Cowra Voices storytelling app was launched at the 75th anniversary of the Cowra Breakout in August 2019. Bruce Miller was asked to speak about Saburo Nagakura Park, which is location number six on the app.


This audio interview with Bruce Miller was recorded on 17 September 2018 in Cowra by Nikkei Australia’s Mayu Kanamori and 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.

Bruce Miller  00:31

Hello, I’m Bruce Miller, a longtime resident of the Cowra community. Longtime Mayor, and Councillor since 1991.

Masako Fukui  00:39

And what’s your connection to Saburo Nagakura Park?

Bruce Miller  00:45

Saburo Nagakura Park is personal in some respects in that I did not know Saburo. Obviously I’ve visited the Park on many occasions, but being the Mayor of Cowra for 14 years, I certainly had a fair bit to do with the redevelopment of the Park. And I know Seiji, his son extremely well.

Masako Fukui  01:06

I just wanted to sort of ask you a very broad question to start with, and see how we go. So how would you tell the peace and reconciliation story of Cowra? And can you refer specifically to the Park, to Saburo Nagakura Park.

Bruce Miller  01:24

Well, I think as far as reconciliation is concerned, as I indicated, it’s really about the whole episode, the tragic episode that originated back during the Second World War and the Breakout. And the wonderful example set by our returned servicemen. And it’s gone from that, it’s developed into a wonderful story of recognising that we are all one in this world, and we really should be. And I think that’s what Saburo Nagakura actually saw when he came to Cowra as well. And that’s why he was really keen to establish something that would be a lasting memory of that reconciliation, and also the feelings that he felt. I think he felt very deeply at the time. And I think that he was able to impart that message onto – certainly, some of his connections in Japan to say, look, we really do need to leave something there that will have a lasting impact on the community. Something that not only the Japanese visitors visit when they come out here, but also all of the visitors that – the tourists that come to Cowra to look at the Japanese Gardens, et cetera will make sure that they understand that story of that wonderful peaceful park.

Masako Fukui  02:40

So for you, what is the most like, perhaps the memorable event, or some memory that you have, that encapsulates this peace and reconciliation story of Cowra?

Bruce Miller  02:52

As far as the Park is concerned, there’s a number of them as I say, visited many times, certainly, during that 14 years period where I was Mayor, we attended many ceremonies up there. Every time there was a number of dignitaries arrived in Cowra, one of those as the current Crown Prince and Princess arrived in Cowra. We actually took them to that Park, and they visited it before we went on to the Japanese Gardens for lunch. And it’s something will remain in my wife and my memory forever, really, it was a wonderful time.

Masako Fukui  03:23

Okay, so can you tell that story can you start with –

Mayu Kanamori  03:27

And it’s very possible that people are there. So it’s not that park, but it’s –

Bruce Miller  03:33

Ah, this park. I’ll give you a little bit of history. We go back to the past Emperor, he visited before he became Emperor in about 1970, or thereabouts, which shows you how long this reconciliation thing has been going. And then his son, the Crown Prince visited while I was Mayor, and I think that was in about mid 90s. And I think he is now the Emperor, is that right? Yep. So it’s been a wonderful story in that sense. So we’ve been visited by obviously lots of dignitaries, but also by, you know, the Imperial Family on a couple of occasions. That’s been fantastic to sort of be – have the opportunity to meet such a well, a dynasty. And that’s  – and for somebody like me, that was very special.

Masako Fukui  04:31

So you already met the current Emperor?

Bruce Miller  04:34

I did. I did.

Masako Fukui  04:35

So could you tell that story? And could you just say the Imperial Family? Only because the current Emperor is soon to become – is retiring.

Bruce Miller  04:44

That’s right.

