A challenge lies before me. How to share last week’s excitement, adventure and privilege without it turning into a book?!
I first met Captain Bede Tongs MM (Military Medal) and his son Garry in Kokoda last year, when I travelled with my Grandfather for the 70 year anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. We really connected so I invited them to come to Dubbo for a few days to meet my family and some of my community.
So here’s a few pictures of just a few special moments, a quick overview and the deep sense of conviction that grew in me during the week. There’s great learning in our conversations with Bede. Read on…
Bede and Garry arrived in Dubbo on Tuesday afternoon, 2 April, after driving from Canberra. I greeted them at a local radio station for an interview, then home to have a cuppa tea. We picked up Lyndon and Ethan and all headed out to Gilgandra. After a visit to some of Gilgandra’s places of interest, we had dinner at the RSL with my parents, then visited Bill Cheal’s restored WW2 Matilda Tank and back to Dubbo to introduce Bede to the Army Reserves.
Wednesday began at another radio station at 7.30am, with a wonderful chat and a surprise guest, Bede’s niece Sharon. We then went to Dubbo Christian School for the morning, speaking to students of all ages (gorgeous pictures above) and talking to the media who almost all arrived at the same time. We headed to Dubbo College Senior Campus, then home for another cuppa and rest before heading to the RSL Club to introduce Bede and his inspiring story to more locals.
Bede’s Essentials For Survival
- Being Alert,
- Sense of humour and
- Having a Sense of Purpose
Bede shared his message of “essentials for survival” which are so relevant today, when one considers them carefully. He was asked the reason for his Military Medal, and his incredible story of risk and bravery that saved the lives of many men under his leadership.
It was beautiful to see people lining up to talk to Bede Tongs and ask him to sign their copy of his book, published last year, Poems of an Infanteer in the Firing Line. Many spoke of their fathers and grandfathers, and appreciated that Bede knew where they would have served. He’s never stopped reading or learning and he knew what was going on around him at the time.
While Bede was here we raised some money for the Kokoda Track Foundation. We are still waiting on some deposits to finalise what we can do in Papua New Guinea with KTF as a result, but we’re at least giving 20 families a solar light, 12 families a mosquito net, and helping six villages establish a poultry farm for food and income!
On Thursday morning we spoke at Dubbo College South Campus, where staff and students were also inspired and engaged. Everywhere we went, Bede’s message was the same. A positive attitude is essential for survival. Specifically, it’s being alert, having a sense of humour and a sense of purpose in life. And “being with lovely people”, as Bede often said, acknowledging those around him.
Leaving the school after some really moving conversations with students and staff, we took Bede and Garry to Dundullimal Homestead for a fabulous Devonshire Tea. Bede was presented with a limited edition artwork by Artist-in-Residence Tim Gratton and was interviewed by Prime7 News. We said our goodbye’s (til next time) and Bede and Garry returned to Canberra.
Now if I hadn’t spent a week in Kokoda with Bede in October/November last year, I’d not be expecting a 92 year old to keep up the pace, but my family discovered that Bede was not the first to be tired, and in three busy days all we heard from Bede was comments of gratitude, delight and wisdom. He is walking, talking evidence that “a positive attitude is essential for survival”.
My Deepening Conviction
And I know this could be another blog altogether, but I shall share my deepening conviction here, and you’ll see it in days ahead, and in older blogs where I’ve been on about it before. Bede’s message is so similar to my own. He’s just tested it in the most intense life-threatening situations that we can’t begin to imagine.
It’s SO important to be joyful, to share joy and positivity. It doesn’t often make the news, but joy isn’t boring. Joy is JOY. People want to be happier, but focus on heartache and disappointment. The media shares what people want, which is drama, tragedy and scandal. I’m convinced that there’s more important stories in positivity, goodness, celebrating good choices and clear thinking – like the decisions Bede made under fire that saved him and his men. He never lost a forward scout – due to his inspiring leadership. If you understand the role of forward scouts in jungle warfare you see how incredible this is. And it’s just one of Bede’s examples.
What’s so extraordinary about Bede is that he was not, and is not focused on the horrors of war, but on survival and purpose. His key tips again,
- Being Alert,
- Sense of Humour and
- A sense of Purpose.
And how many other veterans would be similar? My own Grandfather says (and said in an interview with Ethan, aged eight at the time) “we don’t remember the bad things, we remember the good things, the men we went with (in WW2) and the way we looked after each other.”
These are the veterans who are alive and well in their 90s. As Bede says “these miserable one’s don’t last the distance.”
His philosophy, expressed in one of his poems is timeless, “…your inner attitude will make or break your day. It rests with you and you alone, there is no other way”.
It is timeless, and SO important for us to be aware of every day. We choose our attitude.
And if you ever think that it’s not possible for you to have such a positive attitude, I am so happy to tell you that it’s been proven over and over in neuroscience labs in the worlds leading universities that you absolutely can change your brain. You can change your thinking. You can train yourself to think positively and completely change your outlook on life, and your results in life. I know this because I’ve done it myself. I didn’t always bounce out of bed (and still don’t always bounce) but I now wake up happy and grateful for the day ahead.
I hope this has been useful! Please leave your comments below. I’ll be back to join the conversation.
Cheering you on,
PS: For more conversations (including video interviews) with Bede Tongs and Kokoda stories go to – www.kerriephipps.com/category/blog/kokoda