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The Last Day At Narromine and On To Cowra

We really loved our week at Narromine, it was so peaceful out there next to the little-used airfield and Nita and Peter, the park owners, are two of the nicest, friendliest people we've ever met. The town itself is a five-minute drive away and, I suppose, typical of most small, country towns in N.S.W. As usual, the town's people had pounced on anything that made it at all unique and in this case it was Australian cricketer, Glenn McGrath, and a plethora of other high achieving sports people. Glenn McGrath wasn't actually born in Narromine but was raised nearby and that's good enough.

On the final Sunday morning we were hitched up and five minutes away from departure when Peter came across to tell me that the Wright Flyer had been wheeled out of its hangar for a wash; a wonderful photo opportunity. Good old Pam was sweet with me going over to take a picture or two, knowing full well it would turn out to be more than that. She even walked over to the hangar with me.

Flyer and Tiger Moth

Not only was the Flyer out on the apron but so too was the bright yellow Tiger Moth.

The Flyer consortium members were busy fussing over their treasure and hosing the floor of the hangar where she lived. Then I heard that they were going to run up her engine. Once again Pam was sweet about a further delay to our departure but she wandered back to the caravan to wait.

The engine start was an anticlimax as the fuel tank was all but empty. The engine did eventually start briefly but as it's only a little four cylinder Hillman Imp car engine it wasn't breathtakingly exciting though it was nice to see it turning those two large propellers in opposite directions. Even in flight they only rotate at about 300 r.p.m.

Wright Flyer

The big wooden propellers of the Wright Flyer spun briefly before the engine stopped.

wing tip view

Wondering which is front and which is back? The two propellers are 'pusher' types, mounted on the rear of the wings. The Flyer travels right to left on these pictures.

To turn in the air, the whole wing is warped in the manner of a bird in flight - there are no ailerons.

The owners of the Flyer are determined that this, the only airworthy Wright Flyer in the world, will not remain a museum exhibit despite the fact that the only other flying model crashed and killed its pilot in the USA not so long ago. They fully appreciate the tourist pulling power of this aircraft in flight.

A very different caravan park

The drive from Narromine to Cowra was pleasant and uneventful. After the friendliness and laid back atmosphere in Narromine, it was quite a rude shock to find ourselves in the Cowra Van Park where the boss-man runs the place with military precision. He gave instructions while I backed the caravan onto our site and very good he was, too. It's a long time since we were assisted in this manner. Then he rattled off a lot of information about the park and the town but my brain works at about half the speed that he spoke. I gathered that there were two sets of 'facilities' for each gender but one of each would be kept locked until the number of caravans exceeded sixteen. Clipped to our receipt was a rule sheet with lots of words and phrases in bold type, such as strictly forbidden . . . fees may apply . . . prohibited . . . walking pace . . . non smoking . . . must be cleaned up, etc. We are even forbidden to place anything under our caravan and if our site isn't vacated by 10 a.m. on the day of departure we'll get charged an extra day! We half expect to have morning inspections to check our nails are clean, etc.

As in Tamworth, we are camped on the bank of a river, this one the Lachlan River. As in Tamworth it is swollen and muddy. The park is very nice with lush green grass and many trees. Next to the park is a high bridge carrying the traffic on the Mid Western Highway over the river.

A lot of heavy vehicles pass over the bridge, trucks using very noisy engine braking as they descend into the town and multiple gear changes as they climb the bridge out of town. Every vehicle that crosses the bridge goes thump-thump over each expansion gap and empty trailers rattle and jangle.

The local trees are home to an immense number of white cockatoos and pink and grey gallahs. Yesterday they treated us to a full squadron fly-past with screeching set to maximum on each bird. I know I'm prone to exaggeration but the sky was almost black with them and the noise unbearable. They flew around for half an hour keeping up the volume the whole time. We'd never seen, or heard, anything like this before. At the other extreme we see many pairs of tiny fairy-wrens hopping around the grass near the caravan.

