Australia–Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
Councillor Bruce Miller as the Mayor of Cowra, 1994–
Interviewed by Terry Colhoun at Cowra, New South Wales, on 17 March 2003 (AWM S03077)
TERRY COLHOUN: Mr Mayor, first of all, thank you very much for giving time to participate in this project, which we hope will be of value to the Cowra–Japan relationship.
BRUCE MILLER: You are most welcome, Terry. I’m happy to be of any assistance that I possibly can be.
COLHOUN: Thank you. How do you see the importance of the Japan connection with Cowra?
MILLER: I think it’s been evolving over fifty-odd years, obviously. It started in quite tragic circumstances, during the Second World War, the breakout and all of that, of course, but then the wonderful example that’s been set by the Returned Service personnel initially in looking after the War Graves and then what has developed from there which is breaking down a lot of the barriers, a lot of the mistrust that sort of resulted from the experiences during the Second World War. I think we have played quite a significant role in reconciliation, not only with Cowra and Japan but Australia and Japan.
COLHOUN: There, of course, have been changes over that period, haven’t there?
MILLER: Yes, there has. There’s been some huge changes in that, as I say, it sort of evolved from that very tragic time. But there has been a lot of positives come out of it since that, in that we have been able to establish student exchanges, which are very significant. We are able to educate the young – the younger generations – of, firstly, the horrors of that time but certainly the need to acknowledge and understand each other’s cultures. I think that that is very important and perhaps has been the most significant role we have played in all of this.
COLHOUN: When the Japanese Ambassador was here, perhaps a little over a year ago, he spoke publicly of the special relationship and virtually he said that Cowra was the heart of the Australia–Japan relationship. Do you feel that?
MILLER: I think that and I think that certainly the Japanese have demonstrated that by the regular visits we not only get from the Embassy and the different ambassadors that take up their postings here, many of whom have visited Cowra prior to presenting their credentials to our Prime Minister. But also with the visits from the Royal Family from time to time and I think as far as that is concerned that really does demonstrate how much importance the Japanese place on the relationship.
COLHOUN: As you said, the relationship began in tragic circumstances and there is still in Japan a good deal of sensitivity about prisoners of war, has this overshadowed the relationship, do you think?
MILLER: I don’t think it’s overshadowed it. It’s certainly made us very aware of what we can and cannot do as far as – we’ve always had to tread very carefully and trying to understand the Japanese culture in not promoting but trying to acknowledge what did go on here and how far we have come since that time and how to promote that, if you like, to a wider community so that we can educate the kids of both cultures. That’s been a challenge that we’ve grappled with, certainly since the end of the Second World War. But, I think that we’re doing it better because we have concentrated in many ways on educating the kids. There has been a groundswell in the last few years of visitation from different colleges from Japan and bringing hundreds of kids at a time. I think that’s certainly demonstrated a willingness from them to finally learn about it. I think that from our point of view we’ve been simply amazed in the past about how little they do know about the Second World War and that’s why I think that we need to play that very important role in educating them.
COLHOUN: What is it that Japanese tourists are mostly interested in when they come to Cowra?
MILLER: Well, obviously they wish to firstly visit the cemetery. They go and pay their respects at the cemetery. Many of them – if they know any of the history at all it’s a very sketchy history. So, they are very keen to speak to the locals that might be able to give them a better understanding of what did take place there. Then, of course, they are simply amazed at what has been able to be accomplished here with the Japanese Garden and the Sakura Matsuri Park and different things that the Japanese have contributed to over the years. I think they are very pleased to discover those when they get here but very few of them know about it until they do get here. I guess having said how important the relationship is from time to time we are a little bit disappointed in the actual numbers of Japanese that we do get here, particularly tourist numbers. We certainly from time to time, as I say, get quite a lot of school kids but as far as being a tourist destination as such we are not that, I don’t think. I think it’s more like a pilgrimage, that the people who come here have either studied up and are very keen to come back here to see what happened on the ground, I suppose. As I say, the bulk of them are really kids coming out being educated.
COLHOUN: Cowra has never established a sister city relationship as many other Australian towns and cities have done. I understand there’s a reason for that.
MILLER: There is. We have actually been approached many, many times as you may imagine to link up with a city or a province, or whatever, in Japan, but we have always been advised by either the ambassadors or the Japanese Government that perhaps the special relationship that we do hold within the Japanese psyche, I suppose, as far as what happened here and what we’ve done since that, is that we’ve really almost got a sister-city relationship with all of Japan. It would endanger that, I suppose. I tend to agree with that. I think that while we’ve certainly got a friendship agreement with Joetsu because they had a prisoner-of-war camp there and they’ve established a peace park, so we do have a friendship agreement with them, but certainly there’s never been any real attempt I think to establish a formal sister city relationship with any city in Japan.
COLHOUN: Well, it’s almost 60 years since the breakout and so the relationship, although it’s been changing over the years, is sort of reaching a point where it is almost two generations past those who were immediately involved. This must, I suppose, have some effect on how Cowra looks at this whole situation. Do you see it changing? What do you think has to be done to keep it alive?
MILLER: I think it’s certainly evolving, but I think it’s more alive now than it was perhaps 15 or 20 years ago. There is an awakening within Australia, I believe, of our history, not only the Japanese connection here in Cowra but right across Australia and looking at – while we are saying we are this very young, developing country in terms of white settlement we do have a lot of history in that very short time and of course we have a much longer history if you look at Aboriginal settlement. I think there is a real awakening to that now, and so perhaps the interest in the Cowra–Japan relationship is perhaps more important and more interesting now. I think it’s being touched on in the schools more now than it perhaps has at any time in the past.
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 07/18/2018 04:27:14 PM