Masako Fukui  04:45

So we’ll have a new Emperor very very soon. So by the time this app is made and goes out –

Bruce Miller  04:49

Imperial family’s fine, yeah, no, that’s fine. It was a wonderful time. It was a beautiful day, particularly. It was a beautiful spring day when they visited. We were able to welcome them not only to Cowra, but to this beautiful, peaceful park, which is a recognition, I think of the reconciliation process that’s been going on for a long time between the Cowra community and the Japanese community. It was really interesting because the Imperial Family particularly, were able to get enmeshed in the history of Cowra, but also some of the things that we do on an everyday basis, such as my wife is a very keen gardener. They were very interested in that. I’m a very keen fisherman, very interested in fishing. So it was just those ordinary, everyday things we were able to talk about, and that was wonderful. It was wonderful, to meet, as I say, a wonderful dynasty, but also to discover that what we’ve found out a long time ago that the Japanese and Australia share a lot in common.

Masako Fukui  05:54

So, tell me what you discussed with the Emperor about fishing?

Bruce Miller  05:58

Well, the fishing was really about the types of fish that live in freshwater. Because we’re obviously inland, there’s lots of fish right around Australia, wonderful coastline. But as far as inland fishing is concerned, he really did not know a lot about the types of fish that was – so all the different breeds, how big they grow to, if you’re going to – angled, how to catch them, what types of bait. All those things that fishermen talk about.

Masako Fukui  06:27

Did you learn anything from the Emperor?

Bruce Miller  06:30

Well the Emperor – I did learn that he’s very keen on studying all of the different types of fish that there are in the world, he was very knowledgeable about that. And he’d also studied it quite – in a very technical way, a very scientific way, knew all the science about the different types of fish, how they’ve sort of developed and, and also, as I say, was very keen then to learn how to catch them. And of course, which was the best way to cook and eat them. As well as, as we know, in Japan, as we’ve all become accustomed to, most of it is sashimi in the in the wonderful sauces and all the rest of it that we do eat as – then share that – favourite of Japanese, which has become a very much favourite of, not only the Cowra community but the Australian community.

Masako Fukui  07:24

Can I just get you to tell me who Saburo Nagkakura was again, if you could just –

Bruce Miller  07:29

The Park itself was established in memory of Saburo Nagakura, who was – visited Cowra in the I think about the mid 80s, 1980s. Was so impressed by the process of reconciliation that the Cowra community had immersed themselves in, and had embarked on this process of making sure that this relationship with Japan, which started in very tragic circumstances, had developed into something really positive and that we could share this common good, this common ground. He was very impressed with how the returned service people had looked after the Japanese war graves here in Cowra, the Japanese War Cemetery as well as obviously their own war dead. And then from that, the feeling of goodwill that had been established, that really impacted on Saburo Nagakura.

Bruce Miller  08:31

And what he was really keen to do was establish something that was everlasting, that would reflect on the Cowra community. It’s in a beautiful place, as we can see, this wonderful park, overlooking Cowra. He was very impressed with that, – had the vision, I think to see that it could be developed into a beautiful park. And Mr Nagakura himself was a very important person in Japan. Obviously, he was the chair of Kyushu Electric Power Company at the time, and the chair of JR Rail in Kyushu at the time. So was able to use his contacts to actually, not only put a group together, which the Nagakura Foundation was formed. Which then attracted significant funding to be able to develop the Park. And was developed in two stages. Obviously, the first stage was quite – from a very raw beginning because it was on a very raw hillside. And then, some time later, it was redeveloped again to what this beautiful park that we see here today. And that has been continued on by his son Seiji Nagakura, who has been a wonderful friend of Cowra, but is a really close friend of mine, which I’m delighted to say. So he and Reiko, his wife, they visit Cowra very regularly and are very, very good people.

Mayu Kanamori  09:57

Yeah, I just wanted to, you know, if you’d like to expand on your friendship, some personal anecdotes you may have?

