Australia–Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
Harold Starr as Secretary of the Cowra Breakout Association, 2003 and his daughter Dale Starr
Interviewed by Terry Colhoun at Cowra, New South Wales, on 19 March 2003 (AWM S030086)
TERRY COLHOUN: While we were planning this project sadly we heard that one of the persons we wished to interview, Mrs Marion Starr, had died. Now she was a very significant person in more recent years in developing a better understanding between Japan and Cowra. It would be quite wrong if we did not acknowledge this in some way in the project. It seems the best way to do it is to talk to her husband, Harold, and one of their daughters, Dale, so that we can learn a little of why Marion Starr is so well recognised in Cowra for her work. Now, whichever one of you would like to start this, but the first question I would like to ask is why was Marion so interested in doing this work for Cowra–Japan relations? Who wants to start? Dale?
DALE STARR: When she was born she was actually delivered by her Great-aunt, Madeleine Cook, at Tuena in New South Wales, and when the Cowra breakout happened one of the four Australian men soldiers that was killed in the breakout was Ralph Jones who was engaged to Great-aunt Madeleine, and when the breakout happened, as part of the war, a lot of it was hushed up or not told or whatever and I think she wanted to make sure that due recognition…
COLHOUN: That people knew more about what happened?
DALE STARR: Yes, not just that these men were killed but there were no medals given, people didn’t even know about it so I think she just wanted to make sure that because of her family connection with Aunt Madeleine that the true story was told.
COLHOUN: I think eventually these four soldiers were decorated, weren’t they?
DALE STARR: Yes, I think he’s got that – George Cross?
COLHOUN: One or two of them got the George Cross. I’m not sure, but I’m aware that they were recognised, but in the meantime your mother found a practical outlet for this in the Breakout Association and she became the Secretary. How did you see this, Harold? You were busy running the farm, I suppose, but you were sitting there alongside your wife while she was getting involved in this. How did you feel about it?
HAROLD STARR: I thought it was a great thing. What she did for reconciliation between the nations – Australia and Japan – after the war and that. The amount of tourists she has attracted into the area, people, and to talk to them and that, and helping people get to understand one another. I think it is a terrific thing.
COLHOUN: I understand that when she became Secretary the Breakout Association grew in membership and also in its activities.
DALE STARR: Yes, ever since, it would have to be 1991 or 1992 or 1993, but certainly after the 50th anniversary in 1994 every year for the commemoration of the breakout on 5 August she would plan – she would send out newsletters to people and they would have badges made and there would be a Dawn Service. There would be breakfast I think at the RSL Club, then there would be a dinner. There would be displays of things. She would invite – I think every year she would invite people like John Howard and people like that – not that they would come, but they would send an inability to accept.
COLHOUN: They would know about it.
DALE STARR: Yes, she would put things in the paper about it. I think, was it last year, they did a bus tour of the district. I think they went to Canowindra and toured the Fossil Site and different – did you go to the Soldiers Flat Memorial, or out there somewhere, out at Billimari?
HAROLD STARR: Yes.
DALE STARR: And then the Doncaster Memorial on the Canowindra Road and they stopped for lunch somewhere.
COLHOUN: Doncaster, of course, was one of the soldiers who died.
DALE STARR: Yes, one of the other Australian soldiers that was killed in the breakout.
COLHOUN: And the Dawn Service as I understand it was actually staged because the breakout occurred in the morning. It was about 5.30 I think, something like that, anyway, early in the morning.
HAROLD STARR: 2 am.
COLHOUN: 2 am, yes, that’s right, 2 am, and then it continued into the morning. Yes, she was extremely active in promoting this and I guess most of the people that she would be initially in contact with would be the families of the Australian soldiers who were on duty, because there was quite a big body of them on guard.
DALE STARR: Yes, that was one of the main increases I think in the membership of the Breakout Association, finding these people – basically just through publicising events and I remember when I was working in Sydney she would ring and say “Oh, I’m being interviewed on 2KY at 11.30 in the morning.” That might have even been the 50th anniversary. I can’t quite remember. It was a few years ago. But just through publicising things and people would write to her and say “I was such-and-such. I was the” – what was I reading the other day – just all the little bits and pieces of different connections of people, through word of mouth, or however people saw, then they would get in touch with her.
