Australia–Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
Tony Mooney OAM associated with the Prisoners-of-War Memorial, Naoetsu, Japan
Interviewed by Terry Colhoun at Cowra, New South Wales, on 18 March 2003 (AWM S03074)
TERRY COLHOUN: Tony, thank you very much for participating in the programme. I would like to ask you first how you got involved with the Japanese.
TONY MOONEY: Well, in 1981 Don Kibbler was the President of Cowra Tourist Development Corporation and he approached me to nominate for the board. I was elected to the board in that year and appointed to the Japanese Garden Committee. In 1981 there was a severe drought in Cowra and the garden was suffering and also at a very low visitation. So, financially there were serious problems. We formed, at my suggestion, a watering team and groups of people would go to the Japanese Garden twice a week and water trees and shrubs. The people on that team were Don Kibbler and Harry Hutchison, Brian Smith, Geoff Dernee and myself. This continued until the drought finally broke in May 1983. Also, in those years they were planning The Cowra Breakout movie, which was produced by Phil Noyce, and it was finally released in around about 1984, I think from memory. This had the object of providing enormous publicity to Cowra and to the Japanese Gardens and the visitation climbed from a very low level up to 70,000 people. Because of this, the garden then became very financially viable and, for the first time, had substantial reserves. The movie to some people was a little bit controversial. It showed the Australian soldiers as being less than soldierly, but there were other benefits, as I said. It promoted Cowra and the garden. In 1984 Don Kibbler and myself and Jim Davidson decided to travel to Japan and we spent something like three weeks there. At the conclusion of the trip we were invited to a meeting with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. At this meeting the Government had offered to provide funding for stage two of the Japanese Gardens. The end result of this funding was approximately $1 million, not only for stage two, but also for the ongoing maintenance. It seemed that we were in Japan at the right time in that the Tokyo Government and New South Wales Government were looking to a sister State relationship. The Tokyo Government had read in their Nihon Keizai Shinbun the story of the Japanese Garden and the difficulties with the drought, and so on, and they wanted to do something positive for the sister State relationship. They made the Japanese Garden at Cowra the focal point of that relationship.
COLHOUN: The second stage was 1978 that began, so this was actually after that that you got the money from Tokyo?
MOONEY: No, the second stage was completed in 1986.
COLHOUN: It was completed.
MOONEY: Yes, planning had started in 1984, construction didn’t start until 1985 when Ken Nakajima, the garden’s designer, came out and it was this funding from the Tokyo Government that enabled stage two to go ahead. It, in fact, paid for the construction of the Japanese style house, the Bonsai House, landscaping, part of the extensions. There were other donors also. The New South Wales Government provided some funding and also Pioneer Concrete. Funding was used from the Japanese Cultural Centre and Garden Trust, which had been given $100,000 by Lachlan Industries, based here at Cowra. It is a wool top making plant.
COLHOUN: Actually, I’m just looking again at the leaflet that I got from the Japanese Garden. It was November 1986 stage two started, according to that information. Is that correct?
MOONEY: No, completed in 1986.
COLHOUN: They need a new editor, by the sound of it.
COLHOUN: Have you continued a contact with the Japanese Garden?
MOONEY: I continued. I was a director and committee member of the Japanese Garden and in 1989 I was elected to the position of Chairman. During that time, particularly in 1993, the Japanese Garden appointed the first full-time manager. I worked with the manager almost full-time. The board felt that it was appropriate in 1993 to revamp the whole operation of the garden, to upgrade the landscaping, the maintenance on the buildings, the promotion – so it was quite an enormous job. The Manager at the time, Steve…
COLHOUN: We just pause for a moment, now we continue again.
MOONEY: The first manager that we appointed was a very energetic and, you would almost say, hyperactive and in the process, the nine months that he was managing the garden, he transformed the garden and also increased the visitation back to the level of 70,000 because prior to that, and prior to our working together, visitation had dropped back to 45,000. It was also in 1993 that we took over from the Visitors Centre, the Sakura Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Festival. Do you want me to talk about that?
COLHOUN: Well, before we talk about that, I would like to touch on the name of Nagakura because Nagakura comes up, as I found driving around Cowra. The name Nagakura comes up frequently, even in the garden itself – one of the buildings, is it the Pottery Building?
