Snake-wrestling on the Kokoda Trail
“When I set my mind to doing something, I do it,” says Andrew Turner.
Considering he recently pulled a 16-foot python out the Papua New Guinean underbrush with his bare hands, it would be foolish to doubt his commitment.
Andrew, a volunteer with Victoria State Emergency Service’s (SES) Malvern Unit, took on the Kokoda Challenge last month.
The event sends competitors on a gruelling, 96-kilometre race along the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. This unforgiving stretch of earth is famous as the site of intense fighting between Australia and Japanese forces during World War II.
Among ultra-runners like Andrew, it’s also known as the toughest run out there due to its uneven terrain, steep slopes, thick jungle and punishing humidity. And that’s exactly why Andrew wanted to go.
He’s a regular competitor in the Melbourne Oxfam run; his team has raised $25,000 over four years and had their best turnout this year with a fourth-place finish. He also ran in the Maroondah Dam 50 kilometre race this year and has a number of 10 and 20 kilometre runs under his belt.
Andrew set his sights on the Kokoda Challenge that was run in late August, and set himself a goal of finishing the run in 24 hours. The all-time record is 16:34 hours.
“I was going really well up until the 35 kilometre mark when I took a nasty fall. Up until then I was on track to get there in 22 hours,” Andrew says.
Despite injury Andrew limped his way through the rest of the race – more than 50 kilometres – and finished in 40 hours. He’s not done.
“I’ve been invited to go back next year and I’m going to do it in 24. When I set my mind to something, I do it,” he says.
While making his way to the finish line, Andrew indulged in his other major hobby: snake handling.
“I saw a 16-foot python there in the bush and that was after I was injured so I went in and pulled it out,” he says.
“There were some Japanese tourists there and they loved it. They got some great photos.
“I do the snake handling on the side, not for the money, it’s for the thrill. I’ve done skydiving and everything but nothing beats coming toe-to-toe with a tiger snake; words can’t describe it.”
He’s not a man for laid-back hobbies, and Andrew says his Kokoda expedition had been fantastic.
“It was definitely one of the wildest trips I’ve ever been on, and I got to hang out with ultra-runners from Australia and Japan,” he says.
“It was good to hang out with others who do it and understand. Apart from the physical challenge, there’s the mental side of it. When you get to the 50 kilometre mark, knowing you have to turn around and do it all again, I don’t think many people realise what kind of mindset you need for that.”
That kind of mental fortitude serves Andrew well with the SES, where he has volunteered for almost two years.
“I love it. I love the teamwork and everything it stands for. It’s not often you get people so prepared to help others at 3am,” he says.
“You don’t get anything out of it except helping others, and it’s good to be a part of that team and a part of that scene.”