Cowra Voices storytelling app was launched at the 75th anniversary of the Cowra Breakout in August 2019. Rod Blume was asked to speak about Australia’s World Peace Bell primarily, which is location number two on the app.


This audio interview with Rod Blume was recorded on 11th December 2018 in Sydney by Nikkei Australia’s Masako Fukui. This interview was recorded for the Cowra Voices geolocative storytelling app created in 2019 and launched to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Cowra Breakout. For more information, please refer to the Overview in this archive.

Masako Fukui  00:29

So what I might get you to do is to talk about – we wanted to, we want you to talk about the World Peace Bell. But would you like to talk about your relationship with Saburo Nagakura, and how you went to Japan? And also about the Park? Are you involved in the Park at all?

Rod Blume  00:45

It was a bit after I left the Council, or – no, it was still on the Council, but I was no longer the Mayor. So, and that’s when they started the Sakura Avenue. Unfortunately, the Cowra climate’s a bit hot for cherry trees. And they haven’t thrived as much as we would have liked, I believe. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s just the realities of the world. Climates, well, they’re changing everywhere. When I first met Mr Nagakura when he came to Cowra, I can’t tell you when that was probably the late 1980s, somewhere around about then, I think. And I met his son, I can’t think of his name just off the top of my head. But he – and at one stage when he established the Trust for the walk that goes up towards – between the Campsite and the War Cemetery,  I met him and spoke to him and he was just a lovely, generous minded man. And I don’t mean generous, I mean, he organised the presentation to the Cultural Centre of quite substantial gifts, not just from Kyushu but from the other Electric Power Companies in Japan. I think he was probably, after Ken Nakajima, who designed the Japanese Garden, he was probably the most instrumental person in well, creating an awareness between Cowra and Japan, more so perhaps than others. Some people might disagree with me, but that’s sort of my recollection of him. And he was such a humble man. And so it was – I mean, that was separate to the Peace Bell you see. The Peace Bell happened by almost, well by accident.

Masako Fukui  03:14

Before you go onto the Peace Bell, can you just – I might just get you to introduce yourself. So would you mind saying, my name is, and you’re the former Mayor of Cowra.

Rod Blume  03:27

I’m Rod Blume. I got elected to the Cowra Shire Council in 1986. In 1991, I became what was then known as the Shire President. And then the name was changed to Mayor, to conform with what’s fairly common throughout the world. So I was in that, role Mayor for about three years, well three years. I would’ve liked to have gone longer. But my work as a lawyer, the times were competing with each other. I really loved and enjoyed all the things associated with being Mayor. But it was impacting on my work. And I was a bit concerned that that might end up getting me into some kind of trouble by neglecting my work. And of course, the work pays all the bills (laughter). And so it was a question of something had to go, and that’s when I stood down as Mayor. But I have to say that the three years I had there were exhilarating times. They were for me, it was challenging. But enormously rewarding from a personal point of view. I met so many wonderful people, and I got to see and do things that I would otherwise not have done.

Masako Fukui  05:13

Can we just go back to Cowra, you were born in Cowra.

Rod Blume  05:16


Masako Fukui  05:17

So would you mind saying –

Rod Blume  05:18

I was born in Cowra in 1945. And I grew up there. My mother was born in Cowra. And my father was born in Forbes, which is only about 100 kms away from Cowra. So, and I lived in Cowra all my life until 2000 when I moved to Sydney. I had six years at boarding school. But I was in Cowra when the migrant camp had opened, and we had a number of refugee students joined our class, some of whom couldn’t speak English when they arrived. And we became good friends. And I guess that well, it opened my eyes to, I suppose, recognition of other cultures, other nationalities. And I have to say, my father was quite instrumental in that, too. He was – well, he was a good role model. So that was – yeah, I’m very grateful for the opportunities that Cowra has given me.

Masako Fukui  06:47

Why do you think – so I just want to ask you a broad question about Cowra and peace in Japan and reconciliation. Why do you think Cowra, such a small town, has such a strong friendship with Japan, despite the history?

