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history and heritage of Cowra

Hobson, D. extracts from a letter to the Interactive Design Group, 1999

The story of the Cowra P.O.W. Camp site and the 'Breakout' entails much more than a critical point in Australia's wartime/homefront history. It tells us much about being an Australian at that time and of how this heritage has shaped who we are today. The events in Cowra which followed the 'Breakout' have seen a special and unique relationship develop and blossom between Cowra and Japan. This has influenced our relationship with other nations, especially Italy and Indonesia. Cowra's annual Festival of International Understanding focuses on building such relationships further, while our presentation of a World Peace Bell recognises our title as a 'Centre for World Friendship'.

In terms of Australia's heritage, Cowra has much to offer. The P.O.W. Campsite, its adjoining Japanese War Cemetery and Japanese Cultural Centre (all of which are linked by a Japanese government-sponsored cherry tree avenue) are our link to Australia's wartime, immigration and multicultural heritage. In the late 1930s young Jewish immigrant families, escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic persecution, established a farm at Cowra as part of a government-sponsored program to do so. In addition, during World War Two Cowra had a sizeable Military Training Camp where tens of thousands of Australian servicemen received their initial training. Can you imagine the impact of this upon a township of 3 000 people? Following the Second World War a migrant camp was established at Cowra for hundreds of post-war migrants who fled war torn Europe. This also has had a major impact upon Cowra, as indeed it had upon many such communities throughout Australia.

Each of these events contain 'stories' of the changing shape of the 'Australian Image', of our heritage. Most significant of all though is Cowra's Aboriginal heritage. The Cowra Wiradjuri people engaged courageously under the leadership of their chief, Windradyne, in the war which led to the Declaration of Martial Law around Bathurst in 1824. Their people suffered genocide (there are several known massacre sites in the area), and dispossession through the Government policies of 'Protection' (the Erambie Mission was built on the Cowra reserve in 1890; it still houses a large community today), Assimilation, Integration and Selfmanagement. Today the Aboriginal community boasts a proud history of political activism and cultural and economic survival.

Reproduced with permission of the author, David Hobson.

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