3 October 2006 | Tony Dummett
"Neighbours" this is not...
It's funny that the ending of this film has been criticised here as unrealistic and melodramatic. One commenter even said it was of "Neighbours" (soap opera) quality.
In fact the final scene is an exact reconstruction of a parade of members of the 39th battalion before their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner at the village of Menari. Every word spoken by William McInnes (playing Honner) in this scene is taken from the official record of the proceedings on that day.
So much for "Neighbours".
The film is good without being great. The budget supplies the reason. What it does convey is the hostile terrain over which the Australian soldiers had to lug all their supplies, including heavy artillery pieces... and then they had to fight the Japanese, who heavily outnumbered them, when they reached the top of the ranges.
These were part-time soldiers, reservists with inferior training and green troops for the most part. Their job was to hold the line until the professional veterans (back from North Africa) arrived to take over. It was a war fought in platoon and section strength, with few pitched battles. Ever since the survivors of the two reserve battalions have been called "The Ragged Bloody Heroes", and deservedly so.
Recently these has been some revisionism among politically biased historians, claiming that Kokoda was a waste of time and effort; that the Japanese had no intention of invading Australia. While they may not have been as serious about Kokoda as they were regarding the developing disaster at Gualalcanal, one thing is certain: if the Japanese had not been held back on the Kokoda Track, taking Port Moresby would have been a prize too easily won to refuse. Taking Moresby, and perhaps then Australia could have changed not only the war in the South West Pacific area, but perhaps the whole course of WW2.
The men of the 39th battalion had no opportunity to speculate from afar, and safety, on the political potential of Kokoda as relevant to 2006 politics. They had to fight and die where they stood. That is why their story is worth telling, a story of small groups of men fighting shadows in a jungle nightmare scenario, without the option of surrender.