Bruce Miller  10:06

Well, I can tell one that was actually –  I was fortunate enough to actually lead the first official civic delegation to Japan back in 2005. There had been a number of visits by individuals and a couple of mayors that had gone over for very short visits for specific purposes, such as one of my predecessors Rod Blume, Mayor Rod Blume, actually visited and bestowed honorary citizenship on Saburo Nagakura prior to his death. He was – on – very ill, we heard about it, he was never going to be able to come back to Cowra. So our Mayor of the time actually, went across, bestowed honorary citizenship on him. So, that was really important. But I was fortunate enough to lead the first official civic delegation to Japan. And the last night of that visit, we were down on Kyushu and Fukuoka, and at Seiji Nagakura’s house. We were invited for dinner that particular night, and he and Reiko were very kind inviting all of us, there was eight of us, plus a number of guests were invited. One of those was the Minister for Infrastructure of the Japanese government was there at that dinner.

Bruce Miller  11:30

And you might remember this because there was a big earthquake in the harbour in Fukuoka, only three weeks prior to our visit. And I said to the Minister at the time, ‘was there much damage’? And he said, ‘not a lot because it was in the harbour. So we were extremely lucky.’ But he said, ‘we’re really concerned because we have not had the aftershock yet.’ Well, guess what? Six o’clock the next morning, we had the aftershock. And we were involved with that. So from conversation at this dinner that I had in Seiji’s house, next morning, we had the aftershock of 6.2. Obviously, as you would know, no trains out of – everything shut down and all the rest of so it was a, it was an experience that was probably good to go through. But I wouldn’t like to go through it again (laughter). But Seiji and Reiko, his wife, we do, we see them, I actually saw them only a couple of – few weeks ago, I saw them just accidentally in Sydney at a hotel. It was just lovely, because it was just old friends, we just all gave each other a hug and all the rest of it, they came up here, my wife visited them down in the hotel room. They’ve been to our place for dinner. It’s a really, really lovely relationship that we do share with them.

Bruce Miller  12:55

But I think it’s really important that he is able to understand how important it was that this wonderful sort of relationship we had developed with his father, his late father. And he’s very keen to continue on making sure that that bequest is looked after as far as the – this beautiful garden, this beautiful park is concerned and making sure that that attitude remains with us, I would think after long after he has died as well. But I mean, they’re really genuine people, just good people.

Masako Fukui  13:34

A lot of young people today don’t even know about the Cowra Breakout. Perhaps not that interested, it was such a long time ago. But this peace story is something that I think is worth knowing. So, is there, sort of, not a message but – speaking to young people that visit, either Japanese or Australian, is there something you’d like to say to them? If they’re here at the Park?

Bruce Miller  14:01

Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to actually address many young people and in the Park and to – and in other places around Cowra, the Peace Bell, and all the rest of it. But I think the important thing really is to make sure that we do learn the history. When they come here, I think it’s our responsibility to impart the history. Obviously, terrible time, that Second World War and everything that’s associated with it. But to make sure that there is some wonderful good things that can come out of that, those tragic circumstances. And that’s what we should be focussing on, to make sure that the tragic stuff doesn’t happen again, that we are able to develop this wonderful bond between us. And to make sure that, going forward, that there is a warning bell there, that if things get a bit heated or whatever that –  hey, hang on a minute, there’s a better way to resolve whatever it might be. This is just about sitting down and resolving whatever the issues might be.

Bruce Miller  14:59

But I think as far as the youth is concerned, and initially I thought it was just the Japanese youth that didn’t have an understanding of their history. And we’ve been fortunate enough, we’ve had four exchange students live at our place for a long period of time. My daughter was an exchange student to Japan for 12 months. One of my son’s taught over there for a while. So we’ve had a long relationship with the Japanese. But with the kids in those early days, they had not an inkling of what went on. And until we – and I thought it was our responsibility to make sure that they did have an understanding of all of the different parts of it, warts and all. And that what we’re finding out, certainly through that, is that there is a – most of Australia doesn’t understand and know, particularly our kids, don’t understand that time, that period of time. After the Second World War, the development obviously the –  all of the all of the terrible stuff that goes on in wars, but then, that sometimes the positives that have come out of that, and you know, the development and, and all of the rest of it. But we should never forget the past, so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. That’s the message I think, we need to know our past so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

Masako Fukui  16:23

Why do you think Cowra, you know, having that brutal history, literally quite brutal.

Bruce Miller  16:30

It is.

