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Cowra–Japan conversations
Graeme Drew as President of the Cowra Tourist and Development Corporation, 1968, 1975–1979
Interviewed by Terry Colhoun at Cowra, New South Wales, on 19 March 2003 (AWM S03086)
TERRY COLHOUN: Mr Drew, you were, going back into history almost, for a period, the President of the Cowra Tourist and Development Corporation, and I think you were the first person to hold that office. What was its function? Why was it formed?

GRAEME DREW: We were a very close-knit community and the business people wanted to work with the council on a number of projects because it was realised that the council on its own was not large enough to have the human resources that were available and the business people felt that they wanted to make a contribution to the development of tourism and the development of industry. In those days we did not have an abattoir, we didn’t have an old people’s home. We didn’t have a wool top industry and we could see that those opportunities were there and many of us, of course, also thought that we would be able to develop a relationship with Japan. So, the corporation was formed with delegates from the business community and delegates from the Cowra Council.
COLHOUN: What was your personal background that brought you into this job?

DREW: I was President of the Chamber of Commerce at the time and the Chamber of Commerce wished to drive it but we did not want to have the Chamber of Commerce directly as itself combined into this new organisation, so we took the best people from both bodies and that was how I came to be involved.
COLHOUN: You said that some of you had thoughts about some further links with Japan. What sorts of things were you thinking about?

DREW: Well, there were people, as I’m sure you’ve discovered in being around Cowra, who had ideas of the cultural relationship. They understood, because of their work with the War Cemetery, that they had a belief that there was more to learn from the Japanese than the experience that we had had with the prisoner-of-war camp, but other people, such as myself, were probably looking for things like the wool top in the expectation that it would help the town grow and therefore help our businesses and help the community to keep people living in Cowra. Now, that has happened to a degree, perhaps not as far advanced as we thought, but certainly tourist-wise the corporation has achieved huge strides. In actual fact, the corporation was one of the very first organisations to be associated with the early development of the wine industry in Cowra which, as you would know, today is a very large and booming industry in this district.
COLHOUN: It would have been during your time as President of the Corporation that the idea of a Japanese garden came forward. What can you tell us about that?

DREW: Well, it didn’t actually come forward when I was the President. It came forward when Don Kibbler was the President. I was President twice and the first time the Japanese garden was not a concept, but then in January 1973 when Don Kibbler was President there was a motion passed that the board – “That the Tourist Sub-committee prepare a case for a submission to council regarding the creation of a Japanese garden complex in the area adjacent to the Cowra Municipal Baths.” In actual fact it never was built there for a variety of reasons because it was found that that area was too small and I could go into some detail as to how it got to where it is today. While we’re on the subject of Mr Kibbler, we might be able to put in that there was a second key motion passed when he was President again at a later date, because this position seemed to go around a bit, but on 18 June 1984 the second motion read “That the Corporation seek funds for the building of stage two of the garden.” So, it was Don Kibbler who was actually there at the inauguration of both stages. I was President when the garden was actually built. That was also for the second time and it wasn’t a thing that just flowed naturally, but in 1975 there was a Japanese Garden Committee formed, of which Mr Neville Armstrong was the Chairman, and the Mayor was on the committee, and the motion to proceed was when Ab Oliver was Chairman of the Japanese Garden Committee. You might just pick that there’s two organisations – there is the Tourist and Development Corporation, and we had a number of committees – the Tourism Committee, an Industrial Committee and a Japanese Garden Committee. On 18 April 1977 there was a motion passed to proceed with the building. There was a certain amount of concern about funding but by that stage that had been resolved. So, that was my involvement at that stage.
COLHOUN: I understand that it didn’t have total support in the community when the idea came forward because there were some people who felt that the money that might be spent on the garden should go to things like roads, bridges and so on, which is quite understandable. Within your committee was it hard to get support for this idea, to get it going and keep it moving?

DREW: No, I wouldn’t say it was hard. In answer to your first point, yes, there was some resistance because, if you think about it, 1975, 1973, was a lot closer to 1945 and there were people alive then who had very unhappy memories. But, no, there were always enough far sighted people who believed it could happen and were prepared to work at it, but it certainly wasn’t easy. It was a case of whenever you were looking to secure funding, when you are trying to work in a country that has three levels of government, we had to have the State Government on side, the Federal Government on side and the municipality. We never ever asked the municipality for a grant and we never received one. They did give us a loan. But, I think if anyone knows about it they know that governments don’t work like that, that they devote a certain amount of money for cultural things and they devote a certain amount for roads and never the twain shall meet. If you don’t use the cultural money there’s no way in the world that the roads man is going to get it. We never felt that we were taking money from other areas. We just knew that it was only going to be spent on tourism, because that’s where the grant came from, from the State. It was going to be spent on tourism somewhere, so we thought we had a very good case and, as far as the Federal Government was concerned, it came from the Department of Foreign Affairs and I would think it was in a part of their budget that wanted to develop a relationship between Australia and Japan.
COLHOUN: I have learned in developing this project that the Japanese gave quite generously to the project.