MOONEY: Opened by Mr Nagakura, Senior…
COLHOUN: Then there was the Cherry Blossom Avenue, which is very extensive, has the name of Nagakura and partway along that there is a Nagakura Park. You must have had some contact with the Nagakura family in developing these things.
MOONEY: Saburo Nagakura was the Chairman of Kyushu Power Electric Company in Japan and a very influential person. He came to Cowra originally with Jim Millner. Jim Millner was the Chairman of Queensland Mines and Soul Pattinsons and they had interests in uranium mining and coal mining. Jim Millner had a brother at Cowra on a property. Apparently, Mr Nagakura and Mr Millner had been negotiating in Sydney over a contract for uranium and possibly coal. They had not been able to conclude that contract and Mr Millner offered to bring Mr Nagakura to Cowra, just for a break. Over the weekend Mr Nagakura was taken to the War Cemetery, to the Japanese and the Australian sections. Mr Nagakura was a former army officer based in Singapore during the war. He was so impressed with the care of the graves of the Australians and the Japanese he became particularly interested in Cowra and he wanted to assist in any way that he could. When the Japanese Garden was built he provided an Imari urn, a magnificent piece of pottery. I believe that he would also have been involved – he was involved – with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Keidanren. Mr Nagano, who at the time was the Chairman of Nippon Steel, officially opened the Japanese Garden in 1979. For those that understand Japan, it was like, we would say, the “old boys…”
MOONEY: The “old boys club”, that’s right, and I don’t think at the time that people realised just how influential and how successful Mr Nagakura was.
COLHOUN: There was a foundation created. Does that still exist?
MOONEY: Yes, it certainly does.
COLHOUN: What does it do now?
MOONEY: Well, before Mr Nagakura’s death, he provided funding and set up this foundation, which is now continued and chaired by his son, Seiji Nagakura. Kyushu Power Company provided substantial funding as well, and the foundation now commemorates the life of Saburo Nagakura. The Foundation provided the funding for Nagakura Park, which is a small park.
COLHOUN: It’s a picnic park, isn’t it?
MOONEY: A picnic area and it’s along the Cherry Tree Avenue way. The foundation also provided the funding for the cherry trees from the park down to the intersection with Evans Street. It is called Nagakura Walk.
COLHOUN: What distance would that be, about half-a-kilometre?
MOONEY: About half-a-kilometre, I would say, yes. The foundation has a number of very prominent directors in Japan and in Australia and it is ongoing, looking at other projects. They have expressed some interest in being involved in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the breakout here at Cowra, which will be held on 5 August 2004.
COLHOUN: That’s interesting, because from what I’ve been learning of this project, there is still a sensitivity amongst Japanese about the breakout and the prisoner-of-war camp, because we are all familiar with the bushido code of the time, which said that if Japanese military personnel were captured they became non-persons and the whole story develops from there. Yet, here is a very influential Japanese family wanting to get involved in the 60th anniversary of it. How do you read that?
MOONEY: Well, I think that the younger generation of Japanese, who weren’t taught anything about the war can now see in the future that their children need to understand, because unfortunately history has a habit of repeating itself, and without the education who knows, we could have a problem again. This is one way of overcoming it. A proposal that I have put to the Nagakura Foundation, which is just in discussion, it’s not a formal proposal at this stage, was that the Foundation provide some funding so that we can appoint young ambassadors from Japan and from Australia to be involved in the 60th anniversary commemoration. As I said, it’s really been an unofficial approach at this point of time, however, some interest has been expressed by the foundation.
COLHOUN: You mentioned the Cherry Blossom Festival. We just put that on the back burner for a moment, but having now introduced the origin of the Cherry Blossom Avenue, that made it possible for the festival. Were you involved in the beginning of that?