Rod Blume  07:03

Well, I think probably, as I mentioned a moment ago, the migrant hostel, which was established in Cowra after the Second World War, meant that there were so many people, predominantly I think, from the Baltic countries, but displaced people, refugees who ended up in Cowra. And the people in Cowra were I suppose, already attuned, psychologically to the presence of other nationalities. Now, the presence was only one thing. The welcoming part of it came with getting to know who they were, and actually becoming friends with them. And I mean, I had several friends of – who were born overseas, and it was just sort of – we took it for granted. Children do, of course, it’s the adults that bring their preconceived notions. But children are a lot more accepting than adults can be. And of course, we have an Aboriginal population in Cowra too. There’s a mission in Cowra that was there. I grew up with Aboriginal children and particularly when I was on Council, I had quite a lot to do with the Aboriginal community. And I guess there has always been a degree of tolerance and acceptance in Cowra, certainly from my point of view, that there may not have been in other communities.

Masako Fukui  08:59

Just on the Aboriginal community. Do you know anybody there still who we can– come kind of talk about – talk to?

Rod Blume  09:08

Well, I don’t – I mean, I know there are probably people there. Who were people like Roy Carroll. Tommy Newton, I knew. There are several there, but I just – they’ve had a difficult life a lot of them. They really have I don’t, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s not something that I can – smarter people than me will work it out.

Masako Fukui  09:40

Okay, so shall we talk about the World Peace Bell then? Can you start at the beginning, how it started because I read your very detailed notes. So just tell me whatever you want to tell me about the World Peace Bell, but can you sort of concentrate on your personal feelings, your experiences.

Rod Blume  10:03

Well, I guess I’m the sort of person that hears of something, and I like to follow it up. So I heard about the World Peace Bell from Maurice Beard, who was the caretaker at the Japanese Garden. And I thought, well, you never know. I’ll make some enquiries about this. So all I knew was that they’d been a representative from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, had visited the Garden over the weekend, and expressed the view that it would be a good site for the World Peace Bell. No one in Cowra had ever heard of the World Peace Bell. And – but Morris mentioned it to me. And I thought, well, you never know until you follow something up. It could be a waste of time. But in fact, I rang our local member, John Sharp, who was – in you know, in the federal parliament and his staff, they got back to me within a couple of hours to say that  the person that had been to the Japanese Garden was John Oakley. So I rang him, I spoke to him and he was very encouraging. He was certainly – felt that the members of the World Peace Bell Association were more inclined to want the Bell to be placed in say, Canberra or Sydney. But he felt that Cowra was an appropriate place because by then, the relationship between Japan and Australia had been well and truly established. And was well understood in Tokyo, and well understood in Canberra.

Rod Blume  12:11

So that was the start of it, he put me in touch with Mr Yoshida in Tokyo, and we corresponded. It was a condition of the granting of the Bell to Australia, that we established an association. And at the time, I was Chairman of the Japanese Garden. And I later became the President of the Tourism Development Corporation. So I was in the ideal position, I guess, to follow it through and see that, well, if it was possible of being achieved, I was probably in the best position to do so. And it was one of those situations, the kind of thing that one person could follow through without requiring the assistance of too many other people or groups. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade authorised me to do the negotiations on behalf of the Australian Government. And I mean, I hadn’t – I wasn’t used to that kind of thing. But you know, I’d been – well, I was Mayor and I dealt with politicians all my life, actually, my father had been heavily involved. So I knew politicians. So that didn’t faze me. I just saw that as an opportunity. And I was fortunate to be in that position at that time. I don’t know someone else might have done the same or a better job. I don’t know.

Masako Fukui  14:03

So the Peace Bell organisation in Japan contacted Canberra, right, and they wanted to put the Bell either in Canberra or Sydney.

Rod Blume  14:11


Masako Fukui  14:12

So somebody  said, Cowra would be a good place. Why did you think Cowra would be a good place for the Peace Bell?

Rod Blume  14:21

Well, Mr Oakley told me it would be (laughter). I didn’t know exactly what the process was going to be. And I have to say that it took some convincing. We had – we seemed to be reaching a stage where it wasn’t progressing as quickly, certainly as I would’ve liked. So finally, in the end, my wife and I travelled to Tokyo to meet Mr Yoshida. And –

Masako Fukui  15:04

Who’s Mr Yoshida?

Rod Blume  15:05

He was the president or chairman, they had a president and chairman. And he was the one that I’d been corresponding with. And so I met him in his offices, or in his office.

Masako Fukui  15:25

This is the World Peace Bell organisation?

