Ben McArthur

 

A NEW scholarship opportunity worth $6300 is available to the region’s Year 11s, called the Charlie McCallum Scholarship.

The scholarship aims to instil a sense of national pride and local connection to the Gippslanders who fought in Papua New Guinea.

The program will run during the school holidays in July and is an opportunity to join the Kokoda Trek with the Specialist Trekking company ‘Adventure Kokoda’.

The students will fly to Kokoda and be part of a challenging nine-day hike over unpredictable terrain for 120 kilometres.

Part of the trek includes a training period where applicants will have the opportunity to hike around local trails and wildlife every two weeks. In one instance, they will climb Mt Taylor in Bairnsdale.

“We will get together in a group and do these activities so we can prepare them, raise their fitness level, and get them used to the track,” scholarship founder, Craig Guthrie said.

“Because at Kokoda, the incline is either going up or down, and it’s on difficult terrain where it’s hard to see in front of you because the terrain is so steep, and when you think you’re at the end, you’re nowhere near it.”

Charlie McCallum was Foster-born but Yarram-raised and a former champion woodchopper. He enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force in May 1940 and was part of the 2/14th battalion. He was initially sent to the Middle East and then to the Pacific to fight against the Japanese forces.

Mr Guthrie said that the scholarship’s namesake’s most memorable act occurred at the battle of Isurava in Papua New Guinea.

“There, he wanted to protect his mates and let them fall back when they were getting overrun by the advancing Japanese,” he said.

Corporal Charlie McCallum, who was wounded at the time, stood his ground with a Bren gun and a Thompson sub-machine gun as the Japanese advanced into his position to bide time and hold off the advancing enemy, allowing his comrades to retreat into safety.

When McCallum himself withdrew, his comrades went back to the scene and counted the bodies of 40 Japanese soldiers.

For this, his superiors recommended him for the Victoria Cross, but he instead received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

“He survived that battle, but unfortunately a week later, he got killed by a sniper on Brigade Hill,” Mr Guthrie said. Corporal McCallum died aged 35.

Mr Guthrie said he first heard the story from one of the leaders of the Kokoda Trek, and after hearing the story, wanted to find a way to honour Corporal McCallum.

“And I thought that since Bairnsdale is running a scholarship program after a Kokoda War Hero, why can’t there be one in Sale as well? Charlie McCallum spent many of his younger years in Sale,” he said.

“I’ve always been interested in Kokoda since it was on our doorstep.”

To apply for the scholarship, send an email to Mr Guthrie at charlie.m.scholarship@gmail.com and write a 400+ word response to the following questions:

What does the Kokoda Story mean to Australia?

What is the Gippsland connection to the Kokoda trail?

Applications close on May 5. Applicants must provide their full name, address, contact details and evidence of parental permission. The ideal applicant should hold a passport; however, it is not required.

The scholarship will pay for airfares, accommodation and meals.