Cowra Voices storytelling app was launched at the 75th anniversary of the Cowra Breakout in August 2019. He was asked to speak about Cowra Australian War Cemetery primarily, which is location number nine on the app. 


This audio interview with Tony Mooney was recorded on 18 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.

Tony Mooney  00:32

Tony Mooney’s my name and I’m a Director of the Japanese Garden here at Cowra, and also a Director of Cowra-Japan Society. And I’ve had involvement since 1981 in the Cowra-Japan relationship. I was born in Cowra in 1945, giving away my age. And I left school in 1960, and worked in Sydney for a couple of years. And at age 18, I joined the Air Force, came back to Cowra in 1969, and purchased a business with my brother. And three years later, I married a girl from Sydney. And she refused to go back to Sydney. So I’m still here in Cowra, and happily so.

Masako Fukui  01:23

So how did you kind of get involved with the Australian War Cemetery? Well, maybe I should ask you a broader question. So how did you come to be involved –

Tony Mooney  01:34

Cowra-Japan relationship?

Masako Fukui  01:36

The whole peace and reconciliation story.

Tony Mooney  01:39

Well, in 1981, Don Kibbler asked me to come onto the board of Cowra Tourism, which at the time was a controlling body for the Japanese Garden. Don Kibbler was one of the founders of the Cowra Japanese Garden. And he in fact, physically built stage two of the garden. He was a builder by trade.

Tony Mooney  02:01

In 1981, Don Kibbler, who was a President of Cowra Tourism at the time, asked me to join the board. Cowra Tourism was the governing body of the Japanese Garden. And I came onto the Japanese Garden Committee at that time as well. And one thing led to another. We travelled to Japan in 1984, and secured funding for stage two of the Garden, which Don Kibbler as a builder he did the construction in an honorary capacity.

Mayu Kanamori  02:36

Are you a member of RSL?

Tony Mooney  02:38


Mayu Kanamori  02:38

Do you want to tell us a little bit about that and the Australian War Cemetery? And I’m interested ever since I’ve known you, you’ve MCed there, all the commemorations. I’m interested in you know, how you started doing that?

Tony Mooney  02:54

Yeah, well, I’ve been a member of the RSL for approximately 25 years. And we would often have Japanese groups visiting Cowra and we would have a ceremony at the War Cemetery. And it was thought that we needed to be a little bit more formal. And I was asked to become the MC. And I continued to this day to do that job. The RSL originally cared for the graves at the Australian War Cemetery. And that was in 1946. They then looked over the fence and they looked at the Japanese graves and thought it would be a nice thing to maintain those as well. So the RSL has had a very long connection with the Cowra War Cemeteries.

Masako Fukui  03:45

But how did that come about though? Did someone say? I mean, it was just after the war. So these are enemies.

Tony Mooney 03:51

That’s right.

Masako Fukui  03:52

Can you just explain that because that’s a hard thing for people to understand.

Tony Mooney  03:55

Well, apparently at an RSL meeting at that time, it was agreed that they would maintain the Cemetery. And quite a few of the RSL members were farmers, and they had an affinity with the land obviously. And they didn’t like to see what was untidy, but also they –  some of them thought, well, it’s a former enemy. It wasn’t something that everybody agreed with at the time. But nevertheless, they did it. And in those days, I mean they had to cart water there on a truck. And it was basic equipment, unlike today.

Masako Fukui  04:44

Like I know that some people disagreed, but how, like, I guess I’m trying to figure it out in my head, were there a couple of people, key people or was there sort of, I mean, do you know anything about the dynamics that happened at the time, and as a member of the RSL, and I know you weren’t there then, but you know, can you explain to people who really don’t even know about the Cowra Breakout  what – how this happened because that RSL looking after the graves, the Japanese graves is like an impetus right, for this whole peace and reconciliation process.

Tony Mooney  05:25

Yeah, yeah.

Masako Fukui: So do you think you could elaborate a bit on that, and what you think about that?

