[Lawrance Ryan]

Welcome to Cowra Voices, I’m Lawrance Ryan. I’ve been involved in the Cowra Japan relationship for about 20 years. Cowra’s a unique country town. It’s the only place on Australian soil to experience a confrontation with an enemy during WWII. That’s of course the Cowra Breakout of 1944, when Japanese prisoners of war escaped from the camp here in Cowra. More than 200 people died, including four Australian guards. But what makes Cowra special is how we’ve turned this tragic event into an enduring friendship between the people of Cowra and Japan. Because the foundation of peace and reconciliation has always been our personal connection with Japanese people. For me, meeting an ex POW helped me to understand that we all share the same human concerns. My friend and local historian Graham Apthorpe feels the same way I think.

[Graham Apthorpe]

I’ve met ex Japanese POW here, played music for them, I’ve had them doing bush dancing. Ann, my wife has danced with them. And as they’ve been very friendly encounters, all those old antipathies have been forgiven, so, it’s a fascinating place, Cowra.

[Catherine Bennett]

One of mum’s great pleasures was meeting those elderly men, who were in the Japanese prisoner of war camp in Cowra during the war.

[Lawrance Ryan]

That’s Catherine Bennett, a potter and artist whose mother Barbara Bennett was Cowra’s first female Mayor.

[Catherine Bennett]

They were the most delightful men. They were jovial and funny. And they had quite surprising memories of the camp. One that I do remember is that they were absolutely amazed at the view to the east, which is a really beautiful view from the camp. So coming back, they thought, gosh, we didn’t realise it was there.

[Lawrance Ryan]

Cowra’s been lucky to have many visionaries, like Tony Mooney. He was instrumental in beginning a friendship with Joetsu city, which like Cowra, was home to a POW camp, called Naoetsu.

[Tony Mooney]

The POW Camp in Naoetsu, there were 300 Australians, 60 died. Now one of the men was from Cowra. A fellow called Alan Healey. So I went to Japan, up to Joetsu, and I met with the mayor, and I suggested the planting of gum trees as a memorial to the Australians. Now the people from Joestu came out here to Cowra, they could see what had occurred here in Cowra since the war, and a relationship formed.

[Lawrance Ryan]

We’re also lucky to have the Migrant Camp here. In the postwar period, more than 17,000 migrants from Europe went through this camp, and I guess we found a way to get along with people from diverse backgrounds. I think we in Cowra know the smallest acts often have huge repercussions. Like when May Weir served freshly baked scones and tea to Japanese soldiers found hiding on her property after the Breakout. The Weir family have been passionate about continuing their mother’s legacy, teaching the next generation the importance of forgiveness and friendship. So we’re proud that our student exchange program between Cowra High School and Seikei High School in Tokyo will turn 50 in 2020. To hear about this student exchange, just click on the audio link.

I suggest you start your journey at the Cowra Visitor Information Centre, and the POW Theatre, a nine minute hologram that tells the Cowra Breakout story. That will set the scene for you to explore the other places featured in the Cowra Voices app. It’s kind of fitting too, that Cowra Voices was created in 2019, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Breakout. When you’re using this app, please make sure to keep your eyes on the road and not on your phone. I hope you enjoy your stay in Cowra.

Producer/Sound Design: Masako Fukui

Music Credits: Guitar Music Performed by Graham Apthorpe and Peter Reeves

Photo Credits: Photo 1: Cowra Voices narrator Lawrance Ryan at ABC Central West, 2019; Photo by Brooke Daniels

Photo 2: The then Mayor Barbara Bennett with ex POW Mr Masaru Moriki, his wife, and friend at the Australian War Cemetery, 1980; Bennett Family Archives

Photo 3: Mayor Bill West with Joetsu City representatives, 2016; Photo by Lawrance Ryan



The Cowra Voices Audio Archive Project 2023

Cowra Council is the copyright holder of all the audio works in the Cowra Voices Audio Archive. If you would like to reuse or copy any of the materials in this Archive, please contact Cowra Council. Australian copyright law is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth).

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