Cowra and its association with the Japanese

The Lachlan Valley, in which Cowra is situated, was first explored in 1815 and two years later deemed unfit for white settlement. Regardless, white settlers arrived in 1831 and by 1844 a settlement was established. Five years later Cowra was proclaimed a village.

The origin of the name, Cowra, has become lost in the mists of time. Some say it was taken from the local Aborigines' word for 'rocks'; others say the Aborigines didn't have a word for rocks. The local Tourist Information Bureau told us - without much conviction - that they think it means 'eagle on a rock'.

During WWII Cowra was the site of a prisoner of war camp. Most of the prisoners were Japanese and Italian soldiers. In the main, the Italians were content and co-operative; they were allowed out of prison to carry out labouring tasks.

POW Camp

All of the original structures that remain today are the concrete floors of the huts.

For the Japanese, however, capture meant total humiliation. Many gave false names in case their prisoner status should become known in Japan. On 5 August 1944, at least 545 Japanese POWs attempted a mass breakout from the camp - better to die while escaping than to live in shame. Some committed suicide, some were killed by their comrades, others chose to remain in their huts after they had been set ablaze. Many stormed a machine gun post armed only with improvised weapons. Their losses were great but eventually the gun crew was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of Japanese numbers and both Australians were killed. Not, however, before one of them had disabled the gun.

guard tower

This guard tower is a modern replica marking the location of a terrible night in 1944.
When you stand in front of the tower a recorded voice describes the events of that night.

During the breakout and subsequent recapture of POWs, four Australian guards and 231 Japanese died. Over one hundred prisoners were wounded. The dead Japanese were buried in Cowra in the specially created Japanese War Cemetery. This is the only such cemetery in Australia; it also holds some of the dead from the WWII air raids on Darwin.


Row upon row of plaques - another row behind the camera - each commemorating a Japanese soldier who died in the breakout of 5-8-1944. Curiously, we didn't see the grave of any teenagers yet many of older soldiers up to the age of seventy six!

Have you ever wandered among the graves in a war cemetery or looked at the names on a cenotaph? One of the first things that strikes you will be the ages of the poor souls who died. So many met their tragic ends while still in their teens. Wandering among the Japanese graves today we could not find the grave of a single soldier under the age of twenty one. Quite the opposite, in fact. At least three of the graves contained the remains of men of seventy six! Many were in their fifties and sixties.

Was it the policy of the Japanese to only enlist older men? As a high percentage of the dead in the cemetery had been captured, does the absence of youngsters indicate that they think faster and are quicker on their feet than their aged superiors?

Is it possible that the youngsters, like teens all over the world, rebelled and questioned the fanatical loyalty that the older men displayed to the Emperor? Hearing that they were expected to charge a machine gun with nothing to defend or protect themselves, perhaps they decided that life was quite comfortable in an Australia POW camp. They would let their suicidal compatriots lead the charge then quietly find a safe place to hide out. If so, I'm with them. Brainwashed doesn't equate to brain-dead. Would you attack a machine gun, unarmed, for the honour of Julia?

Three Plaques

Seventy six, seventy six and sixty seven. Did any of the Allied countries have active troops so old?

The road between the Japanese War Cemetery and the exquisite Japanese Gardens - about five kilometres long - is named Sakura Avenue. It is lined on both sides with cherry trees. Each tree bears a plaque with the name of the Japanese entity that sponsored the tree together with the names of Australian school children.

The Magnificent Jananese Garden

Words can't do justice to the Cowra Japanese Garden so I shall use pictures.

Japanese Garden

Magnificent! From this angle all the bubbling streams and waterfalls are hidden.


Just one of many little water features.


And what would a Japanese garden be without carp?

The Japanese connection - the POW camp remains, the war cemetery and the Japanese Garden - are all situated to the north of the town proper. We didn't notice any reference to the Japanese in the town with the exception of a holographic display inside the Information Centre. Aren't those things just magic, the way a figure appears to come to life and talk to you?

That's it from Cowra in N.S.W. Now we're moving on to a town called Young.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 161 was completed on 4 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.