Tony Mooney  05:25

Well I think it was the you know, respect for the dead was the most important thing that came into it. I think unfortunately, today there is no one within the RSL who was involved at that time. And even though we interviewed a number of people some 15 years ago, their memories weren’t all that clear. So there’s no great detail in respect of the RSL, except the fact that they did maintain the Australian War Cemetery and the Japanese War Cemetery. And they did it on a voluntary basis. They had some sort of a roster system.

Tony Mooney  06:07

It was probably one of the most important things that happened, although at the time it would not have been recognised. Australia didn’t form diplomatic relations with Japan until the 1950s. Somewhere about 1955 I think, when the Japanese Embassy people visited Cowra and visited the Cemetery. And they were accompanied there by the then President of the RSL. So it was quite significant and probably not a great deal happened then until 1964, when the Japanese War Cemetery was constructed, similar to what it is today. And the maintenance then was taken over by the War Graves Commission based in Canberra.

Mayu Kanamori  07:04

I just want to know when you got involved in the early 80s, I guess we still have people like Bruce Ruxton around. And how was Cowra RSL viewed by the rest of the RSL in Australia?

Tony Mooney  07:20

Yeah, well when I was asked to join the RSL, I was a little bit reluctant, because I felt that, you know, maybe there would be some animosity. However, that didn’t occur. And I found even at that time, a number of the old World War II soldiers actually asked me questions, asked me questions about Japan and various other things. And I’ve never had any issue in respect of the RSL and my involvement with the Cowra-Japan relationship.

Mayu Kanamori  07:55

Tell us about your MCing, how do you do it?  I mean we know okay. How you do it. And if you have any special memories attached to that.

Tony Mooney  08:09

Will I talk about the Governor General?

Masako Fukui  08:11

Yes, whatever you want.

Tony Mooney  08:14

Yeah. In 2016, the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove came here, and his protocol people told us beforehand that, you know, it’s Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove. That’s important. The Governor General got out of his car and he said, Peter Cosgrove put his hand out. He said, my wife, Lynne. So the protocol went out the window. At the cemetery at the time, there were two Vietnam veterans. And Sir Peter Cosgrove had –  he was a Vietnam veteran as well. When he saw them, he was quite animated, he said, ‘oh my boys!’ And he rushed down to meet them. And it turned out one of them had actually served with the Governor General in Vietnam. Yeah. So and then we had a formal wreath laying in both the Australian and the Japanese War Cemeteries.

Mayu Kanamori  09:10

Can you tell us what happens in these commemorations? Just you know, people gather, the Last Post –  wreath laying – you know, then there’s the youth reserve people, they do things. Can you explain all of that and then how you take them to the Japanese Cemetery?

Tony Mooney  09:30

Oh yeah. Well, first up in the Australian section, I’ll give a brief introduction, explanation about who is buried here in the Australian section. We then have the formal wreath laying, the Last Post is played, the Ode is recited, and then Reveille. From there, we move to the Japanese section. And same again, brief introduction. And on occasions we have a Japanese choir, we have also the Buddhist priest chants the sutras. And we have the wreath laying. And then an inspection of the Japanese Cemetery. It’s a little difficult for people to understand at first because there are young children buried there and older people, as well as Japanese soldiers who died in the Breakout, and the Japanese airmen who died in the raids on Northern Australia. So we have to explain that the children and the old people didn’t die from conflict. They died from accidents or illness. And the Japanese government made a decision in the 1960s to have one war cemetery in Australia for all their war dead. So they were re-interred from various parts of Australia.

Masako Fukui  10:54

Can you just go back to the Australian War Cemetery. So here I’ve just arrived, I’m a tourist. I’m standing there, I’ve opened my app, what are some things that you want me to know about the Australian War Cemetery, things about history, is something I need to look at?