Rod Blume  15:28

Well, I think it was his own –  it wasn’t sort of their own office, it was a corporate place where his company was located. And so – but prior to that, I went to the World Garden and Greenery Expo in Osaka. And I met Mr Yoshida’s son there. Then they had a Peace Bell at the site of the Expo, it was a Garden and Greenery Exposition, it was quite amazing. So, and I got to ring the bell there. And with the history of the bell first being presented to the United Nations, and then established in other countries of the world, it was quite a significant thing to achieve, if we could possibly do it. You know, the decision was not necessarily all in our hands, the Australian Government was comfortable with it, but we still had to satisfy the World Peace Bell Association. And I think they still sort of would have rather had Canberra or Sydney. And that was just something I had no control over. I just kept saying, well, that’s the Australian Government’s attitude to it. And I can’t take another course. And anyway, we finally I think it was only about three weeks later, after I returned from Japan, that the notification came through to pick up the Bell.

Masako Fukui  17:28

So it was more Canberra that wanted the Bell in Cowra, rather than Cowra wanting the Bell in Cowra?

Rod Blume  17:36

No, I think Canberra felt that Cowra would be a good site. They were happy to go along with that. I don’t know, but I suspect that there may have been obstacles at that time to certainly Sydney, finding a suitable site. Canberra would’ve been a lot easier. And as you know, they’ve established another one in Canberra only recently. And I think it was really an expectation on behalf of the World Peace Bell Association itself, where they had to come to terms with placing it in a town and district of a population of about 12,000 people, as distinct from a city with 5 million or 4 million people. I can understand how they might have had difficulty coping with that concept in the first instance. But when they became I guess, more aware of the relationship between Cowra and Japan, finally they accepted that it was alright. And the initial thoughts certainly from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was that the Japanese Garden would be a good site. I think it would’ve been lost in the Japanese Garden. Well, that was my thoughts. And I suggested and I’m fortunate enough to get support in persuading the Council to allow it to be sited in what we now call the Civic Square. And it’s an ideal site. It’s the perfect site for it. It’s the focal point of the, of that area. It’s a standalone attraction, apart from the Japanese Garden. And I think it enables it to be recognised as an international symbol of peace, as distinct from something associated directly with the Japanese Garden, and the Breakout on the POW Camp and the Cemetery. So I think we were fortunate at the time and being able to have that decision made.

Rod Blume  20:26

Then it came down to the design of it. And most of the designs I’ve seen of the bell housing, the pavilion around the world, they seem to have quite a distinct Japanese flavour attached to them, in terms of the architecture. And I thought, rightly or wrongly, that a more Australian look to the pavilion would fit in better with the existing architecture. And it would define it somewhat –  well differently to other Peace Bells around the world. And I think in hindsight, that was a good decision. Because the floor of the pavilion is rough hewn granite, and Cowra is the Aboriginal word for ‘rocks’. So there was a symbolism there that attracted me. And then the uprights, the supports are just rough hewn eucalyptus logs, and it’s very Australian in its design.

Masako Fukui  21:52

What about those mosaics?

Rod Blume  21:55

I beg pardon?

Masako Fukui  21:55

You know, those mosaic tiles around it? Can you just explain that? Can you describe it?

Rod Blume  22:01

Yeah. Yes, there was – I think it was Andy Luckett. I’m not sure.

Masako Fukui  22:09

So who’s he? An artist?

Rod Blume  22:10

He was a – did ceramics and things like that. And he conducted sort of classes with the schools. And they –

Masako Fukui  22:21

So he was a local?

Rod Blume  22:22

Yeah he was –

Masako Fukui  22:26

A local artist?

Rod Blume  22:29

I haven’t heard of him for a long while, so. But he organised it. And so the school students were taught how to make the tiles, glaze them and in fact, my son, Richard, I think has one of the tiles there, I don’t know which one. But he’s international, too. He now lives in Stockholm, and has done for 14 years. So, yeah, they just are an added interest. And again, I think that reflects the acceptance of people in Cowra, of the multiculturalism, and the international significance of the Peace Bell. And it’s not just confined to the Japanese side of things. It’s aligned with the United Nations in that respect. And I mean, I don’t know, 1954 I think, the first Bell was presented to the United Nations. It was a gift from the Japanese people. And they could not have foreseen what is happening now, I suspect, but they’ve now established something which is continually spreading throughout the world. And it’s not a bad thing.

Masako Fukui  24:18

Do you remember when the Bell came to Cowra, and how you felt? Can you just describe that and focussing on how you felt.