DREW: Yes, they did and without the Japanese money I’m quite confident that the project would never have been a success. There was one man who was pivotal to the building of the garden, and that was Mr Yoshio Okawara who was the Ambassador in Canberra at that time. Ab Oliver, Gordon Austin, Mrs Bennett and myself went across there on two occasions and he put a lot of thought into this and I would have to say that I’m not one that subscribes to the view that any one person was responsible for most important things, but certainly I would say that it would not have been built in the form that it is in today, in such a large scale and so recognised by the Japanese Government, the New South Wales Government and the Australian Government, if it hadn’t been for Mr Okawara, because the idea appealed to him because of the relationship with the War Cemetery and he had a good relationship with Mr Nagano, the President of the Japan Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo. It was from there that the key Japanese money came. You see, there was $125,000 came from the Japan Chamber of Commerce. Once they gave that the people in Australia obviously felt that the Japanese wanted it and so that brought them on side. Then the Japanese Government, through the Japan World Exposition Fund, granted $75,000. You can see that there is at least, of the $385,000 in the early stages there is $200,000 straight away from the Japanese, so they gave over half. The Australia–Japan Foundation gave $2,500 and, again, it was only that the Ambassador supported it, but then not only did those Government instrumentalities give money but the major Japanese companies – he only had to make a few phone calls and Sony and people like that came on board straight away. So, to me, Mr Okawara was the key Australia–Japan mover.
COLHOUN: I’ve been talking to a number of people about the Japanese Garden, but I can’t think that anybody has given me a figure of what the garden finally cost, when people like yourself can say “Yes, now it’s finished.” Do you know?

DREW: Yes, it was a fraction over $1,000,000. Stage one was $401,289 and stage two was $691,595, so that’s $1,092,000. I have no doubt that someone could go away and vary that by $100 or something but those are the figures that I’ve got and I believe them to be correct. Obviously, that’s not maintenance or anything. That’s just to build, and that was in, the first stage was completed in November 1978 and we had this inauguration day because there was a possibility that Mr Okawara was going to be transferred to America and we wanted to have the inauguration…
COLHOUN: Which, in fact, is what happened.

DREW: But he was, in the end, still here for the opening.
COLHOUN: He was here for the opening.

DREW: He was here for the opening, you see, and so that was why we had two days, and also the Deputy Prime Minister of that day, Doug Anthony, was available to attend and he had a good close relationship with Mr Okawara, so we were fortunate on that inauguration day of having His Excellency there with Doug Anthony and the New South Wales Minister at that time was the Honourable Jack Hallam. So, to 1979 it had cost $401,000. So, you can see the second stage was actually more expensive than the first, but again it was never envisaged that the second stage would be built so soon. But, Don Kibbler again was the prime mover in getting additional funding. He went to Japan. In the second stage the Tokyo Metropolitan Government gave $271,857. The Japan World Exposition Fund gave $287,438. The New South Wales Government gave $52,000. The New South Wales Government Tourist Commission gave $25,000, so that’s how the $678,000 came. As you can see, the strong Japanese support for this project followed on from the efforts of Mr Okawara who, by that stage, had moved further up the diplomatic ladder. I’m quite sure he would have spoken on behalf of Mr Kibbler when they went to build stage two.
COLHOUN: I wonder why the Japanese took this on board so enthusiastically. Certainly they would be influenced by Ambassador Okawara, but these are hard-headed businessmen and Cowra is, with respect, a small country town with a special connection to Japan, but have you ever wondered yourself why the Japanese were so enthusiastic about building the garden?

DREW: Well, I’ve always accepted, without I must admit going into it very deeply, but how I came to be involved in the second stage – in the actual building of it – was I was asked to be President for a second time. At that stage, a lot of preliminary work had been done with efforts to build the garden in another site in town and it was just put in front of me and I was told to build it. So, I didn’t have time to give it a lot of thought. I think that the answer to your question is in the very first page of our document that we had for the inauguration on 12 November 1978. I will just read it, and this is verbatim, because a lot of thought went into printing this document, because, Terry, I’m sure you can see, it’s a pretty simple inexpensive document but we had a very, very, as Mr Nakajima used to say, “Your budget is very difficult, Mr Drew, very difficult.” So, we didn’t have money to spend on glossy paper, as you can see. So, I’ll just read it:

“History of the Project – For many years Cowra has enjoyed a very happy relationship with Japan which began through the Japanese outbreak from the prisoner-of-war camp at Cowra in 1944 when 232 Japanese prisoners of war and five Australian soldiers were killed.”

To my knowledge, it all goes back to that.

“Following the cessation of hostilities the members of the Cowra Sub-branch of the Returned & Services League visited the Australian War Cemetery at regular intervals to care for the graves of their comrades and in 1948 they decided that they should forget the past and also assume responsibility for the care and maintenance of the Japanese section of the cemetery in conjunction with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”

As explained again tonight, that fact was very important to the Japanese. I’ve always known that fact, but it certainly hadn’t impacted on me as much as it should have.