Tony Mooney  11:13

Well, the four graves of the Australians who died in the Breakout, Lieutenant Doncaster, Privates Hardy, Jones, and Shepherd. Now Privates Hardy and Jones were awarded the George Cross for bravery on the night of the Breakout. Now the George Cross, and the George Medal were handed out by the British government. And the British government said we’ll give them a George Medal, which was much lower level. The Australian Prime Minister at the time, Robert Menzies said no, they will have the George Cross. Now the George Cross is the highest civilian award. It’s probably unprecedented for a soldier to receive.

Tony Mooney  11:54

Another grave is an RAF airman. That’s the British Air Force. And soon after the war, he was coming through Cowra on a motorbike and had an accident and was killed. And to my knowledge is the last person buried in the Australian War Cemetery at Cowra. And his family have actually been out to visit his grave.

Masako Fukui  12:15

Why did he get buried there?

Tony Mooney  12:16


Masako Fukui  12:17

Why was he buried there?

Tony Mooney  12:18

Well, he was a former airman. And obviously, authorities thought it was appropriate that he be buried in the War Cemetery.

Tony Mooney  12:31

One of the important things is often we have school students attending the ceremonies. And that’s important because the young people need to understand and have the knowledge of what happened all those years ago because we don’t want history to repeat itself. I had this same conversation with Nakasone, the former Japanese Prime Minister. And he agreed. And therefore, education is a big thing. Be very easy in the future, for future generations to not understand and we can make the same mistakes again.

Masako Fukui  13:14

Can you remember the meeting with Mr Nakasone? And can you tell us that story?

Tony Mooney  13:19

Well in 1985, we went to Japan. There was Ab Oliver, who was the Chairman of the Garden at the time. Don Kibbler was the President of Cowra Tourism, and myself. And we had a meeting with Prime Minister Nakasone, at his official residence. And on a later visit, after he had retired as prime minister, we met him again in his office. And that’s where we had the discussion in respect of the importance of young people knowing about what happened. Now, I know that in Japan, that’s not a normal thing, maybe it’s changing now, but it certainly wasn’t. I’m aware that it wasn’t taught in the schools about World War II. But I – with Mr Nakasone, he was obviously a very open-minded man. And he hadn’t visited Cowra, but he certainly had an understanding of it, and an appreciation by actually meeting us when he was Prime Minister, which is quite exceptional, I thought, you know, Three people from a little country town in Australia, you know. That evening, we were taken to dinner by Michio Watanabe, who at the time was Minister for Trade. Same thing, he quite, talked quite openly about trade between Japan and Australia. He told us Japan was going to import more citrus and beef, and it was quite an experience to just sit there and listen to such a powerful person, you know. They said about Michio, he wasn’t prime minister, but he made them.

Mayu Kanamori  15:14

That’s one of the things that really fascinates me about Cowra. That this small town,

Tony Mooney  15:20


Mayu Kanamori  15:21

And people here go out and see powerful people, they come out here, the Emperor comes out –

Tony Mooney  15:28

The Emperor came out, that’s right. Yeah, yeah.

Masako Fukui  15:30

Do you remember that?

Tony Mooney  15:32

I remember, I wasn’t involved. But where I lived at the time was just on the corner of the main road, and I saw his car going up to the cemetery.

Masako Fukui  15:44

But you know, why Cowra, like why did this happen in Cowra, do you think?

Tony Mooney  15:50

Well, the main thing is that the graves of the Japanese remained in Cowra. If those Japanese had been re-interred to Japan, I don’t think we would have had a relationship with Japan. There wasn’t anything to focus on. And then of course, in the 1980s, when the Japanese Garden opened, that also became a focal point. And it’s built from there with the Peace Bell and the exchange program, and so it goes on. And people, many people have worked quite hard for this relationship. And you’ve got to remember too that, in a small country town, like we don’t have government funding, if we go to Japan, it’s at our own expense. Everything is in our own time, we’re not being paid. And I think that probably appealed to the Japanese as well. The fact that people were so dedicated, you know, to this relationship. And then we built up – when we started Sakura Matsuri, that became another focal point. And then we were having the Japanese business people coming up from Sydney with their families, and Japanese coming from Canberra. So one thing has led to another.