Rod Blume  24:26

When we got back from Tokyo, I got I suppose in those days it was a fax, to say that the Bell had been delivered to the Australian Ambassador. That it was at Yokohama harbour, and I was to arrange for its shipping. Well I’d never shipped anything from anywhere. And this – with the packing case and everything it was about 400 kilos, kilograms. And we had no money as the World Peace Bell Association in Cowra. So I went to my friend Len Oliver, who was the owner of Oliver Toyota. And I said to him, I told him the story and I said, ‘do you think Toyota might put it on the back of a truck when they’re sending it?’ Anyway, within, I don’t know, a very short space of time, a couple of days at most, Toyota agreed to transport the Bell for free. And we – when it was delivered to Sydney, Toyota had a plant down the other side of – the south of Sydney. And so we drove to Sydney in our fortunately, Toyota Hilux (laughter) and they got a forklift and put it on the back of the truck, and we took it back to Cowra. And that would have been, well, certainly a year or two years before the actual opening by the Governor. And so, because we, well we didn’t have a design at that stage, all we had was a Bell (laughter), nowhere to hang it, and we hadn’t designed the pavilion.

Rod Blume  26:24

So and then with the pavilion, I seem to be pretty good at getting other people to do things for free, because (laughter) I went to the local architects and told them that I had no money. Would they like to do this as a civic contribution. And the people there agreed to do it. And they came up with a design in consultation, which we adopted, the Council approved it. It was actually almost easy in the sense that there didn’t seem to be any opposition at any step of the way after that. We raised the money, Council put in money, various other people did. Kerry Stokes, who owns channel 7, Dick Smith, (unintelligible), St George Bank. I can’t think of more offhand, but quite significant donors sort of gave money and the Council, and we were able to raise the money quite quickly.

Masako Fukui  27:41

That’s amazing. Such a good story. I love it. Back of a Toyota truck.

Rod Blume  27:46

I still can’t believe it. But as I said, I seem to be good at getting money out of other people (laughter). If I’ve got any talent –

Masako Fukui  27:56

Excellent politician then.

Rod Blume  28:01

They asked me to Cowra for the recent Chamber of Commerce 80th anniversary dinner. And they asked if I could suggest someone who could be a guest speaker. And I said, well get a politician, and then ask him for some money. They love giving other people’s money away. (laughter).

Masako Fukui  28:28

Tell me about when the Bell opened, I mean, and you know, what does the Bell signify for you personally, given that you’ve had so much to do, like you put it on the back of your truck. Like, it’s more than just something for Cowra, it’s something personal for you, right? You and your wife went to Japan. I mean –

Rod Blume  28:47

It was, I mean, it goes without saying, it was very gratifying, but it was quite emotional. You know, you work for some years on a project. And to see it come to fruition like that is very, very satisfying. I mean, so many things can go wrong. You get a change of government that can alter things. And I’ve had experience of that in relation to another project that I was involved in, on the eve of getting it all approved, there was a problem, then there was an election, then we had to start all over. And that sort of thing can happen. And you don’t know what’s likely to be ahead. You just have to accept that there are going to be obstacles, there are going to be hurdles, and you just keep pressing ahead. And you have to be ready for people who are going to disagree with you. I don’t know if you need to be prepared to argue with them. But, you know I understand that people can have a different point of view. A philosophical argument is one thing. People who are just against everything, sometimes because they didn’t think of it (laughter), sometimes because they didn’t like the fact that I thought of it (laughter). You just have to accept those hurdles and deal with them as they come along.

Masako Fukui 30:46

Tell me, how did you feel when you first heard the Bell ring in Cowra? So would you mind starting that sentence with when I first heard the Bell ring –

Rod Blume  30:54

Yes, I mean, we’d had test runs, but that was understandable. But when the Governor, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair rang it for the first time, it was quite an emotional period. I was very proud. And I don’t – I mean, then or now want personal recognition over it. It’s just people say nice things about you, that’s nice. It wasn’t for that reason, then or now. And you know, there was some talk at the time about, you know, plaques and things with names and things on it. But I resisted that, because I just felt that it didn’t need my name or committees’ name on a plaque or stone. It was sufficient that it stood alone, and just stated that it had been opened by the Governor of New South Wales. And I’d come to know him quite well, in the previous few years, and he’d been to our home and we’d been to Government House. So he was the ideal choice in terms of performing the opening. I guess from a purely political point of view, the Governor General of Australia might have been perhaps a different choice. I wouldn’t say a better one. But Peter Sinclair had been the Cowra several times by then. He was well known to the people in Cowra. And he was just a lovely person, he and his wife, and we got to know them quite well.