“In 1960 the Japanese Government were considering the repatriation of their war dead to Japan but were so impressed with the attitude of the RSL members and the friendship of the Cowra people which had always been extended to the Japanese officials who visited the War Cemetery that the Government decided to establish one War Cemetery in Australia to bring all their war dead from other parts of Australia to be reburied at Cowra making a total of 522 Japanese in the cemetery.

Now, I think I can explain why the people were always treated courteously and made to feel welcome was that Mr Ab Oliver, who was Mayor on at least two occasions, and who was on the council for many years and was a prominent business person in Cowra, and he was a returned serviceman, he was instrumental in seeing that the proper courtesies were always extended to the Japanese and he is just that sort of a man. I think we were very fortunate in having on the one hand a Mayor like Mr Ab Oliver and an Ambassador like Ambassador Okawara.
COLHOUN: It was really for a small town a tremendous project, wasn’t it? To build this and spend $1,000,000, which was worth much more then than it is now…

DREW: It was huge.
COLHOUN: Have you ever looked back and said “By golly, that was a big project we took on?”

DREW: Yes, but once we got to commitment of money it never seemed – all we had to do was live within the budget. I don’t know whether other people have told you about the various local trades people that were involved?
COLHOUN: I don’t think that anybody has particularly mentioned…

DREW: Well, you see, I was president and it never seemed huge to me. We delegated, I delegated, jobs were still up, and the Japanese Garden Committee used to meet every week and Ab Oliver was a very precise man and things never got away from us. We had to report to Council at least every two months on how we were administering their loan money. We always had people that we were able to bring on board when we needed help and we had a very good local accountant by the name of John Bailey on the committee. There were various business people, such as Malcolm Langfield, the principal of TAFE, a Mr Col Hitchins. By that stage also the Cowra Shire, because the shire in those days was separate from the municipality, they had a representative. So, whilst we didn’t have a lot of Cowra money, as such, in it, we certainly had a big involvement of Cowra talent. We felt that the corporation had a lot at stake. It was its first project of that size and it is still run by the Tourist Corporation. So, the people on the board felt a need to make a success of it. I never felt that it was overwhelming, but the people that were working, local people, many of them are still alive. There was Clem Watmore was the electrician. We had John LeMessurier as the plumber, John Hoile is still here, a local nurseryman who received the grant from one of the Japan Societies to travel to Tokyo to learn first hand about how the plants should be cared for after Mr Nakajima and his sons came out and placed everything. There was a builder by the name of Alfie Rose. He had the contract for building the Cultural Centre. He became known to all the workmen as “Tokyo Rose”. There was a John Favre, an architect from what was then known as the College of Advanced Education at Canberra. The building up there that you see today was designed by a Japanese firm of architects but we had to get a local person obviously to administer the building of it and see that everything was in its right place and John Favre was a great help. In conjunction with these people, such as Norm Gavin, Fred Core, it never seemed – you would go to them and say “Well, what are we going to do about getting rocks?” “Oh, well, we’ll do this.” Now, with Mr Nakajima, whilst you might go up there and say “Those rocks all came from up there” but they didn’t all come from up there. Mr Nakajima went away and selected a lot of rocks. I suppose, as far as the building of the garden goes, the most amazing thing to me was, you are familiar, I’ve no doubt, with the waterfall and the water runs down.

DREW: Well, all of those rocks – the whole thing was constructed; it wasn’t just there – and the rocks were placed with a crane. Mr Nakajima came. He didn’t stay here the whole time, he sent his son back out. But, for the placing of the rocks in the waterfalls he supervised that personally. When the water was turned on for the first time I said “Well, this is going to be a big job because they’ll all have to be replaced now.” He only had to move one rock in the whole thing and the water flowed exactly as you see it today. So, we were very fortunate in having – again, you see the Japanese people were so supportive that they had selected this man. We had to fund his work through their grants, but they said “This is our best Japanese garden designer. This is the man we want you to have.”
COLHOUN: When you walk through the garden now, and it’s looking very good at the moment, how do you feel about what you did, and what others obviously did, in creating it?

DREW: I’m personally very pleased that I was involved. It is something that one could have an opportunity to put together the people that were responsible for building something that’s going to be there forever, one would assume, and that is such a focal point for Cowra today. So, yes, I am very pleased that the people that were there at the time were able to create what they did.
COLHOUN: Thank you, Mr Drew, for participating in the project – a very valuable contribution.

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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.

YURA Shigeru
Keiko Tamura
Oliver & Telfer
Cyril Treasure
Telfer & Cowley
Gary Beck
Bruce Miller
Steve & Chris Kawamata
Don Kibbler
Graeme Drew
Robert Griffiths
Catherine Bennett
Barbara Bennett
Tony Mooney
Neville Armstrong
Don Kibbler (2)
Jan Munday
Harold & Dale Starr
Graham Stewart
David Hobson
Lawrance Ryan (1)
Lawrance Ryan (2)
Lucy Tasker
William Crews

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