Masako Fukui  17:09

So what’s your role in that?

Tony Mooney  17:12

My role?

Masako Fukui  17:14

What you see as your role?

Tony Mooney  17:17

Yeah. I was Chairman of the Garden for approximately five years. And I’m currently a Director. So, I just have that involvement in that interest. And also, I’m contacted by a large number of Japanese from time to time. People that I’ve known in some cases for more than 30 years. There was –  there were two Japanese came here, they were ex-prisoners of war. They were both officers. And they’d been told by another former Japanese POW to contact me. And one fellow said that he actually worked for Japan Airlines, often came to Sydney, but he never mentioned that he’d been a prisoner in Cowra. His friend was a marine engineer. They came to Cowra just without any fanfare, they didn’t want it to be known. And it was interesting in that during the Breakout, there was an officer was killed. Now from the Australian side, it was said that this particular officer was going out to lead the Breakout.

Tony Mooney  18:34

Now, they didn’t know that story. And they just said that their friend who was a doctor was killed. And they said he was standing out and looking to see what was happening. So there were two, two sides to it. And they’ve never been put together. The doctor would have been the last person who would be going out to lead the Breakout. But then there was another Japanese I knew. In later life, he was an artist. And he knew that he had to break out. So what he did, he went down Broadway, which is the main road in the camp, and he climbed into the officer’s camp where he was safe. So a number of these things that I’ve been told firsthand, which makes it, you know, more interesting. Yeah its, well – anyway –

Mayu Kanamori  19:37

This might be a little bit of a difficult question, but it doesn’t have to be.

Tony Mooney  19:41


Mayu Kanamori  19:42

Sometimes I find that you know, those two cemeteries are next to each other. Let’s say we might have a Japanese tourist that comes to see the Japanese War Cemetery and they walk straight past the Australian War Cemetery, don’t pay their respects and they go just do the Japanese bit, have a look around and they leave. Not everybody. But there are people like that. In the same token, there may be just people who pay respects at the Australian War Cemetery and then just kind of have a look over at the Japanese and then leave without paying respects. It’s not, you know, it’s not because they’re necessarily feeling animosity or anything, it’s interest. But I often feel that’s being disrespectful. And I think that the two cemeteries are, their paths you can’t separate them. They’re interconnected. Just wondering about how you felt about that.

Tony Mooney  20:42

Well, I think that because of the avenue of trees, which leads to the Japanese Cemetery, it tends to draw the people in without realising that above that is the Australian section. But there have been occasions when people have refused to go into the Japanese War Cemetery. And I remember one RSL member, he said, ‘oh no I’m not going in there’. But within a couple of years, he was coming in and joining the ceremonies. So it’s just the process of education, I suppose, and give people time to think about it. To certainly don’t, don’t criticise anyone who goes to either cemetery and not to the other. However, when we have a ceremony, we always start in the Australian section, because basically, Australia is the host. And I mean at times, we do have to bring some of the Japanese back from the Japanese War Cemetery into the Australian. Say, ‘oh, we start here’. But they don’t know the protocol. So it’s not, we’re not offended. Not at all. No. But I think that’s why, that’s why we have an MC, we have one person responsible, one person in charge. So there’s no confusion.

Mayu Kanamori  22:09

And that’s you.

Tony Mooney  22:10

And that is myself at the present time. Yeah.

Masako Fukui  22:14

What’s your motivation, you said earlier on, when you all go to Japan you pay for yourself. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s volunteer time that you don’t get paid for. What motivates you, what keeps you doing this?

Tony Mooney  22:28

Well, I think it was an opportunity to do something entirely different. To embrace a different culture. And was something that appealed to me. Because in most country towns, it’s pretty much the same old thing. But Cowra’s just something different. And I saw, I suppose, I saw an opportunity to become involved in something that was particularly interesting. And the response of the Japanese too I’m going to go to Japan and be really looked after, I mean the hospitality is unbelievable. It’s, yeah, it just appealed to me. Yeah.

