Vera Pehara/Irua - Oral History interview recorded on 23 May 2014 at Kokoda Station, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Vera Pehara-Irua tells the story of her father, Erua Autembo who worked as a carrier during World War Two.



Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.

Interview number 3, we have Mrs Vera Pehara-Irua, she’ll be talking about her war carrier dad, Erua Autembo. Vera is from Kanadara village, Kokoda district.
Vera can you be able to tell us your father’s story?

Before the War my father was like all young boys, he heard that there was a recruitment for workers at Sogeri plantation, so he went off to work there as a plantation labourer, and then found out that the war broke out. So they were all going away from the job and he came back home like 19, June 1942, they were getting the carriers, labourers, employing the labourers, he came in, the people who were employing him said he was too young to carry heavy load because he was a young man so they put him in a lighter job where he was a cook for army commander..
So he was helping the cook to do some kitchen work all the way down to Dobuduru during the war. So from there, he came home. I don’t know what he did after that. When the war finished, he started doing things like other men were doing after the war like getting bags up the track, and passing on to Moresby, carrying food back to Kokoda, went down to Buna as a carrier, came home when the war finished and got a job at a plantation as a plantation worker, up there, top station. So that was the story about him. He didn’t do much but he helped to cook for the Captain.

What was the name of the Captain?

I think barney, Mr Barney, Mr Barne, or Barnes, something.

So your father, was he on the front line with the captain or did he stay behind the frontline.

He was just telling us that he was doing the cooking and feeding his Captain.

Was that for the whole duration of the war from 1942 right through to 1945?


And did he stay here in Northern District?

Yeah, only in Northern from here down to Dobuduru.

What sort of relationship did he have with the captain? Was it a close relationship or not quite?

Maybe because he couldn’t speak English so he just help him to be a tea boy and all this during his meal time.

What about with the other kitchen staff. Were they all from Northern District?

All from same villages.

Did he talk about, if they had any spare time, what did they do in their spare time?

He didn’t tell me the story about that, but actually he said the war was very tough so they had to cook and take off and cook.

May I ask you what sort of food did your father cook for the soldiers? And what kind of vegetables, meat, that they were cooking for the soldiers? What sort of greens or tinned fish or what they were cooking?

There was a special cook there who was doing the cooking but he was helping to do the cleaning and giving the tea and washing the cups, and all this, like helping to do with the kitchen while the cook was doing the main meal; so he was a helper in the kitchen.

There’s a saying that an army travels on its stomach, so very important job.

Vera, after the war, how many of you in the family, how many males and how many females?

We have seven: three girls and four boys.

And you have some other broke record, the first female Papua New Guinea to ever cross Kokoda down to Hanuabada. Can you please share some story with us? And what did you get and what prize were you given?

That was 1975 when Herbert Kienzle, they had an argument on the track named ‘track’ or ‘trail’. So, because he wanted the name to be ‘trail’ to put the race on in 1975, and I wanted to try. I wanted to try because I wanted the name Kokoda Trail, I wanted to see for myself how they fought on the trail.
So I made my own way, and flew over to Moresby. I was 18 years old. I flew over to Moresby and there were 49 men, and I was the only female. From Moresby we started at 7 o’clock, 1975, and I arrived here in 52 hours, and that is not what this track now is, that was really bush track, the road was like a little track for pigs, it was not used normally, not plenty people use that track. I ran the race, and sometimes I ran into the bush track and garden road and I got lost, and every couple of hours I had to make my way back to the road and get on the road again so it took me 52 hours to make it.

Vera, tThis is our national record. How did you get this training to become the fast runner of our history, the fast runner of the trail? How did you train yourself to become what you achieve?

I had no training. I had no training, I was just working for the manager of the plantation that he owned, I was working in his house and I just had the news that they were going to walk the track, so I said I’m going to try to walk the track. And it was my intentions that I must always be the first to break any record, so I did it. And after 23 years, my daughter broke my record, took 23 hours.

So it’s in the blood.

Vera, getting back to the wartime history, when you walked the trail in ‘75, you said it is not like it is today. So what do you think, it was even worse during the War?

Yeah when I saw it I cried, I cried. I just thought of the people, how they walked the track, carrying the wounded, the cargo, how the men walked that track, it really made me cry. I really cried when I was walking that track. I said they really fought this battle and it was not a game. They made it and they won it and I always say, I mean, Australia made it, but with the help of Papua New Guinea. It was true Papua New Guinea made them win the war. That’s what I say.

On a lighter note, before we let you go, did you win any prize when you walked the trail?

Oh yeah, I won only hundred Kina. That was 1975 and it was independence for Papua New Guinea. And that same independence, first independence for Papua New Guinea, that day I got my hundred Kina prize.

Thank you, thank you.

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“Vera Pehara/Irua - Oral History interview recorded on 23 May 2014 at Kokoda Station, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 20, 2024,