Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cootamundra, Young & Cowra

As I wound my way through parts of New South Wales new to me, I stopt off at three shrines of different sorts...

The first, a very Australian shrine: the very room in which that unsurpassable sporting hero, our Don Bradman (Sir Donald, formally speaking), was born over a hundred years ago, in Cootamundra!  Let Bowral have the fame of his youth, and all Australia pride in his success, but his birth was there.  The volunteer guide was very helpful, and the amount of cricketing memorabilia on display was immense.  (Unfortunately, there are two exceptions – not mentioned at his natal shrine, naturally! – to the virtue of the Don: he was quite anti-Catholic, and was suspected of shonky dealings in his career as a stockbroker.)

The second, a shrine of a peculiar and shamefaced sort: as I drove into Young, I saw and followed the sign leading out to the "Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Gardens".  This sent a chill down my spine.  I hadn't known that Young was originally named Lambing Flat, and then renamed.  It was even weirder to visit the Gardens, a decent attempt at a Chinese garden... because, despite the name referring to that place, there was no notice anywhere of what happened there, and why a memorial was deserved: even the odd name of "Tribute" seemed very euphemistic.

For those not up on this matter, in 1860, during the gold rush in that area, the anti-Chinese sentiments of the Australian (i.e. white) miners broke all bounds: at Lambing Flat, a furious mob of thousands assaulted and drove off the Asiatics and Chinamen on the goldfields, burning and looting their camp.  When the police arrested the ringleaders, the miners attacked the police encampment and had to be fought off with guns and drawn sabres!  In the end, justice was done, the offenders gaoled, and order restored...

I was reminded of a notorious cartoon, published a decade ago when a certain female xenophobe, having achieved some transient political success in Queensland, proposed to take her fight into Federal Parliament: it shewed her followers, redneck hicks and rubes, trundling cannon and shouldering pitchforks as they crossed the border south into New South Wales, with Pauline on a white charger – the scandal caused by this image, published in The Australian, was that, in the background, in silhouette, could be seen a Chinese hanging by his pigtail.  

That is how Lambing Flat has been magnified in folk history, into a massacre: until I checked my facts, I honestly believed that murder most foul had been committed there...  This was all quite confronting: all I'd known of Young prior to seeing that sign was that they grow cherries there.  I ate my cherry pie in chastened spirit.

The third shrine was the most formal, and the most moving: at Cowra.  During the Second World War, the Australian Army maintained a P.O.W. camp there for captured Italian and Japanese combatants, amongst other enemy aliens; the Italians were no trouble at all, were quite friendly and helpful, and many settled in Australia after the war; but the Japanese were the opposite – resolved on death to restore their honour (for to be a prisoner was a source of terrible shame), very early on the 5th of August 1944 over eleven hundred Japanese broke through the barbed wire with primitive weapons.  

This was the notorious "Cowra Breakout": 4 Australian soldiers were killed, two of whom won the George Cross posthumously for their courage against overwhelming odds; and 334 Japanese perished, machine-gunned, entangled in barbed wire, or done to death by their own hand.  An Oriental take on Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!  It was strange and tragic to stand looking at the open field where the P.O.W. camp once stood, and to think that hundreds perished in desperate battle there, within living memory.  Lord, have mercy.

As the years have passed, the town of Cowra has striven to bring good out of evil, striving to reach out in reconciliation.  From the start, the local returned servicemen maintained the Japanese graves; later, all Japanese who died in Australia were relocated to the Japanese War Cemetery, next to the Australian War Cemetery where are buried those who died on our side.

The Australian War Cemetery, and gravestones of two of those slain in the Cowra Breakout – note the fresh-laid wreath left by the Consul-General of Japan.

The Japanese War Cemetery – note the obvious religious significance of the (heathen) altar and memorial stele – with the hundreds of graves of those who perished in the suicidal Breakout.


Cardinal Pole said...

"(Unfortunately, there are two exceptions ... to the virtue of the Don: he was quite anti-Catholic, and was suspected of shonky dealings in his career as a stockbroker.)"

Make that three exceptions (though this third one is inseparable from the first): Sir Donald was a Freemason (source).

matthias said...

more exceptions
4/ He wasan atheist
5/ he could get up the nose of some of his best players eg Keith Miller
6/ He apparently indirectly brought about WORLD SERIES CRICKET by turning down Ian Chapple's request for a payrise,when Bradman was president of the Cricket Board.Chapple mimicked the Don's speaking voice without saying who ,but fif such a good impression that obe was left in no doubt as to who it was.

ON COWRA BREAKOUT- i visted the old POW site last year just after the 65th anniversary and went down to the remains of the blckhouses and saw the scorch marks form all that time ago. The cemetery made think how many of them plus the Aussies who died ,went to a Christless Eternity that night.