Mayu Kanamori  23:10

So you’re young, you’re opportunistic. You just wanted to get involved. Then what happened? What have you learned during this time?

Tony Mooney  23:18

What have I learnt? I think I’ve learnt to appreciate other people. But then bear in mind when I went to school, here in Cowra, there was a migrant camp. And in our class, we had children from Eastern Europe, Germany, from everywhere. And we had Aboriginal children. So, and it was fine. You know, we didn’t certainly, we didn’t resent these foreign children. We used to call them Balts*. But you know, that wasn’t anything in particular, that we did that. So I suppose in a way I had a grounding at school for different cultures. I remember kids coming to school, boys come to school in leather shorts. Well, we’d never seen leather shorts. And I think today how practical they were, they never wear out. (laughter) Yeah.

Mayu Kanamori  24:12

In so far as the Australian War Cemetery, in relation to this Australian War Cemetery is concerned, can you remember your happiest day and the saddest day?

Tony Mooney  24:24

Happiest Day. It’s always been a sense of achievement on those major anniversaries. We commemorated the 40th, 50th, 60th, and 70th anniversaries and they have been big events. They’ve got bigger each time and we’re now looking forward to the 75th anniversary next year. The support we get is fantastic. Particularly from the Council, Cowra Council and from the Japanese Embassy. And people actually come out from Japan for that celebration.

Mayu Kanamori  25:05

How does that make you feel?

Tony Mooney  25:07

Well, being involved is a sense of achievement. Yeah, it’s a little bit like we talked about Sakura Matsuri. Well, we had – the first three Sakura Matsuris were pretty ordinary. The fourth one, we had then appointed a Manager here at the Japanese Garden. And I was the Chairman, and I wrote a new program for Sakura Matsuri. And, unbelievably, the number of people that came. There were something like five or six coach loads from Sydney of Japanese people. The Japanese Embassy became involved, virtually for the first time. And it’s grown from there. And Sakura Matsuri is on next weekend. And we expect it will be another very, very successful weekend.

Masako Fukui  25:59

When you say you wrote the program, what was in the program?

Tony Mooney  26:02

Well, we have the tea ceremony and we have kite flying and we have Japanese food. What else? Ikebana. So we have –

Tony Mooney  26:25

Judo – many, many –

Masako Fukui  26:30


Tony Mooney  26:30

Yeah, we have Sumo, yep we do.

Masako Fukui  26:36

Can I ask you about sort of your, your feelings about Japan and you know, growing up in Cowra, you know, being part of RSL. Like how have you feelings about Japan or Japanese people, I mean has it changed? Has there been an evolution? You know, what have you learned from Japanese people?

Tony Mooney  27:04

I’m not sure how to answer that actually. At the moment. Yeah.

Masako Fukui  27:09

Kind of a big question. We can come back to that –

Tony Mooney  27:14

Yep we’ll come back to that.

Masako Fukui  27:15

I would like to know  – you being a Cowra person – was there something in your list you wanted to talk about?

Tony Mooney  27:25

We talked about the War Cemetery and the RSL. We haven’t talked about Joetsu yet. Australian soldiers Yep.

Mayu Kanamori  27:32

We’ll do Joetsu later. I’m gonna ask about the peace thing. You know, we’re doing this because we think that Cowra is, you know, potentially or arguably the only peace tourism destination in the whole of Australia. Tell us about Cowra and peace.

Tony Mooney  27:57

Cowra and peace – I don’t quite know how to answer that. I was going to tell you something about the Japanese War Cemetery.