Masako Fukui  33:16

Would you like to speak about any of the other places in Cowra? Like, do you have any personal memories that are very important to you, or any of the other sort of major like Sakura Avenue or Saburo Nagakura Park, you know, the Park, Saburo Nagakura Park?

Rod Blume  33:33

The Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre is without doubt, a monumental achievement and Don Kibbler in particular, deserves the greatest recognition for that. Now I know other people helped and contributed. But Don did an amazing job costing a lot of time and I suspected a fair amount of money at some stage or another to pursue it. But it started as a result of – really the RSL starting to tend the graves of the Japanese soldiers. I mean, the prisoner of war, Japanese Cemetery is right next door to the Australian War Cemetery. And the people who were tending the graves of the – of the Australian War Cemetery just as a matter of course, I don’t know if they ever thought about it, they just thought, well, we can’t do ours without doing theirs. And so there was that mutual regard or respect for the fact that soldiers from one country or another, they go not because they necessarily want to, in fact, they probably don’t want to. But they go because they’re sent. And if they’ve died in the process, then these soldiers respect for each other, even though you might be opponents. And this story is about, I think, in the – with the war against Germany, that they used to have a ceasefire, sort of, say Merry Christmas to each other (laughter). Which is sort of, I guess, is symbolic of how after the Second World War, the Australian – well, the RSL in Cowra  particularly, returned services league, just didn’t even really consider whether we should or we shouldn’t, they just did it.

Masako Fukui  36:04

And that story’s been told to us a number of times by different people. Len Oliver, is it Len’s son?

Rod Blume  36:11

Len’s father was Ab Oliver.

Masako Fukui  36:14

So we also talked to Len Oliver as well. He talked about his father because he was the one that was instrumental in that.

Rod Blume  36:21

Yeah, marvellous man.

Masako Fukui  36:22

Yeah. But why is Cowra so full of people like you and like Ab Oliver and you know, Lawrence Ryan and Don Kibbler –?

Rod Blume  36:34

I think it’s catching (laughter). Someone sets an example, people in Cowra, I think have an attitude that’s been stimulated by following the actions of others. Now, as I said, the RSL started it with their tending the Japanese war graves. And that just flowed on and other people have just built on that. And, it’s a noble thing to do. It’s unselfish. It’s done with all the right intent. Good reason. It’d be a pretty rare person who could criticise it. Some people couldn’t do it, of course. I dare say whether it be in Japan or Australia, there are people who had personal problems, issues, tragedies associated with the war, who found it, might even today find it difficult to come to terms with. But those people, certainly in Australia, are fairly silent these days. You don’t hear about it. I haven’t anyway. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.

Masako Fukui  38:15

So if you were to tell people about Cowra, where you were born, and that whole peace and reconciliation, friendship with Japan, how would you explain that to say, you know, a teenager, the younger generation?

Rod Blume  38:27

Well, I was born in Cowra, of course. So and your hometown is always part of you, you can’t leave it. You might move away, but it’s still there. And I think we –  I know there’s, it’s a regard you have, it’s something you feel it’s somewhere to go back home to, even–

Masako Fukui  38:57


Rod Blume  38:57

No, I’m fine. Even if you’ve left Cowra, I mean, I’ve moved to Sydney coming up 19 years ago. But when I go back there’s something about going home. This is where I grew up. These are my roots, and I feel comfortable here and the people are just lovely. They are friendly. And people know each other or certainly know of each other. And I generally get along. There’s not a – well I’m not in a position to compare to other towns, except the difference between Cowra and Sydney for example. Now, I really only know one person that lives on this floor in my, – where my apartment is. People tend not to talk to their neighbours, you get in the lift and you might see them, people look away or – whereas in a country town, you tend to sort of, if you know someone, even if you don’t say hello, you nod hello. And that’s well, I just think it’s a nice thing to do. I look at people, you know, you look them in the eye and acknowledge them. You don’t have to give them a hug and a kiss or whatever. But you can acknowledge someone you know, and I think that’s part of the development of friendship, tolerance, understanding. It’s just always been there and Cowra. I mean, my father was – he used to help Aboriginal people, give them work. There was at one stage or one of the families who arrived in Cowra via the migrant camp or hostel. After the war, their house burnt down and I think my father was heavily involved in arranging to rebuild their home. And so I had a very good example to follow.

