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Courage on the Kokoda Track

Courage on the Kokoda Track

Having lost two close relatives to suicide, Julie Thornton (in the white shirt at the front of the photo) decided she needed to do something to positively impact people in crisis.

So along with 10 other IAG employees, Julie hiked the Kokoda Track to raise money for Lifeline, an organisation committed to being there for people, without judgement, in their time of need.

A Team Manager within IAG’s Personal Injury Claims Team, Julie and the rest of the group raised an astounding $135,000 for Lifeline.

Beyond this, Julie learned a lot about resilience, about herself as a leader and how leadership can be realised in the most unexpected places and by the most unexpected people.

Julie’s story…

“A few days into the walk I got sick. Actually, I got really sick!

It was the day before ANZAC Day, which was to be one of the highlights of the trek, and I woke up feeling terrible.

Up until then, I’d been feeling pretty good. I could tell you what had happened each hour of each day.

I remember vividly how hot it was in the jungle. How hard, steep and wet the ground beneath my feet was.

I can conjure the cacophony of bird sounds, the beauty of the canopy, the sting of the bugs and the squelching of my boots in the ever-thickening mud.

Too sick to go on

But of this day, the day before ANZAC Day, I have very little memory.

The only thing I recall is that we had to climb a hill that day, known as ‘The Wall’. 

I woke in the morning with incredible cloudiness and pain. I remember, in my haze, acknowledging to myself that I was too sick to go on.

I couldn’t see a way of getting out of my tent, let alone climbing the hardest of the mountains on the 96km track from Port Moresby to Kokoda.

Up against it

But then another thought came to me; ‘what was my main goal?’

My main goal was to make it to Dawn Service on ANZAC day.

I wanted to honour the troops, including my father, who had served in the war that raged in these mountains many years ago.

I wanted to stand on Brigade Hill for the Dawn Service and honour their sacrifice.

I wanted to stand arm-in-arm with my Kokoda team who together had achieved so much. I wanted to get there… and whatever happened after that didn’t matter. 

Struggling to move

Lying in my tent, struggling to move, I thought the goal was too much.

It was too big a vision when I could barely muster the energy to stand up... so I began to break it down into tiny little steps.

  • Step one, sit up.
  • Step two, roll sleeping mat.
  • Step three, stuff sleeping bag in rucksack.
  • Step four, put on my left sock.

That’s basically how my day went, focusing just on the next step, followed by the next step.

Even then I couldn’t have made it alone.

My porter, Nelson, carried my back pack and my day pack that day.

My IAG team mate James walked beside me all day, mostly in silence, but always close.

Donny, our Head Porter, walked behind me and guided us all to find the steadiest footing.

Support in dark times

We took hours, far longer than expected.

But just before sunset, we made it to Brigade Hill.

There I was met by the figure of another IAG colleague, Nathan, standing sentinel in the rain, waiting to congratulate me.

Of the whole day I can only remember a few things: the pain I felt, the process to get through it, and the caring faces of Nelson, Donny, James and Nathan, who supported me in my darkest times.

Being brave

Brave leadership isn’t always easy – there will always be battles, big and small.

To lead bravely, you must lead with purpose, and with a clear goal.

You must be vulnerable but committed and resilient.

You must support your team without ego – and be supported by your team in the same way, and you must take on the Wall one (sometimes tiny) step at a time.”

Looking for a new challenge at work? Find out more about careers at IAG here.


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