Tony Mooney  28:17

Back when Japan had reestablished diplomatic relations with Australia, there was a move to reinterr the Japanese graves to Japan. But the Ministry for Health and Welfare, which are responsible for graves, they said, ‘oh, there are no prisoners, there were no prisoners in Cowra, Japanese were not taken prisoner’. And they didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Now a diplomat called Yamazaki, who was at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra, he was given responsibility to sort this out. And it was felt that the families in Japan wouldn’t accept the remains of their loved ones because they had been prisoners of war and the feeling of the Bushido Code and, and all that type of thing. So that’s when the decision was made to have one cemetery in Australia for all the war dead. I know some people say because of the care given by the Cowra people, that’s the reason, but the real reason – now we didn’t know that until about, probably 20 years ago when Yamazaki revisited Cowra. And he called me aside at the War Cemetery, and explained, and that’s the first we’ve heard of it. He only told two people he told myself and Don Kibbler. So we have that. And I read you know, about the care of the graves, this is the reason that they’re in Cowra etc, etc. But that’s not the real reason. Now Yamazaki went on to become the Ambassador, Japanese Ambassador in the UK. I think he’s since passed away. But it was great to have that story firsthand. And to know. Yeah, so.

Masako Fukui  30:11

That’s a big thing to be given. (unintelligible) The souls of the Japanese people are here. It’s quite a big responsibility.

Tony Mooney  30:27

Yeah. Well, it’s a bit the same with Ken Nakajima who designed this Japanese Garden. And to his mind, the Australian soul is represented by the gum trees, and it’s why he wanted to leave the gum trees in the Garden. We didn’t know that. And in his mind, also, the spirits of the dead Japanese would descend to the big rock that’s on the back of the Garden on the northern side. And Ken said that’s the reason he selected the site for the Japanese Garden, right here. And another was a rock, a conical shape rock, which Ken said was the anchor for the garden, which he said has been there for thousands of years waiting for a garden to be built. The same thing, we didn’t know all this until some years after the Garden was built. And Ken Nakajima said, well look, you went to Japan and you understand a little, he said, ‘I’ll explain to you now’. And he did. And I kept diary notes of all those meetings with Ken Nakajima. But unfortunately, today, sort of only Don Kibbler and myself are the only two that had any, that are still alive, that had any close relationship with Ken. So we often quote Ken, I’m sure people get fed up with us quoting Ken. But you know, Ken was the guru. He wrote the Bible for this Garden.

Masako Fukui  32:01

You didn’t answer the question about the happiest day.

Mayu Kanamori  32:05

You said the happiest day, sort of he said sense of achievement, but I didn’t get the saddest day.

Tony Mooney  32:10

Saddest day? No, well, I don’t think, I don’t think there have been any sad days as such that I could say. I mean, the families of the dead Japanese came here. And at the cemetery, they’re obviously very emotional. And that touches you a bit. And also, the families of the dead Australian soldiers have been here. And you can imagine the emotions that they are going through. One woman who was her father was Private Shepherd. Now, and her story is interesting in that her mother wasn’t able to care for the children after the husband was killed, and the children were placed in an orphanage. And this lady has been back to Cowra quite often. And you really feel for her, to think that her father was killed on duty, and the family weren’t looked after. So there was a failing there somewhere. So, you know, from both sides, there’s been emotional times at the Cemetery. I wouldn’t say there were sad times, but certainly emotional.

Mayu Kanamori  33:37

Did you go to The Australian War Cemetery as a child, do you remember it?

Tony Mooney  33:41

No, I don’t, I don’t actually, I can remember, probably about age 12 or 13. And one of the boys at school told me that in his house, there were bullet holes came through the roof. And I thought, ‘oh, that’s a bit far fetched’. And I found out in many years, many years later, there was a house down below the Campsite. And there was in fact, machine gun bullets, which went through the roof of that house. Yeah, so – but no, I didn’t know anything about it. And while I was away in the Air Force, I picked up a book about the Cowra Breakout. And I thought gee, I should know about that, I’ve come from Cowra. But that’s the first that I had actually known about it. Yeah.

Masako Fukui  34:32

Do you think Cowra’s changed as a result of these sort of efforts to reconcile with Japan, you know, bring the Japanese –  and be friends with the Japanese? Do you think –

Tony Mooney  34:45

Oh, I think it’s certainly changed, and many Cowra people have been to Japan, which you certainly wouldn’t find in other country towns of this size. And they’ve formed close relationships. I mean, last weekend, they had the Chor Farmer, which is the choir from Tokyo Agricultural University, who have been coming here for something like 40 years, and stay with the same host families every time. So that in itself is, is quite significant.