Masako Fukui  16:31

Why do you think Cowra was able to come to this place, nearly 75 years later? Like what was it, is it Cowra people, is it the water?

Bruce Miller  16:41

It’s all of those, particularly the water, I was responsible for that or I was, as the head of the Council, but anyway (laughter). In actual fact, I think it was –

Bruce Miller  16:50

Let’s start again. The Cowra community has been able to develop a wonderful relationship, not only with the Japanese, but are also been able to demonstrate that there is a better way of promoting peace and understanding through the – not just going to war, not just making peace, but being honest and – about all of that history. But then moving on to say, in the end, we are all one. This is the human race, there is a better way of all of us living in peace. And the Cowra community has understood that I think from a long time ago. Certainly just after the Second World War, when the army camp was then developed into a migrant camp. And we had about 50 odd different nationalities were poured into that army camp. They had to learn to live together from war-torn Europe and all the rest of it. Many of them have continued to – this day their offspring live in Cowra. They were able to look at all the good things that this wonderful little community can offer. It’s a beautiful part of the world. And we’re able to, I suppose, tell that story. That there is a beautiful country town that went through a very, very difficult time, has been able to come through that and been able to develop a very, very positive, uplifting story going forward.

Masako Fukui  18:25

You grew up in Cowra?

Bruce Miller  18:25

Yes, no, that’s an interesting story. I came here when I was 14. My wife grew up here, she was a local, but I’m still not considered a local, jokingly. But I finished school here. I served my –  the building industry. I ran a building company here for 40 odd years. So Cowra community’s been very good to me because they allowed me to develop a business. I was able to educate my children here. They were all educated here. Unfortunately, they’re all moved away to be further educated and then found jobs in – they’re pretty close now. Two in Canberra and one in Yass, but, so – but through all of that time, I was able to be part of this wonderful community. Obviously, I went to school, played sport, married a local girl, all the rest of it, so.

Bruce Miller  18:29

And I do know a lot of the wonderful people that have made a fantastic contribution to the reconciliation process that we’re talking about. Not just the wonderful park, up on the hill, but also the stuff around looking after war graves, the student exchange program, which is really, really important, the Seikei student exchange program with Seikei High School. 50 years anniversary now, I mean, fantastic way of educating, connecting the youth of two countries, and that continues on to this day. The – our Festival of International Understanding which celebrates obviously – and Japan being a guest nation twice. But – only nation that’s been a guest nation twice. But, we’ve had guest nations from all over the world that’s been going for about 45 years now as well. So, and it does, it exposes this little community to cultures from all over the world. And I think that’s really important. So, and I think if you actually did a survey, you would find that this community probably is more well travelled than any other – percentage wise – than probably anywhere else in Australia, I would think because it does, whets the appetite for pay for what to get out and learn more about the cultures of the different countries that we’ve been exposed to for a long time.

Masako Fukui  20:45

Was there a turning point for you? In terms of your attitudes to Japan? You said early on that other people didn’t know about – (unintelligible)

Bruce Miller  20:58

It’s interesting isn’t it, I mean, personally, my Dad was a returned soldier. And my Dad was –  he was in Borneo, and in New Guinea and all the rest of it. So I was brought up with that, sort of, in my family. So, but I think –

Masako Fukui 21:15

Could you just explain what  –

Bruce Miller  21:16

Well, I think what I was brought up with there was certainly a one-sided view of that conflict, because what was from the Australian side, obviously. And so only until – once I started to question, you know, sort of, as you get older, and you start to say, well, you know, there is –  it takes two sides to have an argument or have a fight or disagreement or whatever. So, and you start to sort of read the history, and you start to learn about world events, and all the rest of it, I think, from those times, as you get educated, you start to form your own views of what may have happened, how it happened. You know, sort of what the impacts of that might have been. So that was –  it didn’t happen overnight. It was something that develops, I think, as I say, as you get older, and as you get more educated, and as you get more exposed to different cultures, I think.

