Mr Ryan described his experience as life-changing.

‘‘I’ve come home with so much gratitude and a real appreciation of how lucky we are to live in Australia and how often I take it for granted,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think a lot of people my age realise how close the war came to Australia.

‘‘I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know that much about it before I went over there. I knew it was important, but I wasn’t aware of the actual battles.

‘‘I now have a much better understanding of what the Aussie soldiers did.’’

Mr Ryan said learning about the Battle for Brigade Hill hit home the hardest.

The battle was fought during three days in 1942 and was an unmitigated disaster for Australia’s Maroubra Force.

‘‘The Japanese advanced on the Australians and they had to retreat to get back to a better position,’’ Mr Ryan said.

‘‘The problem was, they ran out of ammunition. So some of the guys took off their dog tags, gave them to their friends, and volunteered to charge the enemy with bayonets.

‘‘These were men my age and younger. They hadn’t even lived yet.

‘‘They knew they were going to die. But they did it anyway so their mates could get away.’’

Mr Ryan said the concept of mateship was constantly reinforced on the track.

‘‘I had never met the people in my group, but it didn’t take long for us to grow close,’’ he said.

‘‘The trail brings mateship out in people, because it is so hard.

‘‘You want to help out the people in front of you and the people behind you, because although you’re doing it tough, you’re in it together.’’

‘‘The Australian soldiers could not have done what they did without the people of Papua New Guinea and neither could we”

Kieran Ryan