University welcomes Kokoda’s ‘angels’

Published 5 July 2007

Southern Cross University is preparing for the arrival of some ‘angels’.

The actual descendants of Papua New Guinea’s famed ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ – who carried, supported and helped Australian diggers on the Kokoda Track during World War II – will undergo fitness evaluations at the University’s Lismore campus tomorrow, and on the Gold Coast on Monday, to assess their potential as elite athletes.

The University’s Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management will carry out the assessments on the four visitors from the village of Kokoda as they prepare for the gruelling 96-kilometre Kokoda Challenge race on the Gold Coast hinterland next weekend, July 14 and 15.

The Kokoda Challenge raises money for the Kokoda Challenge Youth Program, an intervention program for young people from all walks of life. A selected group of ‘Kokoda kids’ will go on to walk the real Kokoda Track in PNG in September.

Cameron Phillips, laboratory technician in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management, said the University was delighted to be the principal sponsor of the event.

“As part of our involvement in the challenge we will be carrying out cardio-respiratory fitness evaluations to determine the fitness levels of our friends from PNG,” Mr Phillips said.

“They are known to have an incredible fitness level and one of them holds the speed record for tackling the real Kokoda Track in 17 hours, so we will be interested to measure fitness markers like how their body takes up and uses oxygen. I think we will find they may have the ability to become elite athletes if they choose.”

Southern Cross University will also be ‘walking the talk’ by entering two teams in the event on July 14.

“The ultra-endurance athletes do it in 12 hours. We aim to average around 4km an hour and hope to complete the challenge in about 20 hours,” Mr Phillips said.

“We are in for some tough competition from our PNG friends. They have three teams and many team members have walked the track at Kokoda in record time.”

Chairman of the Kokoda Association Doug Henderson says their arrival in Australia is a reminder of how the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ stood strong beside Australian soldiers in the fight against the Japanese.

“65 years on and the descendants of these remarkable and heroic people will be competing next to their Australian mates in yet another challenge,” Mr Henderson says.

“Everyone is just so excited. This is a major opportunity for them to come to Australia. Most Papuan natives never leave Papua New Guinea and the chance for them to come to Australia is just amazing.

“Having the ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ compete in the Kokoda Challenge is an enormous endorsement for the association and the work we are doing to raise awareness about ‘Kokoda kids’.

“I’m sure the lucky ‘Kokoda kids’ chosen to walk the actual track in PNG later this year will get plenty of advice and tips off these expert trekkers.”

Photo: Exercise Science student Peter Hood undergoes fitness testing on the treadmill under the watchful eye of students Tanya Mitchell (left) and Laura Scott and supervisor Cameron Phillips. The students are testing out the protocols to be used in fitness testing for the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’.

Media interview and photo opportunity tomorrow, Friday, July 6 and Monday, July 9, 2007.

Friday, July 6:

Southern Cross University, Lismore Campus, P Block, room 127, from 10.30am to 12 noon.
Southern Cross University Exercise Science students will carry out fitness evaluations on the descendents of the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’.

Monday, July 9:
Cascade Gardens, 2730 Gold Coast Hwy, Broadbeach, Gold Coast, adjacent to the Kokoda Memorial in the park, 12.30 pm sharp. ‘Survival of the fittest’ challenge. This demanding fitness test lasts for only 5-15 minutes, so please be on time.

Media contacts: Zoe Satherley, media officer, Southern Cross University, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095 or Leona Kelly, senior consultant, Three Plus, 07 5508 2244, 0402 771 109.