Vladka Henley teaches history at Central Coast Adventist School, Erina, New South Wales.
“I love, love, love teaching history,” she said. Even with her busy teaching career and her part time PhD studies, the draw of Kokoda was too much to pass up.
When I travel overseas, I try to find something of historical significance. It makes history come alive when you go there, like you are touching history. Kokoda is a significant historical event. I’ve wanted to do it for many, many years.”
As a teacher, Vladka Henley looks for experiences she can use to make history relevant and engaging for her students. “I try to get them to appreciate history and make it their own. I have some old hats from the ‘40s,‘50s and ‘60s and students love to wear them in class. Emphasising that real people wore those hats, makes the history come alive for them.” Her students also love to hold a piece of trench art and bullets and shells from WWI that she purchased on her travels.
“In Year 9 History, we [study] World War I and World War II from the Australian perspective. I love teaching these subjects because a lot of the students have heritage in those spaces. They get to learn about what their great-granddad did, or whoever.”
Some of Vladka’s favourite trips include the battlefields of France—Normandy beaches, the Somme as well as ancient sites such as Pompeii in Italy and Stonehenge in Britain. She has travelled with her husband and children but has also been on travel tours without them. “Anything that I’m teaching I love to go and see, to make it relevant.”
She has walked the streets of Ephesus and Athens and imagined the apostle Paul, doing the same thing. She would love to do a Holy Land tour or Reformation tour one day.
But Kokoda is on a different level. Vladka is scared and excited at the same time. “Well it’s certainly going to be an incredible challenge—physically and mentally. But we will never really experience it as the Australian soldiers did. With Japanese snipers firing constantly, dysentery, hunger, food supplies that didn’t come, and different seasons with torrential rain and mud.”
Training for Kokoda
Vladka Henley is training hard, going into the mountains behind where she lives on the Central Coast hinterland every weekend and doing 10-13 kilometre hikes. “Trying to find challenging tracks behind us, with a weighted pack on, gives me a little bit of training.”
She’s just done four days in a row of 13km each day, but has unfortunately exacerbated an old injury, while climbing over a rock. “I was probably a bit tired, pushing myself, and just fell over. I was trying to get five days in a row.”
Her 13 kilometre hikes take around 3.5 hours and are relatively easy at the beginning and end but with a very steep section in the middle.
“I have mostly been training on my own although I have done a few hikes with Alvin Schick (also hiking the track with the group) and one of my students who is also coming with her dad, Tia and David Abel. But mainly I’m hiking solo.”
“Everyone’s been quite supportive,” Vladka says. “My family, my girls and my husband are really encouraging. Maybe my friends silently think I’m crazy but they’re also very encouraging. Some are quite astounded and think, ‘better you than me’.”
Vladka is really hoping to connect with the history of the place and with the stories. “It’s an honour thing,” she says. “We are giving honour to the efforts that went in to protecting Australia.” She’s also looking forward to spending time with the local communities along the track and getting to know her fellow trekkers.
You can support Vladka at https://10000toestrek.gofundraise.com.au/page/VladkaHenley