Nick Bennett.
Nick Bennett. Contributed

Book relives traumatic attack on jungle trek

WHEN his world exploded, Nick Bennett was thinking about the weather.

After completing the first day of trekking through Papua New Guinean jungle, Nick was feeling content as he rummaged about in his tent, preparing for forecast wet weather during the seven days ahead.

That's when a yell sounded out from the group's porters. Believing they may have found game to eat, and satisfied his belongings would stay dry, Nick was about to meander outside.

He scrambled to leave the tent but was suddenly brought crashing to his knees. Blood spilled from his head. He thought he had been shot.

In his dimly lit Mackay office, which doubles as a yoga studio some afternoons, Nick paused to gather himself as he described the sensation of reading a story about one of his life's most harrowing experiences.

"It's unusual. Unusual to find yourself in a story like that," he said.

"I can't say it was an enjoyable read for me because I'm part of it. What it does is bring back the memory of the event, obviously, and that's the first time I've really spoken in detail about it for quite some time."

In September 2013, seven Australians, a New Zealander and 19 porters were ambushed by robbers while trekking the Black Cat Track in Papua New Guinea. Two local porters were killed and four trekkers injured.

Max Carmichael's recently released book Attack on the Black Cat Track details the event, its impacts and the broader history of the track.

Nick, and Mackay's Steve Ward, contributed their stories to the narrative. He could make out three bandits wearing masks as he looked out at the campsite, head foggy after the blow to the head.

Then he remembered hearing a sound like whacking a newspaper on a body part.

"They were hacking up the porters," he said, and paused.

The attack lasted 30-35 minutes. The bandits killed two porters and injured four trekkers.

"They called for the boss, Christie. She stood up and said 'I'm the boss'," Nick said.

"(The bandit) was armed, angry, looking for money. She told him where it was in the backpack and he just slashed it with his knife, a bush knife. And hit her."

Finally, with nothing left to take from the trekkers, the bandits made off into the jungle. Then there was just silence. Groaning. Moaning. Shock.

"(I) stood up, staggered up really," Nick said. "Someone yelled 'they're gone'. (And then) 'What do you do'?"

So he made his way over to the porters.

"I watched Kerry take his last breath and die. He was chopped up badly. (Another) was lying there, his legs were chopped up. He was shaking," he said.

After looking after the wounded as best they could and eventually calling it into Australia, the group decided to walk out. The only way to go was back the way they had come, the same way the attackers had fled. The idea that the attackers might have been waiting to again ambush them played on the minds of the survivors.

But with few other options they set off, Nick wearing a towel on his head held in place by a head torch to stop the bleeding.

The next five hours are etched into his memory.

He recalled that when they broke out of the jungle the moon looked "amazing", and that the relief in seeing lights below prompted them to laugh and make jokes. He remembered losing their only mobile phone as he stopped to tend to the wound on his head.

Near the end, groups met them and walked back down alongside them before they arrived at another group with four-wheel drives.

"The back end of a troopy had never looked so good," Nick said.

Less than 24 hours after departing, they ended up at the house where they had stayed the night before embarking on the hike, watching their own story play out on Australian television.

"We had a couple of beers and a glass of wine and just sat there stunned," Nick said.

It wasn't until about a year later, and after learning a lot about himself, that Nick believes he came to terms with the event. "I learnt that yoga is great," he said. "I learnt a lot more about compassion.

"I'd had a heart attack six months before going on the trek. I went on the trek and got smashed. I came back and took nearly a year to really get myself back together. I've always been fairly grounded but it was a challenging journey.

"Every few months I'd think, 'Yeah I'm okay now'. Then I'd look back a couple of months later and think 'No, I wasn't okay then'."

Six months ago he had another heart attack, and actually died, before being brought back to life. But while the experiences may make some hesitant about adventure, they have only fuelled his desire to live every day to the fullest.

"I don't have anger, I don't feel angry at the people that did this. That's just too toxic to contemplate," he said.

"Things happen and then you deal with it and you live."


Surviviors Steve Ward and Nick Bennett disembark in Mackay after surviving an attack on the Black Cat Trail in PNG.
Photo Lee Constable / Daily Mercury
Surviviors Steve Ward and Nick Bennett disembark in Mackay after surviving an attack on the Black Cat Trail in PNG. Photo Lee Constable / Daily Mercury Lee Constable

Attack on the Black Cat Track is available now.