Masako Fukui  35:16

Yeah, we talked a lot about the Japanese Cemetery, but I’m just wondering if you can, because you’ve been chosen by, I think, Paul and Lawrence to talk about the Australian War Cemetery. Did you want to say anything else about that?

Tony Mooney  35:34

Some 25 years ago, the Korean Society in Sydney, were looking to have a memorial here in Cowra. Because the Koreans and the Formosans were co-opted into the Japanese army. And some of the graves at the cemetery are in fact, Korean and Formosan. There was one comment from a Japanese saying, well, they’re all in the Japanese army. So that, you know, that’s basically it. Leave it at that. And then the Koreans sort of lost interest for whatever reason, I don’t know. But they were very enthusiastic at one time and the Council had indicated that yes, an area could be made available there for the Korean Memorial, but it hasn’t happened.

Mayu Kanamori  

There’s some kind of a power tool going on –

Tony Mooney  36:32

There is. Yeah, they’re working. I can’t think of any more to say about the Australian War Cemetery. I do recall seeing photos that were taken in the Japanese War Cemetery at the time of burial. And a number of Australian soldiers were there and they paid their respects. You can see that the way they were standing with their hats off and, yeah.

Masako Fukui  37:16

So let’s talk about, did you want to ask the Joetsu?

Tony Mooney  37:26

I read an article in an American military magazine. And it was about a chap called Matt Clift who lived in Cowra, and it told of his wartime experience in Joetsu. And so I arranged to go and – oh he’s started again.

Masako Fukui  37:46

So you were talking about Matt Clift.

Tony Mooney  37:50

Matt Clift, yeah. I arranged to go and see Matt Clift, and he told me his story about his imprisonment at Joetsu in Niigata. And I resolved the next trip to Japan, I would go to Joetsu. Now during the war years, camp was in a town called Naoetsu. But in later years, they combined two cities to make, to form Joetsu. So I went to Japan up to Joetsu. And I met with the Mayor, and I suggested the planning of gum trees as a memorial to the Australians, and also to organise a memorial service. And that was in February of 1988. And I went back again in May of 88. And I took with me another Australian, who had been a prisoner of war in Naoetsu. And Father Tony Glynn from Nara, had organised for the service. And so that was the first post war connection with Joetsu. And the people from Joetsu came out here to Cowra. They could see what had occurred in Cowra since the war. And that spurred them on and they then wanted to build a commemorative garden, which they did. And a relationship formed between Cowra and Joetsu. They now have a formal friendship agreement with Council. I think that’s about it. Basically. Can’t think of anything else.

Masako Fukui  39:30

Can you go back and just explain just a quick sentence that there was a POW camp in Naoetsu in Japan.

Tony Mooney  39:39

The POW camp in Naoetsu, there were 300 Australians. 60 died in the first, probably 18 months. Now one of the men was from Cowra, a fellow called Alan Healy. And he’s now buried in Yokohama War Cemetery. So there were a lot of similarities between Cowra and Naoetsu.

Tony Mooney  40:05

No, it’s an interesting story, and I think it was that visit, or the two visits in 1988, that gave the people of Joetsu an opportunity. Even though they were how many years behind Cowra, they certainly became enthusiastic. And they had some issues there too, because the families of some of the Japanese guards who’d been executed for war crimes were quite anti that Japan was going to commemorate Australian soldiers who died there. But to my knowledge, it is the only memorial in Japan to Australians. So it’s quite, it is unique. It’s as Cowra is unique to the Japanese. But well, it was my initiative that formed that post war relationship. And that continues today.

Tony Mooney  41:13

Got everything.