Masako Fukui  41:44

So your father, was he a local politician? Like was he on Council as well?

Rod Blume  41:49

Oh, no, no, he, my father grew up in Forbes, which is only about 100 kms from Cowra, and moved there in the late 30s. And he was a builder. And he met my mother and married her. She was born in Cowra. So, and he stayed. He did list in the army in the Second World War. I think he was there for a couple of years. He was in Darwin when it was bombed. Although the army camp as I understand it was a few miles out of the town of Darwin in those days, so I don’t think he had to sort of dodge bombs. But he’d been, you know – so, but he just taught me a lot about tolerance I think. I wouldn’t – my mother was pretty good, too. She – the night of the Breakout, it was news around town because population around Cowra in those days, I think was only about 5000 people. And then you consider there was over 1000 prisoners of war (laughter). That was a pretty significant ratio of citizens to prisoners. And so she got down to the post office first thing in the morning and sent my father a letter. Not long after that, they put a curfew on, people couldn’t post mail. Or if they did, it was held. But she claimed at that stage she saw more action than Dad (laughter). But it was a time, you know, the escaped prisoners bore no animosity towards the civilian population, and quite the reverse in fact. Soldiers – the soldiers was a different proposition, but as I understand it. But certainly so far as the escaped prisoners were concerned, and the citizens of the town, there was no problem. In fact, the Weir family took in and fed the couple of the prisoners until the authorities arrived. And so there were, well quite a number of examples of tolerance and understanding, I suppose, just, just decent human behaviour, I think.

Masako Fukui  44:53

Did your mother say, tell you anything else about the Breakout? Does she remember anything else?

Rod Blume  44:58

Well, one of her friends was apparently wheeling her baby down the street, or down one of the roads and, and one of the prisoners put his head out from behind a rock (laughter). That’s just about the only story I heard from my mother, I think. She got a bit of a shock.

Masako Fukui  45:21

But growing up hearing about the Japanese being in Cowra and the Breakout, how did you feel towards the Japanese? I mean, you were just born after the war. So –

Rod Blume  45:37


Masako Fukui  45:37

There was still a lot of anti Japanese feeling after –

Rod Blume  45:38

Not that I shared it. But I remember my grandfather’s – there was always a threat of probably not the Japanese too much is China. People coming down from China, there’s so many people up there. So that was a terrible threat for the future. But I don’t know that I ever sort of agreed with it or, or accepted it. And I think, the – well, there’s a story goes around. There were Chinese people who were resident in or around Cowra. And I’m told that at one stage, they used to walk around with a little sign on their – pinned to their shirt or whatever, saying, ‘I am Chinese, not Japanese’. Because other people might be confused (laughter). And they didn’t want to be identified at that stage. But then, you know, the Italian prisoners of war were released to go and work on local properties. And, in fact, my grandfather owned a farm and I doubt  that it was – I don’t think it was deliberate. But apparently there was a fire lit and it escaped, and it burned quite a lot of stuff. So my grandfather at one stage ended up suing the Commonwealth of Australia for negligence in failing to sort of control the prisoners and the burning of whatever, I don’t know, I don’t know the full story of it. But it’s all lost in history now. But that’s just a recollection of something that happened. But the Italian prisoners of war were, well, they were quite comfortable I think, they used to come and go and work on the farms, so –

Masako Fukui  47:48

That’s what we heard that the Italians would come and go quite – and but they wanted to go back to camp apparently, they liked it there. Anyway, I’ve got more than enough. Was there something else you wanted to say about –

Rod Blume  48:01

Well, the only other thing I could tell you about, as you probably know that following the outbreak, two of the four soldiers, Australian soldiers that died were awarded a George Cross medal. Now the George Cross is regarded as the civilian equivalent of Victoria Cross, which is the highest Medal of Valour that can be awarded in Australia. The POW Camp was not recognised as a theatre of war, which is a bit – so they weren’t eligible for Victoria Cross, but they were awarded George Cross. Now that – I can’t remember when it was now, but one of the Crosses was up for auction. Someone in England, I think, from memory had purchased it. And it was being auctioned. And I heard about it about three weeks or so before it was to be auctioned in Melbourne. And I spoke to – well I raised it at a Council meeting. And I said I thought we should bid on this. We were told that it would bring about 100,000 odd dollars. And so with the Council approval, I went out to try and raise some money. And I raised about $90,000 in three weeks.

