[Belinda Virgo]

It’s a story of understanding, it’s a story of reconciliation, and it really is a story of humanity.

[Tony Mooney]

The RSL originally cared for the graves at the Australian War Cemetery. 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.

[Graham Apthorpe]

They were overgrown, almost abandoned, but it was returned soldiers, some of whom actually fought the Japanese who said, these are soldiers who fought for their own country. They at least deserve the respect, and one particular soldier was to become the Mayor of Cowra was Ab Oliver.

[Len Oliver]

My name is Len Oliver. I am a son of Ab Oliver. A local man, born and bred in Cowra. He served overseas in North Africa, and then went up to New Guinea and Borneo, fighting against the Japanese. I think the last bit of the war in New Guinea and Borneo must have been, yeah, pretty terrible, you know. Not long after the war, my father and a few of them got together and decided they’d have working bees up in the Japanese War Cemetery and the Australian War Cemetery. None of these men ever spoke about the war. When I was very young, I remember getting on the back of the truck with him and going up there one day and a few of the other men arrived and they were cleaning up. They’d take their lawn mowers up there. They’d cut the weeds. The families in Japan would probably like someone to look after their graves. They thought it was what should be done. Yes, oh yeah, I’m very proud of my father, yes. Yeah, he was a great man. He was, he was never home. Mum always had to come and watch us play sport. I’ll never forget the one thing he did say, was that he said, we’ve got to do everything possible to make sure this never happens again.

[Rod Hayes]

There’s so many young men mostly buried there, and they’ve obviously all got a story. My name is Rod Hayes. I’m the Cemetery Supervisor for Cowra Shire Council. I’ve been working with Cowra Council for 20 years and part of my job is to help look after and maintain the war graves there, which include all the Australian servicemen and women, and also the Japanese civilians buried there, and then also the young fellows that broke out in 1944. When you hear about a certain person, the guy that blew the trumpet to set off all that Breakout, you realise that that’s his remains there and that’s quite touching, I think. And then there’s other ones there you know, unknown airmen. Unfortunately no one knows who they are and what their story is now, so it does make you think, when you look after it, about what happens in war. I feel quite privileged to look after them, especially when you’re involved you know, day to day and then you hear these stories and you realise that you’re the one that’s maintaining those areas and looking after them for, not just for now but into the future.

[Belinda Virgo]

This space to me is really where the reconciliation story of Cowra began. As we know, with the RSL sub branch maintaining the graves of the Japanese soldiers. I often reflect on the actions of those men that started the story that we continue to tell today. Perhaps there’s a responsibility, I’m not sure, that has been sort of passed down through the generations of people that have Cowra running through their blood. Because it’s in their hearts to continue that relationship and continue telling that story.

Producer/Sound Design: Masako Fukui

Music Credits: Crossing the Divide by Kevin MacLeod ( CC by 3.0 

Impact Lento by Kevin MacLeod ( CC by 3.0 

Photo Credits: Photo 1: The then Mayor Ab Oliver with visiting Japanese Naval training group at the Japanese War Cemetery, 1969; Oliver Family Archives

Photo 2: Burial of Japanese POWs who died in the Breakout near the current Japanese War Cemetery, 1944; AWM 073487

Photo 3: The then Japanese Ambassador to Australia Saburo Ohta at the official opening of the Japanese War Cemetery, 1964; Photo by David Henshaw / AWM P05626.003


The Cowra Voices Audio Archive Project 2023

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

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