Masako Fukui  41:15

There’s one thing I want to ask, it won’t be part of the app. I’m still kind of curious to  –  We spoke to Don Kibbler last time we were here, but you know. But, you know, he was saying the same thing that he spent a lot of his money, own money. Yeah. Why do you? Why do you do that? It’s a big thing, right? It’s a big thing to do all of this?

Tony Mooney  41:43

Well, it is, I guess, but well, I certainly didn’t didn’t look at it that way. No, I just saw it as an opportunity to do something different. And then, of course, I got a sense of achievement out of it, you know.

Masako Fukui  42:01

That’s different from the sense of achievement you’ve had through your work or through your family or –

Tony Mooney  42:06

Yeah, different again, and it’s, I don’t know how to explain it, actually, it just –  it’s, I guess it’s like a Japanese moving to Australia. Everything is completely different. And there are certain aspects that you think, gee, that’s just, that’s fantastic. I really want to get involved in that. And the more you get involved, well, yeah, the more interesting it becomes. But I think it was the people in Japan too, that made it, you know, that was so friendly, so open. Unbelievable hospitality. And also, meeting, you know, coming from a small country town and meeting these important people on the world stage. So, no, that’s all, I really can’t explain it properly. It’s just one of those things that, that you, that I decided that I wanted to be involved in. And I want to continue, yeah. No, I’ve got no, no regrets at all. I’m very pleased that I did it. And, of course, I did receive recognition from Japan, and from Australia. And that’s another achievement, I guess, for someone, for someone in my circumstances, to be recognised in that way.

Masako Fukui  43:33

What do you mean by my circumstances?

Tony Mooney  43:36

Well, I mean, when you leave school at 15, with a pretty basic education, but with an open mind. And then, I had to make my own opportunities because my family didn’t have anything. And I wanted to be independent. Which I’ve achieved, even though at 73 years of age, I still work but only because I want to. I don’t have to, you know. Yeah, that’s me though. I just, I wasn’t prepared – I wasn’t prepared to just sit on the fence and not go anywhere. Yeah. So was a bit the same with the Japanese thing that yeah, I saw an opportunity to achieve. And that’s what I did. I did the same in my own private life. And I’m quite happy with it. I’m more than happy with the situation that I’m in. There’s no way that I expected to be recognised by two governments. And I say to people well, there are only two ex-Air Force people have an Order of the Rising Sun. I said one is Gough Whitlam and the other is me. So –

Masako Fukui  45:02

That’s a huge achievement –

Tony Mooney  45:04

Yeah, yeah. thats –  And I’ve got a friend in Canberra, he retired from the Air Force as Deputy Chief, he was an Air Vice Marshall. And he actually went to school in Cowra. And he rang me a couple of weeks ago and asked me for a bit of advice on something. And I said, well, there’s not many ex-Air Force corporals give advice to Air Vice Marshals, you know what I mean. That’s, that’s the thing. I didn’t have any resentment towards other people, other nationalities, or people of high rank, or –  I was open minded. And if they accepted me, that was fine. If they didn’t want it didn’t matter. You know, yeah.

Masako Fukui  45:50

Just one last thing about the legacy. So you know, you’ve had these personal achievements. What do you think is your legacy to Cowra, to the future of Cowra, the young people?

Tony Mooney  46:05

What’s my legacy? No, I don’t know. I haven’t got an answer.

Tony Mooney  46:16

It disappoints me that young people, that they leave school, they don’t do anything. They don’t, you know – I say to young people, you know, just get a job, get a job, any job. If you don’t like it doesn’t matter. Or join the military. Find your way. Yeah. And – because there’s so many young people, they don’t get the opportunity, or they can’t see the opportunity. Whereas in my case, I was determined to make the opportunity. And I did in a lot of respects. Yeah, I wouldn’t say that I just didn’t get lucky. I just had a rare determination, that I was going to succeed one way or the other. So I achieved in my personal life and in my business life.

*Balts- used to refer to people who came from Eastern Europe, primarily the Baltic States, to Cowra Migrant Camp between 1949 and 1956.

The Cowra Voices Audio Archive Project 2023

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