Bruce Miller  22:22

And certainly, as far as the Japanese is concerned, I’ve got a wonderful relationship. And I feel  – I’ve been lucky enough to be to Japan three times and I feel very much at home. I can’t speak the language, I still very feel very much at home there. As I say we’ve had four exchange students lived with us and they’re our kids. I mean, they send us all – we keep up with them. We see all their kids and we get the photographs and all that sort of stuff. So it’s just a lovely time.

Bruce Miller  22:51

We’ve been exposed to the Japanese culture for a long time because as – not only from my civic perspective, as the former mayor and leading civic delegations to – it’s really just very personal for us because my daughter was an exchange student over there. My one and only daughter went over for 12 months as an exchange student as part of the Seikei Exchange Program. And had to have a very strong talking to by her father, ‘you are coming back home to finish school.’ She was going to stay, she was very much at home over there. So, and I might say we’re very proud. She actually did Japanese at university and, and has taught Japanese as well, so she’s very involved in the language, understands the Japanese culture very well. My second son is a school teacher. He actually taught kindergarten down at Kyushu for 12 months. Had a wonderful time. Kids – it was a rude awakening for him, from three years old up to five years old. It was a sort of a bit of a challenge for him, but he again loves the culture and the people.

Mayu Kanamori  24:05

Can I ask, the park site, do you remember what it was before it was a park?

Bruce Miller  24:12

It was just a bare hillside that’s all, with a beautiful – when I say a bare, hillside, it’s the same as the Japanese Garden. When it was first identified as where the Japanese Garden would be, people said well, why would you attempt to establish a garden here because it was just bare rocks and granite rocks. I mean, obviously wonderful shapes and all that, but it’s just a flowing part of our normal hillsides. But it did overlook the district really, and I think it was just viewed as being a wonderful spot to be able to establish a park and attract people to that park to actually sit there in peace and quiet. Obviously, barbecues and all that, some come and have barbecue and that but, some just sit there and just reflect and just look over that beautiful countryside, and reflect on what has been developed within the community.

Bruce Miller  25:14

People visit the park for many different reasons. Obviously, it’s a meeting place for lots of families. Particularly when people travel from different parts of Australia to visit a family that lives still here in Cowra. We’ve also – it’s a meeting place for civic receptions as far as the Cowra and Japanese communities in particular are concerned. But importantly, I think it’s just about having that wonderful opportunity to either share the time with family and friends, maybe cook a barbecue, or just sit down quietly somewhere and reflect on what has been achieved with this wonderful relationship that has developed over a very long time between the Cowra and Japanese communities, and to make sure that in this beautiful, peaceful place, and it’s a beautiful part of Cowra, and a beautiful part of Australia, that we’re able to do that. Make sure that we continue to reflect on the achievements of the last 70 years. And to make sure that that goes forward into the future.

Mayu Kanamori  26:25

As a citizen of Cowra, I’m sure you drive past it many times.

Bruce Miller  26:29

I do.

Mayu Kanamori  26:30

And you know, yeah, you were a Mayor or whatever but you are.

Bruce Miller  26:35

I’m a citizen first. I’m a citizen first. Yep.

Mayu Kanamori  26:38

And you drive past it. How do you feel? What do you think?

Bruce Miller  26:41

Every time I drive past this Park, I think of what a beautiful setting it is. And it changes – that setting changes with the seasons. It’s just beautiful driving over the hill, looking down over Cowra with that on – either – driving over the hill, but it’s –  sometimes I drive up the hill as well, sorry (laughter).

Bruce Miller  27:06

But what we do see, or what I feel really, is one of pride. One of being able to think that I’ve had some input into the redevelopment, particularly of this, this wonderful Park. I also reflect on the wonderful times that I’ve shared there with different people, whether it be family and friends or with some of the Civic receptions that I’ve actually hosted there at different times. And even cracking a big sake barrel there at one stage to celebrate a reception there. So it’s a reflection of all of the different components of what I’ve experienced there, either within the park, or introducing others to this wonderful Park.

Masako Fukui  28:00

Is there anything else that you wanted to say about the Park itself, or Cowra?

