visited the site of one of Australia’s most significant military victories: the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. While walking the track, Bill realised that so many parts of the Kokoda puzzle were still missing. Around the campfire one night, and with the encouragement of the retired Major leading the tour, Bill decided to write the definitive guide to Kokoda himself.

Wartime record-keeping was patchy and, in the 50 years between the Kokoda Campaign and the arrival of trekkers, the jungle swallowed almost everything in its path. Yet even 25 years later, discoveries of new battlefields, tracks and weapons caches are still being made; in the last two years alone, a mule road (a previously secret route built by Japanese engineers to transport crucial equipment to enemy frontlines) has been unearthed and added to the tour.

The Field Guide to Kokoda (3rd ed) blends historical fact with oral testimony and the latest mapping technology to provide the most comprehensive guide available to this uniquely Australian campaign. What’s more, it is constantly revised and updated as new discoveries are made, a feat made easier by Bill’s regular trips to the track.

As younger generations experience a renewed interest in our country’s military history, stories like those of the brave men who fought at Kokoda are more important than ever.

Businessman, amateur historian and Kokoda Track tour leader Bill James is available for interview from Sydney to coincide with the 75th anniversary of beginning of the Kokoda Campaign on 21 July.

Please email Emma Noble or call +61 (0)432 899139 to arrange an interview or review copy.

Bill James has lead more than 35 groups on the 8-day trek of the Kokoda Track and has now passed the mantle on to his two sons, one of whom was deployed as a commando with Australian Special Forces, who take organisations including school groups on the historic trek. Find out more about Bill James’ role with NGO the Kokoda Track Foundation, and his business successes.

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