MOONEY: The original idea for an avenue of cherry trees came from a Japanese living in Sydney, Ken Takura. Ken’s idea was that the trees would lead from the cemetery to the Japanese Garden. Ken Nakajima, the designer of the garden, he could see that avenue of cherry trees lighting the way for the spirits of the dead Japanese from the cemetery to live in peace in the garden. It would be a symbolic avenue. Cherry Tree Avenue was first, I think the first trees were planted in 1988, and it was also a bicentenary project for Australia and Japan. In 1990 a Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival was organised by the Visitors Centre. It was only very small in scale. Ken Takura was involved in that and also myself and other directors of Cowra Tourism Development Corporation. By 1993 I could see the need to upgrade. We were starting to get Japanese, not only from Sydney but from Japan, wanting to come to the festival. With the appointment of the first Manager of the Japanese Garden in that year we were able to take over the Sakura Matsuri and develop a whole new programme. It was so successful that we had 2,000 people over that weekend, whereas in the past it had only been in the hundreds. We had five Japanese groups from Sydney come in and it built up into a tremendous event. But, it also gave the opportunity to get close and form Japanese friendships. We had formal dinners but we also had a luncheon on a Sunday which was fairly informal, in a marquee at the Japanese Gardens. There were so many activities – a steam train ride to Woodstock. The Japanese would leave Sydney early on a Saturday morning just to be here on time to get on the steam train to go to Woodstock, have lunch on the train, go to the Woodstock Pub, a typical little Australian country town, very small country town. The festival built up from 1993 – very successful. I understand it has now dropped off; the programme is not as it was. They are not getting the numbers, which I think is unfortunate. But we found that we were able to establish very close ties with the Embassy in Canberra, with the Consulate in Sydney, with the Japanese business people based in Sydney, and so much so that if we required assistance, support for particular projects, that it was there, because a degree of trust and friendship had been built up. It had a lot to do with Sakura Matsuri.
COLHOUN: One of the developments in those early days, which I think you had some contact with, was the establishment of the Japanese Cemetery, which of course was going a little bit before some of the things we have been talking about. But, I think you’ve had some contact with the architect of the Japanese War Cemetery.
MOONEY: I had no input into the establishment of it.
COLHOUN: You would have been a bit young, I think, at the time it started.
MOONEY: I was in the Air Force at the time and I think in 1964 I would have been 19 years of age, but in more recent years I met here in Cowra a Mr Yura, who was the Japanese architect who actually designed the Japanese War Cemetery here at Cowra. We have kept in touch, so much so that in 2001 he wrote to me and said that he was wanting to visit Cowra. I wrote back and suggested that he came at a particular time, which was to be the reburial of Japanese remains at the War Cemetery. He arranged, he came at that time, and he brought with him the original plans and other information in regard to his work on the War Cemetery. He has entrusted those plans with me and now, because of my involvement with the 60th anniversary commemoration, in 2004, I propose to invite Mr Yura to that commemoration and arrange for him to formally hand over the plans of the cemetery. It’s quite interesting because some of the plans are just on scrap paper. They are obviously his drafts and things. Then there is a more formal plan and also some press clippings from the day, from both Australian newspapers and the Japanese newspapers.
COLHOUN: That’s a valuable historic collection then.
MOONEY: I believe so, and if my proposal is accepted by Mr Yura the presentation will be made to Cowra Shire Council for appropriate display.
COLHOUN: We have been talking about cherry blossom trees, but you were personally involved in trees of a different kind going in the opposite direction, not Japan coming here, this was here, going to Japan. This was the development of a tree planting programme at Naoetsu, which was the site of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in which there were Australians during the Second World War, now incorporated in the city of Jōetsu. What is the story of that?
MOONEY: In 1986–1987 a chap named Jim Newling gave me a copy of an American Military Museum magazine. In that magazine was a story written by a Cowra man, Matt Clift. Matt Clift told of his imprisonment in Naoetsu prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. I was just fascinated by the story. He went on to write about an American aircraft that flew over the camp towards the end of the war and dropped a message saying “We’ll be back tomorrow with provisions.” The message was actually written on a small piece of parachute. Matt Clift had kept that message for all those years. Then, by chance, I think probably in the 1970s, 1980s, a former American military officer was visiting Cowra and Matt related the story to him and, in fact, when he returned to America he found, located the pilot of the American aircraft. The former pilot was now a Director of this military museum and hence the article in the magazine. I asked Jim Newling could he arrange for me to meet with Matt Clift? Matt was, in fact, an uncle of Jim’s wife. I went to see Matt up in Weeroona, which is the local nursing home, and Matt was really keen to talk about his experiences. He put me in touch with another Australian ex-prisoner of war in Sydney, Frank Hole. I went to Sydney to meet with Frank and discussed – I had an idea that I’d like to see some sort of memorial to the sixty Australians who died in Naoetsu Camp. Included in that sixty was one man from Cowra, Alan Healey, which made it more significant. On my next visit to Japan, and I was staying with Father Tony Glynn at Nara, I mentioned to Father Tony that…
COLHOUN: He was an Australian, of course.