Bruce Miller  28:06

There’s lots of things I can say about Cowra (laughter). Oh, well, I mean, as you know, well as learnt, I’ve been involved in local government for since 1991. So we’ve obviously continue to develop the wonderful relationship with the Japanese and form some very strong, lasting friendships. But we’ve also seen a lot of development within the community over that time. You know, when I look at this building here, we actually did redevelop this building the one across the road, which were both civic buildings. We spent a lot of money on those to develop them for what they are today, with the Aquatic Centre, the main street, all of the different components that we’ve been involved in.

Bruce Miller  28:51

Even such things as sort of, as necessary, but not as exciting as our materials recycling centre, where we lead the state in the development down there. So it’s been a very progressive community. And it’s been a very progressive Council in that time.We’ve been very lucky, we’ve had a very stable population. We’ve had a very stable economy. And as far as the Council itself is concerned, about the workforce, and the elected parts of that has been very stable. We’ve only had four mayors in the last 30 years. We’ve had three general managers. It’s been very stable. So we’ve been able to develop. We’ve been able to continue on what we’ve had a change with. We’ve been able to continue with the work of the previous Councils. So there’s been no major disruptions. And I think that’s reflected in our parks and gardens, and we’ve been talking about Nagakura Park earlier, but I think the Japanese Gardens and the involvement that Cowra community’s had with that as well as – there’s just lots of different components. The Cherry Tree Avenue is another part of it, it just continues on, you know, there’s, there’s, it’s a great place.

Masako Fukui  30:17

Can I just get you to say – introduce yourself again. I’m Bruce Miller, and your relationship to Saburo Nagakura Park.

Bruce Miller  30:26

Hello, I’m Bruce Miller. I’m a longtime Mayor of Cowra. And I had the benefit of being able to be involved in Nagakura Park, particularly the redevelopment of it. It was started by Saburo Nagakura in the early – mid to late 80s. It was redeveloped, it is developed into such a wonderful, peaceful, welcoming part of Cowra. And I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve been part of it.

Masako Fukui  30:58

Thank you.

Mayu Kanamori  31:02

The only other question that I had, goes back much earlier is like, you know, Cowra’s a small town, and you’re hosting the Imperial Family. And tell us a little bit about that, you know, there’ll be many places around the world, which is much bigger than Cowra who’s never had the Japanese Imperial Family.

Bruce Miller  31:27

I think that’s right. And certainly, we’ve been– well,  obviously privileged to be able to host not once but twice the Imperial Family over quite an extensive time. And to be recognised for I think, the genuineness of the reconciliation process that the Cowra community – we’re involved in, and how that was embraced by the Japanese, was recognised by the Imperial Family. And that’s why I think that they were able to –  I think they paid us homage by being part of this little community that has achieved great things. And I think that that’s how it was. And from a personal point of view, I think it was really about – whilst this, this Imperial Family saw fit to visit us, that we were able to acknowledge ,obviously their position and how important they are. But secondly, that we’re able to relate on a very common ground, and it was just wonderful to be able to treat each other, talk to each other as people, as ordinary people.

Bruce Miller  32:34

And that I think, was really the highlight of it all. Obviously, as the civic leader of a community when you’re inviting dignitaries, such as Imperial Family to here, and in other words, not just the Imperial Family, as important as they are. But we’ve had so many ambassadors and  all the rest of it here over the years, and we’ve had wonderful support. All of those people, as a civic leader, you do get nervous about. You make sure that you want to make everything just right, that everything works really well and all the rest of it. But in the end, they put you at ease. And it is wonderful. That’s the best part of it, I think.

Masako Fukui  33:15

Can you just say how they put you at ease?

Bruce Miller  33:16

Well I put us at ease simply by just being able to talk to us in a normal manner, understanding, I think that we are nervous. But secondly, I think, because we want to not make any mistakes, but I think also importantly we want to put our best foot forward as far as their community is concerned, so that they leave out – not only arrive thinking good things of us, but when they leave that experience is really important as well.

Masako Fukui  33:54

This is Bruce Miller atmos, after the interview.



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