How would you feel if your boss told you he was taking you on an all-expenses paid overseas holiday?
Now how would you feel if that trip was a 10-day trek on the infamous Kokoda Track?
For Nova 106.9’s Ash, Kip and Luttsy, the experience not only brought home the true meaning of mateship, but has cemented their respect and gratitude for the men and women who serve our country.
Ash, Kip and Luttsy originally started with the station back in 2005 and have always loved to laugh — but that laughter would be tested on the Kokoda track, a trip that has become an important pilgrimage for many Australians.
“No matter how hard you prepare physically, it’s what happens on the trek mentally that is the real challenge,” Kip Wightman says.
“We had incredible guides that really brought home what happened to those boys up there and it is very powerful and emotional to walk in their footsteps.”
The Nova Kokoda trek was organised by Mates4Mates, a charity which provides support to wounded, injured or ill, current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families.
Mates4Mates regularly takes groups to Kokoda for both rehabilitation and fund-raising purposes.
Ash, Kip and Luttsy were also joined on the trek by the team from Channel 7, including newsreader Bill McDonald and Queensland Weekender host Dean Miller.
At their initial briefing, tour leader Glenn Azar asked the group to embrace the spirit of Kokoda, defined by courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice, while physical training instructor Ricky Dumigan said they should prepare for both a mental and physical challenge.
“Ricky is an ex-commando so we knew we were in for it,” David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral says.
“But the tough training is nothing compared to what happened back in 1942. I now have a much deeper respect for what happened on Kokoda and just how close Australia came to being invaded.”
Ash Bradnam surprised the group when he asked to bring sons, Levi and Sid, on the trip and readily admits to a couple of nervous moments wondering if he had done the right thing.
“On our first day on the track the boys started to have a bit of a whinge and I wondered if I had made a bad call by bringing two kids on this trek,” Ash says.
“But the track gets to you, no matter what age you are, and I can honestly say the boys and I just had one of the best experiences of our lives.
“My kids had an absolute ball playing with the kids in the village and I hope they hold on to that memory for a lifetime. Not just for how ridiculously talented these village kids are with a football, but in reminding us all of what we often take for granted back home.”
While the trio readily talk about the privilege and power of walking the track, there were also some light-hearted moments along the way.
Ash says he regularly encouraged the group to trek next to Luttsy if they needed a distraction.
“Anyone who listens to the show knows Luttsy can tell a story that feels like it will never end and who knew that would become something we’d actually enjoy on the trek?” Ash laughs.
“I was happy to share my special skill with everyone which I like to call relentless radio,” Luttsy fires back.
The Nova team also came to learn that their definitions could be very different from their trek leader at the daily briefings.
“Glen spent 17 years in the army and his specialty is adventure travel while us three blokes jabber on the radio for a living, which you would think would have clued us in early that we might see things differently,” Kip says.
“So it wasn’t too long before we all realised when Glen said we were facing some ‘slightly undulating terrain’ that day we were probably about to climb a cliff!!”
The group are united in their praise for Glen, Ricky and everyone involved in the trek, and especially the porters who made this a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Learning about their ancestors who were the Fuzzy Wuzzy angels brought a whole new depth to this experience,” Ash says.
“And I’m extra grateful to our guides who took such great care of my boys.”
The trio also have praise for their colleague, newsreader Ange Anderson, who had the unfortunate experience of falling into a bush toilet while on the trek.
“Falling into a bush toilet on the Kokoda Track, and coming out smelling yet smiling, is why Ange Anderson is one of the all-time greats,” says Kip.
“Even during these lighthearted moments on the track, we always felt close to the memories of the men of Kokoda.”