MOONEY: An Australian Marist Priest, he’d been in Japan since the early 1950s. I spoke with Tony about the idea of a commemorative service and planting of Australian gum trees. Tony didn’t say a lot at the time but when I arrived back in Australia he wrote to me and he said “Look, I support you 110 per cent.” So, I returned to Japan again in February 1988, with Don Kibbler. Don at that time was working on the Cherry Tree Avenue project. I could give him some assistance, although not officially. So, Don and I went to Naoetsu. I had previously written to the Mayor, Mr Yueki, and Mr Yueki wrote back and he was most enthusiastic about my proposal. So, Don and I visited. We stayed overnight. We met with the Mayor. We looked around the town. We went to the campsite. The Mayor said that we wouldn’t be able to plant any trees on the campsite because it was privately owned land and, in fact, had been used as a coal dump as it was next to the river. When I returned to Australia I met with Frank Hole again and I arranged to take Frank back to Japan in May and Tony Glynn would conduct the commemoration service. We met with Tony Glynn at the Yokohama Commonwealth War Cemetery. Father Glynn, Tony, had organised a group of Buddhist priests from Nara. There were probably altogether thirty people at the War Cemetery in Yokohama. There was also Bishop Shinjun Fuji who had visited Cowra and was very interested in what had occurred here; also former Japanese prisoners of war. We then travelled by train to Naoetsu and conducted the ceremony adjacent to the campsite. We planted gum trees in front of the City Hall and presented a bronze plaque to the Mayor. The plaque commemorated the officer commanding the Australian prisoners of war there – Lieutenant Colonel Robertson. There was enormous publicity in Japan – both on television and the newspapers – about our visit. I returned to Australia and I received another letter from the Mayor, Mr Yueki. In his own words he said that he would find a place to concretely place the memorial plaque to Lieutenant Colonel Robertson. Apparently it was difficult to find something suitable, or a suitable area. Meanwhile, the local people had been prompted by our visit and the interest in it to form their own committee. It was a commemoration committee. They looked at ways and means of continuing the association with Australia and with Cowra. After a number of years the council were, in fact, able to purchase the campsite and a substantial sum of money was then spent on building a park to commemorate those sixty Australians. I have been back to Naoetsu since and it’s a very impressive memorial there. There are, in fact, angels on the top of stainless steel poles, probably sixty feet in the air, although as Frank Hole said to me, he didn’t recall any angels when he was there during the war. But, I would just like to mention Frank Hole again in that Frank was a very humble man and very forgiving. While he and I were at Naoetsu in 1988 a number of civilian Japanese came across and introduced themselves. One said that he was a former civilian guard. Frank shook hands with him and was happy to chat with him. When we walked away he said “Well, he must have been one of the better ones because the worst of them were hung.” It brought tears to my eyes. Look, I felt so insignificant, really, to be there with someone like Frank. Frank said “Look, I’ve forgiven.” He said “I can never forget it.” He told me some of the terrible things that did happen to him there and to the other Australians. But, I think it was an excellent conclusion. Since that time Cowra has formed an association with Naoetsu. Naoetsu have formed a Japan-Australia Society. They also have an association with St Raphael’s School here in Cowra and the Joetsu students visit and learn the history of the Cowra–Japan relationship. That happens on a regular basis.
COLHOUN: You didn’t attend the dedication or whatever it was of the monument when it was completed. Why was that? Was it because of the controversy that surrounded it or were there personal reasons that you just couldn’t go?
MOONEY: No, the controversy was not a problem to me. As a matter of fact, the controversy you speak of was the Japanese in the park in Joetsu wanting to also commemorate the former guards who had been hung for war crimes. However, my advice to the Japanese was to ensure that the two memorials were some distance apart, then there should not be a problem, however, any decision on that was left to the Australian Ex-POW Association. I could only suggest. I couldn’t impose my views on them because they were the ones that had been imprisoned there and suffered. I was happy to accept whatever decision that they made. But, I was pleased that the issue was resolved and all sides – both sides – were more than happy with the result.
COLHOUN: But still you were not there at the function, what happened?
