The Most Tragic Australian Stories



After nearly 70 years, you can walk the Sandakan Death March track in the footsteps of those heroes.

With Sandakan Spirit as your trekking company, you’ll be participating in both a personal discovery experience and an historic Borneo adventure.

That’s because our treks across the Sandakan Death March follow the original route as closely as possible. We avoid using “short cut”, “eco” or alternative tracks that are logistically easier, ensuring that you see the real Borneo, and the original Sandakan Death March Route.

This is made possible because of research from respected authorities on the Sandakan Death March, Don Wall, Paul Ham and Dr Kevin Smith.

Sandakan Spirit owner Wayne Wetherall is an expert trekker and passionate adventurer who has walked the Sandakan Death March Track many times. Along with his Borneo partner Jerome Robles, he has uncovered what he believes to be the missing links and lost sections of the “Death March Track” of Sandakan.

They have been very fortunate to meet a number of the old local people from Borneo and hear first hand and record their experiences of the Sandakan Death Marches.

The Sandakan Spirit trek and route is based on information from the official Office of War Graves, grave recovery map, data from the National Archives and Australian War Memorial, Department of Army report on Major Jacksons Borneo Mission, Report by Major R.E Steele, WO. W. Wallace and Sgt R.J Kennedy and translations of Japanese war records.

We use a variety of accommodation on our treks including camping next to Rainforest Rivers and staying in traditional Dusun Villages along the way, this gives you a great chance to embrace the traditional culture and mix with the locals and hear firsthand the stories of their forefathers.

We see the Sandakan Death March as an explorer, historian and adventurer.

When you trek with Sandakan Spirit, you will too.


The story of the Sandakan Death Marches and the Sandakan POW camp is a tragedy of massive proportions.

This is not a pleasant story, but a story of unwavering Australian Spirit and stoic courage and mateship beyond all conceivable human limits.

The POW’s at Sandakan and along the Sandakan Death Marches under the Japanese experienced continual privation, hard labour, brutality, appalling living conditions and death.
POW’s were bashed by the guards, suffered from starvation and resultant killer diseases and sometimes murder.

Despite appalling conditions at Sandakan and along the Sandakan Death March route, the prisoners never gave up. Their heroism, their determination and their indomitable spirit are testimony to the strength of the human spirit and an inspiration to all.

Of the 2434 prisoners incarcerated at Sandakan, 1787 were Australian. The remaining 641 were British. The six Australians who escaped from the Sandakan Death March were the sole survivors.

During this time the family and friends of these incarcerated men waited three and a half long years to find out some news about their loved ones taken prisoner by the Japanese.

In 1945 the Australian Army restricted information about the suffering and atrocious conditions of these POWs to protect the feelings of the next-of-kin. For over 30 years this information was suppressed and still 66 years on the information regarding this tragedy was vague or little understood.

What is also not so well known that while there were only six survivors of the three Sandakan Death Marches the inconvenient facts are that of the 2,030 Australian Prisoners sent to Borneo, 218 survived to go home after the war and here was around 90 escapes or attempted escapes from Borneo of which 21 survived to go home.

Over the last few years Wayne and Jerome and his team of local Dusun’s, who are direct descendents of the carriers and villagers along the track have meticulously, using the latest in GPS mapping technology and old fashion hard work we were able to faithfully piece together as close as what they believe to be the original route.


Sandakan and the Sandakan Death Marches in World War 11 are the worst war time atrocities committed against Australians in war. The Australian prisoners were sent to Sandakan from various POW camps including Changi in Singapore with the purpose of building an airstrip. The conditions at the camp initially were OK with the prisoners being treated reasonably well. Over a period of time the conditions began to deteriorate with more violent behaviour and bashings increasing and a reduction in the POW’s rations and medical supplies.

In the later part of 1944, the Allied forces began their push toward Borneo; the Japanese were now under intense pressure and took the decision to move more than 2,000 Australian and British prisoners across the Island westward to Ranau, in Borneo’s rugged and impenetrable jungle. In January 1945 the first of three Death Marches departed for Ranau with another march departing in May and the last in the middle of June.

The nearly 260 km track to Ranau had been cut by the local Headman who thought the track was going to be used by the Japanese to move supplies. The track he cut was over the most difficult and impenetrable parts of Borneo. His track traversed steep ravines and ragged ridgelines and was kept away from villages as much as possible.

It was not too much later the locals realised that the track was in fact to be used by the prisoners.

The prisoners stumbled and shuffled their way across the tortuous track, their sick and weakened bodies ulcerated and infected with Beri Beri, Malaria and infested with lice. Many of the POW’s died along the way. Those that could not go on or stopped were murdered by the Japanese. The bodies of many of these POWs were simply pushed off a ravine and were never recovered.