Rod Blume  49:57

And I had – anyway, I went to Melbourne, I flew down to Melbourne from – I drove to Canberra and flew to Melbourne. Went to the auction. And one of the sponsors was Kerry Stokes, the owner of Channel 7. And he’d promised a certain amount of money, quite a lot in fact, and his CEO, the person that managed his financial affairs, he agreed to be talking to me on the phone while the auction was going on. And if I needed more money he was in a position, give me some more. Anyway, the auction I, well, I suspected it was all a bit of a put up job. In the space of about 10 seconds, it was knocked down to someone else for about 100 odd thousand dollars, which is more money than I’d actually raised. So I was pretty upset about that. I thought that the auction hadn’t been properly conducted. But anyway, I flew back to Cowra, well Canberra and then drove to Cowra.

Rod Blume  51:13

And a month or two later, I got a phone call from the auctioneers to the effect that the person who’d bought the medals had decided that he – he thought they were going cheap was the story I got, he must have made that decision very quickly in the space of the time it took to knock them down. And – but he didn’t really want them and he was prepared to unload them if I was still interested. I said well, I’m still interested. But I said one of the problems is I raised a lot of money. Now there were big donors, but there was some people who were sending me cheques for $1, $5, $10. All that money had been returned. And I said, ‘there’s no way in the world I can write to these people and ask for it back. But I’ll see what I can do with the major sponsors’. Now the Council I think had agreed to put in $10,000, the Victoria Cross and other Medals Trust based in Canberra, had put in a considerable amount of money, I can’t remember, 15, 20 thousand dollars I think. Kerry Stokes had offered a substantial amount I think, he was – promised a minimum of $30,000 or something. Dick Smith, I think, offered money. Anyway, I was able to get back to about, I think about $80,000 or something, and they sold it to me. So I came down to Sydney, picked up the medals and took them back to Cowra.

Rod Blume  52:51

So we had some replicas made. And the originals, well the – initially the idea was that they would be housed in a special place in Cowra, but security for something like that could present a bit of a problem and three, four, five years ago, I think they decided that it was better if they were kept in Canberra. And so they were sent to Canberra and Cowra has replicas of them. But that was pretty satisfying to just sort of – you know, that was one of those things where you put a bit of work in to do something and it comes unstuck and you and you well, you walk away and then the opportunity arose again and second time around I was a bit lucky.

Masako Fukui  53:49

So who was the person that bought it and sold it back to you?

Rod Blume  53:54

Well yeah, the person who bought it, I look – I don’t know, but it all looked a bit fishy as they say.

Masako Fukui  54:06

Oh okay.

Rod Blume  54:06

But we eventually got the medals and they’re now in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. And both the Victoria Crosses. Privates – oh, God, Gower (sic) and Hardy I think, my memories escaping me now.

Rod Blume  54:27

Well, you just always keep in touch with your home. I’ve still got lots of friends, I have a daughter who lives in Cowra. No, that’s my son. He lives in Stockholm and he has two children. And I have another son who lives in London. And the one in London has got British citizenship and the one in Stockholm has Swedish citizenship. So, you know, children move around. That’s the way that – so I’m very, I’ve had a very fortunate life. I’ve had opportunities that would not have happened to other people. I’ve seen opportunities I think, that other people might not recognised. That’s a bit of luck of the draw. But, you know, I’ve done a lot of things. Not always successfully. I stood for Parliament twice, once federally and once for state, unsuccessfully. But it was one of – both occasions was a marvellous experience, I would not have missed it for anything. The fact that I wasn’t elected is of no real consequence. But going out and campaigning and speaking to people, meeting people, was an experience that very few people have, much less enjoy. But I enjoyed it. And you don’t know what you can do until you have to do it. And I can tell you that standing on the back of a Toyota Hilux truck with a megaphone in the main street of Orange or Bathurst is not something that came naturally to me. But I did it because I had to do it. If I took on the challenge, therefore, I had to respond. And so in hindsight, I enjoyed it. I can’t say I enjoyed it immediately or at the time, but you know, a bit of fun.

Masako Fukui  57:18

Thank you very much. I think I’ve got more than enough.


The Cowra Voices Audio Archive Project 2023

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