MOONEY: No, I was invited by the Mayor of Joetsu and by the Ex-POW Association here in Sydney, but it clashed with Sakura Matsuri. At that time I was adviser to the Japanese Gardens and I had still the main role in organising Sakura Matsuri and the then Manager of the Japanese Garden, Libby Reid, said “Well, you can’t go. You have to stay to help me.” It was just unfortunate, the timing.
COLHOUN: You have mentioned the link between the students in Joetsu and Cowra, but there is another long-going exchange programme between the Cowra High School and Seikei which, I think, was probably the catalyst for you getting involved in or perhaps creating a Youth Forum.
MOONEY: Yes, the Youth Forum in 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and it takes me back to a conversation or a meeting that Don Kibbler and I had with the former Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Nakasone. My comment to Mr Nakasone was that “The future lies with the young people and we must educate those young people, both Australian and Japanese, to understand what happened in the war, the Second World War, so that history cannot repeat itself.” Mr Nakasone agreed with me. So, the idea stayed in my mind and the opportunity came in 1995. As I said, we had a full-time Manager of the Japanese Gardens. The garden was, in fact, run from the office in the garden itself, not ad hoc from the Visitors Centre. It was an excellent arrangement. I put forward to the Manager the idea of a Youth Forum and also that the Youth Forum would be a tribute to Father Tony Glynn, who had died not long before. I wrote to many people in Japan and the Manager of the Japanese Garden wrote to the schools throughout New South Wales and, in fact, we had over 300 students here on the day. It was an excellent programme, and after I retired from the Japanese Gardens there was one more Youth Forum, I think in 1996, and then it faded out, unfortunately. I believe it’s something that had a great future. However, there is an enormous amount of work in organising these things. I know from my point of view I always worked voluntarily and it is certainly the way that I wish to work but I guess that there is a limit to how much time you can devote to these things. But, I would like to see Youth Forum resurrected, as I would like to see the successful former Sakura Matsuri resurrected.
COLHOUN: You touch on this business of this almost a personal sacrifice, and Don Kibbler said much the same thing, and I guess others in Cowra would be able to do it, what was the satisfaction you got out of doing all of this? Why did you keep going?
MOONEY: One most important thing I think was the opportunity to understand another culture. We live in a small country town which, at times, can be constricting – local politics and other various – the thinking of other people can make your life a little bit narrow if you’re not careful. I just saw an opportunity to do something worthwhile, something that I was fascinated by, the opportunity to learn and understand the Japanese Garden and the reason behind the building of Japanese Gardens, the opportunity to work with Ken Nakajima, the designer of the Cowra Japanese Gardens, meeting with prime ministers – or the Prime Minister at the time – of the second greatest economy in the world. Each event led to more dedication.
COLHOUN: In 2001 you organised the National Conference of Australia–Japan Societies here in Cowra. That brought people involved in Australia–Japan societies from all States and Territories and also a number from Japan. Did you get some sort of feeling of satisfaction that you were able to show them all of these things that you had been involved in?
MOONEY: Well, yes, I certainly did and the conference – I had approached other organisations in Cowra to assist with organising the conference. However, from a financial point of view it just wasn’t a proposition, so I then approached the Cowra Shire Council and I had a meeting with the then General Manager, Neville Armstrong, and with the Mayor, Bruce Miller. They were very supportive and they offered the assistance of council. Neville Armstrong said that he would ask a number of his staff if one of them would be interested in doing the secretarial side of it for me. Neville’s secretary offered to do that, Nicky Coghlan. She did an excellent job. As a matter of fact, Neville at the time said to me “Are you going to have a committee?” I said “No, I don’t think I will. I think it will probably operate a lot better with the support of council and there wouldn’t be a need for a committee.” That’s how we did it. I was the Chairman but I did have this tremendous support from the Cowra Shire Council. Actually I couldn’t have organised it. They paid for any or all of the secretarial work and they provided a welcoming function in the new Art Gallery. So, the cooperation and the success was excellent. We had General Peter Phillips, who is the National President of the RSL, as our guest speaker. The conference also coincided with the anniversary of the breakout which was on 5 August 2001, the 47th anniversary.
COLHOUN: You’ve been going a long time. Are you going to keep going? Are you still involved in things?