COLHOUN: I was surprised, I was here a couple of years ago at the time of the breakout and I met some association members at the Peace Bell and was surprised talking to them. They had come from interstate and one chap said he’d been a guard, and so on. They are getting on in years now, some of these people, but they seem to want to come back and meet again with the people who’d been associated with it.
HAROLD STARR: One old bloke used to come down from Rockhampton and he was well into his eighties, he hadn’t been down for the last couple of years. He would ring up every year and apologise, he couldn’t make it. There’s been two or three different families coming for years from South Australia and Victoria. One time some came from Tasmania. It’s amazing. They’re people – seem to be still a good crowd turn up, even with the relations that turn up and that. The old Queensland bloke wouldn’t tell us though. He had this secret information and he come down for years and he wouldn’t tell us why they bend the bananas one way.
DALE STARR: Oh, Dad.
COLHOUN: Is that right? It sounds like he had a good sense of humour.
DALE STARR: He did.
COLHOUN: Queenslanders do, as a general rule. I wonder, did your mother ever express any feeling about the appearance of the campsite as it is now and how it’s looked after? Did she ever take an interest in that side of things?
HAROLD STARR: Particularly in the monuments out in the cemetery and that, she would make sure special wreaths were put on them every year.
COLHOUN: That’s in the Japanese War Cemetery?
HAROLD STARR: Yes, the Japanese and the Australian.
COLHOUN: And Australian, yes.
DALE STARR: I guess, yes, there’s always a thought that there really should be a bit more done out at the campsite itself.
HAROLD STARR: Her name is on the monument that they’ve got for the Italian prisoners; her name is on it.
DALE STARR: She is part of it.
COLHOUN: There’s a quite handsome Italian monument there.
HAROLD STARR: She was the instigator of that with the Italian blokes from Sydney and they’ve got her name up on the thing there with it.
DALE STARR: I know there’s been talk but that’s probably quite a few years ago about putting something more – a larger, some sort of museum type thing out actually at the campsite, but I think that she was more, certainly in the last five or six years I guess, more interested in the people side of the whole thing and keeping the people coming back, meeting and connecting, and recording people’s stories, their recollections of the breakout.
COLHOUN: Did she document some of those things?
DALE STARR: Yes, she collected…
COLHOUN: What happened to all that stuff?
DALE STARR: I don’t know – I know some of it is at home. I haven’t actually spoken to any of the other breakout people since she died, so I don’t know what they’ve got there or what she’s got. Just going through stuff the other day I did see a couple of tapes that were recorded – who was it? I can’t remember, one of the soldiers.
COLHOUN: It would be a pity if that were lost, because that can’t be repeated, can it?
DALE STARR: No, that’s one of the things that we have to do, is go through all the stuff, because she’s got boxes, rooms of accumulated research and things like that.
COLHOUN: I’m sure you’ve got priorities of so many things to do.
DALE STARR: Yes, but that’s something that we can…
COLHOUN: This might be a bit difficult for you to answer, but I get the impression, particularly I think you’ve confirmed it for me, that the Breakout Association became a more significant thing because of your mother.
DALE STARR: I think so, yes.
COLHOUN: Now, can it continue without her, do you think? Do you think she has established a momentum that will continue?
DALE STARR: I certainly hope so but then the other factor is that 2004 is the 60th anniversary of it and so many more of the people who were actually a part of the breakout itself aren’t around any more, but then I guess what’s got to flow on from that and the reason that we remember things like that is to try and prevent it happening again, not that that’s working.
COLHOUN: That’s very true, but I don’t think it will happen with the Japanese.
DALE STARR: No, not with them, but I guess if someone steps in and is willing to do what she did.
COLHOUN: Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Finally, how would you like your Mum and, in your case Harold, your late wife, to be remembered in what she did over many years for Cowra–Japan relations? How would you like people to remember her, Marion Starr?
HAROLD STARR: She never expected any praise for what she did or anything, it was more or less what she liked doing. We could name a park or a street after her or something like that.
COLHOUN: That sounds a nice idea. I can see it’s not an easy one for you to answer, Dale, so we will leave it there. I think your Dad has summed up very well. Thank you very much to both of you for coming in. We are very grateful to you.
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 01/18/2018 03:03:32 PM