TERRY COLHOUN: Thank you, very much, for participating in our programme and for telling us something about the Peace Bell. I would like to ask you, first, what is the purpose of the Peace Bell?
JAN MUNDAY: Well, the objective of the Peace Bell Association is to keep people informed of the horrors of war and to promote peace wherever possible.
COLHOUN: Where does this come from?
MUNDAY: The association was founded in Japan and the charter was set up in Japan.
COLHOUN: As I understand it only one peace bell goes to each country. Why Cowra?
MUNDAY: Cowra was chosen over our capital cities where the peace bell is normally situated in other countries. Because of our association with promoting international understanding through the local festival and through the happenings since the war with the Japanese Cemetery, the Japanese Garden and the breakout site, the people of Cowra have maintained these sites and have made a friendship with Japan since.
COLHOUN: What can you tell us about the history of the peace bell movement?
MUNDAY: The Peace Bell Association was formed in 1954.
COLHOUN: Is that your own association?
MUNDAY: No, that was the international association. We are the Australian Chapter of the World Peace Bell Association. It was formed in 1954 when the first peace bell was installed in the forecourt of the United Nations Building in New York. The Australian Chapter was formed in about 1990 and our bell was installed in 1992.
COLHOUN: Where was the bell made?
MUNDAY: The bell was made in Japan and is made from coinage and medals that have been donated to the World Peace Bell Association by member countries of the United Nations.
COLHOUN: Do you know how many peace bells there are altogether?
MUNDAY: At the present time there are approximately twenty bells sited around the world and several more countries have indicated they will site a bell and are looking at ways and means of doing this.
COLHOUN: Do you have much contact with the people who look after other peace bells?
MUNDAY: We do receive a newsletter approximately four times a year from the World Peace Bell Association, which has news of all associations around the world.
COLHOUN: Whereabouts in Cowra is the Peace Bell?
MUNDAY: The Peace Bell is sited in front of the local council chambers in what we call Civic Square.
COLHOUN: Can you describe it and tell me about how it functions and so on?
MUNDAY: The Peace Bell has been hung in a pavilion. We worked for a couple of years to raise the money to build it, and were helped by a lot of local organisations. The pavilion is in a similar shape to a Japanese Pagoda I think you could call it. It has a tiled roof and some columns, all in timber. The bell is hung in the centre and the base of the pavilion is all of local Cowra stones and there is a plaque with all the information about why the bell is there.
COLHOUN: Did you tell me at some point that you have an automatic electronic system that explains it?
MUNDAY: Yes, that was just installed this year and was officially turned on at the Australia Day Ceremony on 26 January. When any visitors walk in underneath the pavilion it automatically turns on and it gives you a history of the bell, how it came to be sited in Cowra and telling you about the other facilities in Cowra that can be visited, such as the campsite, the Cemetery, etc.
COLHOUN: Can people go up to the bell and give it a whack and make it go “boing” or whatever it does?
MUNDAY: Yes, actually we invite people to do that and the audio system does invite them to do that. The striker is unlocked during the day so that anyone can use the bell and we ask them to do this just to show their expression that they believe in the ideals of the Peace Bell.
COLHOUN: Of course, in the Japanese tradition it’s not a clapper inside the bell, it’s a long piece of wood that you hit on the side; isn’t that right?
MUNDAY: Yes, it is like a large batten that is suspended from the ceiling of the pavilion and it has a rope hanging from the bottom that you can just use to make the strike on to the bell.
COLHOUN: Do many people do that?
MUNDAY: Yes, they do.
COLHOUN: Kids, mostly I suppose?
MUNDAY: No, it’s surprising. When we had the bell installed, and the reason why the striker is locked up of a night, was we were worried that this would be a problem, and that local people who live near the bell wouldn’t want it being struck at 2 am in the morning, etc. But, we have found that it is just the opposite. People seem to respect it, even the children.
COLHOUN: You have had no problems with vandalism?
MUNDAY: No, we haven’t. The only problem we had with vandalism was we planted a garden around the bell with camellia bushes, a special peace camellia bush, and we had those all taken out, so we have now put in a small green hedge which seems to be very attractive and not wanting to be taken.
COLHOUN: People are not so interested in taking a hedge home as they would be a nice little camellia.
MUNDAY: That seems to be the case, yes.
COLHOUN: When did you get involved in this?
MUNDAY: I was a foundation member, actually, so I have been involved in it ever since it was formed here in Cowra.
COLHOUN: Why did you get involved in this? Had you been involved in other Japanese things?
MUNDAY: I was involved in the Festival for many, many years.
COLHOUN: Which festival?
MUNDAY: Cowra’s Festival of International Understanding, which was one of the reasons why the Peace Bell was sited here so I automatically became involved in the Peace Bell Association.
COLHOUN: As you now have the bell in place and it is working and all that sort of thing, what does your committee do? What is the need for a committee?
MUNDAY: There is a little bit of upkeep on the bell but that is only minor. But, what our committee mainly does is we organise a World Peace Day ceremony, which is held on the third Tuesday of September each year to coincide with the opening of the Disarmament Session of the United Nations and all peace bells around the world are struck on that day as a symbol of working towards world peace, so we organise that ceremony. We hold the ceremony at the bell. We usually try and have a special guest at the ceremony. Sometimes it’s the past guest nation from the festival. We have had the Ambassador of Romania come, the Ambassador of Western Samoa. Different years we have had special guests. We also had Mr Kerkyasharian from the Multi-Cultural Council think it’s called. He came as a guest. They give a small speech at the bell about peace to the gathered people there. Then we hold a dinner afterwards and they are the special guest at the dinner. So, we invite anyone to come along to hear what’s said.
COLHOUN: What have you done to reach out to young people to tell them about your ideals?
MUNDAY: We do hold each year a Peace Poetry Competition and we have special sections for primary school, high school and then open for adults and we do get a lot of response from local schools, also schools in the Sydney area. We’ve even had schools in Queensland that have entered in our Peace Poetry Competition. With that we send out our brochures on the association to let them know what the ideals of the association are.
COLHOUN: Do other organisations in Cowra now involve the Peace Bell in their activities?
MUNDAY: Yes, they do. We are very pleased with what has been happening – just last week Harmony Day was held and there was a ceremony held at the bell which included all the multi-cultural people who live in Cowra, which is quite a large number from different countries. Also on Australia Day the Australia Day Service was held at the bell. The breakout ceremonies each year for celebration of the breakout from the prisoner-of-war camp, they always include a ceremony at the bell – it usually is combined with a lot of ceremonies. The Rotary Club of Cowra has also had Cowra declared as a Peace City in their charter and they have held some ceremonies at the bell as well.
COLHOUN: Well, it seems to me from what you have just said that the Peace Bell came to Cowra because of what Cowra has done in its relationship with Japan, so the Japanese-based organisation brought it here and through this it’s reaching out to the whole world. Is that a fair description?
MUNDAY: That’s what we certainly hope it’s doing, yes.
COLHOUN: Thank you very much for joining us for this project and for giving us your time. Good luck for the future.
MUNDAY: Thank you.
Click images to enlarge.
Photograph by Terry Colhoun