MOONEY: I certainly intend to keep going. I still act as an adviser to the Nagakura Foundation. I’m a committee member of the National Federation of Australia–Japan Societies, a member of the 60th Anniversary Committee for the commemoration of the breakout of the Cowra prisoner-of-war camp and recently I had a phone call from a Japanese who works for the UN and he is researching a Zero pilot who was captured during the Pacific War and later died in the Cowra breakout in August 1944. This will be an interesting project for me as well and it’s ongoing. It will take some time to complete. I was quite thrilled to receive the phone call and had a lengthy discussion with this chap, whom I can’t remember his name. I had been recommended to him by the War Memorial in Canberra.
COLHOUN: So, you are going to keep going. What do you see as the future of the Australia–Japan relationship in Cowra.
MOONEY: In Cowra, well, I proposed – in November last year at Cairns at North Queensland we had a meeting of the Nagakura Foundation and the council representative at that meeting was Allan Thompson. I proposed to him that we should form a small group to better organise the Cowra–Japan relationship, with the idea of involving younger people so they can learn from people like myself, Don Kibbler and others who’ve been involved over many years, otherwise the Cowra–Japan relationship is not going to reach its potential. We have a number of young people – there is one young person on our 60th Anniversary Committee, a council employee. I believe that she would be excellent for this proposed group. However, Mr Thompson has not got back to me at this point of time and hopefully he is doing something positive about it because it needs a group to coordinate.
COLHOUN: Isn’t that why the Cowra–Japan Society was formed to act as a coordinating body?
MOONEY: To a degree, the Society was formed in 1987 and has been involved in a number of projects. However, back in the years when we had a full-time Manager of the Japanese Garden – the Japanese Garden Office and Manager was the coordination for almost all Japanese visits to Cowra, including visits by the Imperial Family, the current Emperor’s son and daughter who visited, and many other dignitaries and special events. However, now that there is no longer a manager, a full-time manager, and I understand the authority for the management of the garden is vested in the Visitors Centre again, so in some respects we have taken a step backwards. However, we can overcome that if council can see their way fit to form this group that I have proposed and I think that it’s important that we start to work together again as a team. There is more to achieve than to be divided.
COLHOUN: There is a lot to build on so we wish you very good luck for the future. Thank you very much, Tony.
The interview continues later that day.
COLHOUN: Tony, we touched on the Seikei Exchange Programme but I think you had some involvement in it and we didn’t really go back to talk about that.
MOONEY: My only involvement in Seikei was to arrange with Japan Airlines a discounted air fare for the Cowra student to travel to Japan and back. I had visited Seikei School a number of times during my trips to Japan, but apart from that I had no other involvement.
COLHOUN: Was that an ongoing arrangement with JAL or just a…
MOONEY: Yes, I understand it still occurs today.
COLHOUN: Did you ever have much contact with the students once they got here or to do with the selection of students to go away?
MOONEY: No, I had no connection with the selection, although, during the construction of stage two of the garden we involved the particular student at the time, Hiro, and he was most helpful because his English was very good and he was particularly interested in the project as well. I can recall Hiro Morinaga, he attended a number of receptions and various other meetings and we met with his parents in Japan and also visited his school and the teachers and the principal at various times. The Seikei parents were very supportive of the garden project. When they heard about the drought here back in the 1980s they actually made a donation to the garden.
COLHOUN: The matter of visiting Japan, you made a number of visits, didn’t you?
MOONEY: I’ve been to Japan probably a dozen times altogether, first in 1984 and the most recent in 2001.
COLHOUN: What was the reason for all these visits?
MOONEY: In 1984 neither Don Kibbler nor myself had been to Japan and we had considered a trip to the Greek Isles and hiring a yacht and floating around. However, I suggested we go to Japan because we seemed to be getting more and more involved in respect of the Japanese Garden and the Cowra–Japan relationship and meeting with many Japanese groups who were visiting Cowra.
COLHOUN: That was one visit. What about the other…
MOONEY: The second visit was in relation to stage two of the garden and a follow up meeting with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which I mentioned earlier was extremely generous to construction and maintenance in stage two. Also, the second visit was with Don Kibbler and Ab Oliver and myself and a meeting was arranged with the Prime Minister, Mr Nakasone, who was also very supportive.
COLHOUN: Did he seem to know much about Cowra? Was he well briefed?
MOONEY: Well, he did. He had certainly been well briefed and some, possibly 12 months before, he had visited Australia along with another leading Japanese politician, Michio Watanabe, who later became Deputy Prime Minister. They were unable to visit Cowra. However, they went from Australia to New Zealand and Mr Watanabe sent his two secretaries back to Cowra and they apologised that there was not sufficient time to visit Cowra on that particular trip. We didn’t realise at the time these two young fellows – they were fairly shy, but I took them out to the farm and showed them some shearing and we had a barbecue at Don Kibbler’s place. We didn’t realise just how influential their father was – that’s Michio Watanabe – who we learnt later was the Liberal Democratic Party’s Secretary and, as Father Tony Glynn told us “Michio is not Prime Minister but he makes them.”
COLHOUN: Not many people would go to Japan and have the opportunity of meeting the Prime Minister. So, you were in a pretty high level there.
MOONEY: Well, it seems that way and it went back to a Mr Kagita, who was the Member of Parliament from Nara and was a very close friend of Father Tony Glynn’s. He was in the same faction as Nakasone. Coupled with the reciprocal hospitality – we treated these two young fellows, the secretaries of Watanabe as guests in Cowra and not expecting the sort of return that we got. The day that we met with the Prime Minister, Marekuni Takahara also attended that meeting. It was in the Prime Minister’s private residence. Marekuni Takahara was a prisoner of war here at Cowra. He’d been a navigator on a flying boat that crash landed in Melville Island. He survived the breakout and even today he said that he was born in Cowra, he went to Cowra University. Takahara was extremely proud on the day we met with the Prime Minister of Japan, seeing that Mr Nakasone was a former Navy man and we were also privileged I believe. I’ve never met the Australian Prime Minister, but I certainly felt privileged that day. That evening we were invited to dinner by Michio Watanabe who, at that time, was the Minister for Trade and Industry. It was just our small group with his two secretaries – one who turned out to be his son and, I believe, has taken over his father’s position in the Parliament. So, we certainly were being entertained by extremely influential people.
COLHOUN: Was it just a social visit to the Prime Minister?
MOONEY: Well, it was an official visit, very formal – and he was certainly well-versed on Cowra. It lasted I think approximately ten minutes.
COLHOUN: What from your memory was most important about Cowra to him?
MOONEY: I think it was the understanding that the Cowra people had looked after the graves of the Japanese and also he well knew the story of the Japanese sailors whose remains had been returned after the raid on Sydney Harbour. So, he was well disposed towards Australia. At the time his daughter was living in Melbourne. That wasn’t well known, obviously. It was something that was kept pretty quiet. But, we subsequently met Mr Nakasone after he stood down as Prime Minister and he assisted with the Cherry Tree Avenue. He made quite a substantial donation and continued his support of that project. I believe Mr Nakasone is still in the Parliament and I’m sure that if we were to contact him…
COLHOUN: He would still be a friend of Cowra’s?
MOONEY: He would still be there to help, yes.
COLHOUN: The other thing I wanted to touch on with you was a sort of a side involvement but a very important one you had in relation to the Peace Bell.
MOONEY: In May of 1988 I, as I said previously, had travelled to Japan to visit Naoetsu for the commemoration service but while I was in Tokyo I contacted Mr Yoshida of the World Peace Bell Association and we arranged a meeting, which was in the New South Wales Government Office and Geoff Walker, who was a Commissioner at the time, acted as interpreter. Mr Yoshida. Mr Yoshida was quite adamant that he wanted the Peace Bell to be sited in Martin Place in Sydney. I put to him that that would be quite difficult to achieve and that Cowra was, I considered, an appropriate place for it. But, I was aware that the Peace Bell Association had offered the bell to the Australian Government and the Australian Government had made the decision that Cowra was the best place for placing the bell. I felt at the time that Mr Yoshida had wanted me to say that Cowra did not want the bell, which would then have allowed him to pursue his dream of Martin Place. However, when we look back on it, it’s been ideal to be in Cowra and it’s certainly an attraction.
COLHOUN: What was the problem about Martin Place?
MOONEY: I think that it was not my place certainly to make an approach for Martin Place. I was pushing for Cowra.
COLHOUN: I see.
MOONEY: But, Martin Place – there are not too many monuments in Martin Place and I couldn’t see that the trustees, custodians of Martin Place, would be so keen to have too many other monuments.
COLHOUN: Did he have any other part of Australia or any other city in Australia in mind?
MOONEY: He didn’t mention anything else at all, no, it was just Martin Place.
COLHOUN: How did you get involved in this? Why did you get in touch with him?
MOONEY: Well, the Peace Bell was first mentioned in Cowra when someone from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra visited the Japanese Garden. They said to one of the staff members that this Peace Bell had been offered to Australia and the feeling was that the Government would like it to be placed in Cowra and this information was relayed to Rod Blume who later became the Mayor of Cowra. He pursued it. He wrote a number of letters to the Australian Government and to the Peace Bell Association in Japan and when I was going to Japan in 1988 I had said to Rod that I could make contact with the Peace Bell Association. He thought that was an excellent idea and from memory I think he gave me a letter introducing myself. Consequently, after meeting with Mr Yoshida I rang Rod Blume in his office at the time – he was a solicitor here in Cowra – and I informed him of the meeting and some difficulties I felt in regard to the Peace Bell and the siting of it. Rod said “Well, we’ll let it go then. We won’t bother.” I said “No, no, we’ll just dig our heels in and keep working on it.” Rod did that and it was really the work of Rod Blume that initially brought the Peace Bell here to Cowra. There is no question about that.
COLHOUN: Do you think Mr Yoshida came around to your point of view that Cowra was the right place for the Peace Bell?
MOONEY: I think so and, of course, prior to that he wouldn’t have known much about Cowra. To this day he’s not yet visited. He’s indicated a number of times he was going to come. His organisation has been here and various members, but we would still like to have Mr Yoshida visit Cowra and see the Peace Bell.
COLHOUN: Just to wind up this discussion, through the many years that you’ve been involved in the various activities we’ve talked about, you have obviously seen a good deal of change in the relationship – an expansion of it, a growth of it, but it’s now sixty years since the breakout. You are on the breakout commemoration committee, and no doubt you’re thinking about how you’re going to celebrate next year, the 60th anniversary, I say next year, we’re talking about 2004, where do you see the relationship going from now on? Is it going to change? A lot of people have forgotten.
MOONEY: That’s why the history is important. That’s why this project is very important and I’m extremely pleased that you, Terry, have taken on this project and you’ve shown that you were the right person for the job, but the direction for the Cowra–Japan relationship is obviously to involve the young people. I touched on this earlier in our interview today.
COLHOUN: Yes, you did, and would you think that the youth exchange is a key to that, or other things that they’ve got to get involved in?
MOONEY: Youth exchange is important but it’s only one student each year and our former Seikei exchange students generally go off to university. We lose them to Cowra, unfortunately. That’s why we have to look at and encourage young people who are essentially permanently in Cowra, so all that knowledge and the contacts are not lost. As I mentioned earlier, in regard to the meeting in Cairns and the Nagakura Foundation, that Councillor Allan Thompson said that he would bring up the idea of a group to coordinate Japanese visits and the Cowra–Japan relationship and he would bring that up at the February meeting of council but I’ve still not heard anything, so I’ll have to get in touch with Allan Thompson and just remind him, because I just believe that it’s so important. There are so few people in Cowra that have had the opportunity to have the experience that I’ve had and gain the knowledge that I have. There are certainly many people that are interested, but there is some leadership needed, and take advantage of the opportunities that are presenting, say, from Don Kibbler and myself and others so that the younger generation move forward with it. I was 35 years of age when I first became involved but now I’m 57 and the young people don’t seem to be following on, unfortunately. I think that’s a lot to do with the way it’s being handled at the present time. I think we can do better. There’s no question about it, and particularly with things like Sakura Matsuri and other cultural and social events. We need to be more active and we need to maintain contact. The Japanese population of Sydney, particularly the business people, are changing every two to three years. It’s quite a big job just to keep up with who’s who down there.
COLHOUN: The same could be said of the Embassy. They change – all diplomats, all countries – change regularly.
MOONEY: Yes, so you can very quickly lose the contact and that’s why it’s important I think to have a coordinating group.
Transcribed by WRITEpeople, May 2003
The transcripts of interviews published on this website have been lightly edited, principally on stylistic grounds. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. Tapes of the original interviews are held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.
Printed on 05/23/2022 09:44:56 AM