In a Japanese country garden
The NSW town of Cowra is the setting for a tranquil memorial
ONAugust 5, 1944, in an act of both courage and futility, 1000 Japanese prisoners of war attempted a mass breakout from their prison on the outskirts of Cowra in western NSW.
Indoctrinated with the samurai code that held death to be preferable to the ultimate dishonour of capture, 235 Japanese were killed that awful day, as well as four Australian guards. War censorship was tight and Australians knew nothing of what happened at the time.
But out of that horrific morning the idea of a memorial to honour those who died slowly crystallised and eventually took the form of an elegant and authentic Japanese garden.
A short drive from the town centre to the Cowra Japanese Garden and Centre of Japanese Cultural Heritage in Australia takes you through typical country, but beyond the entrance and souvenir shop lies another world.
World-renowned Japanese architect Ken Nakajima designed the garden in 1976. Balance and proportion were allimportant in the positioning of stones (an integral part of all Japanese gardens) and in the trees, plants and water that symbolise the natural elements.
The shape and texture of the plants — more than 120 species — were carefully thought out, and while there are vibrant splashes of azaleas and camellias there are no riots of bright colour. Nakajima sought quiet hues — the blue of wisteria, the yellow and white of irises — to give the garden a harmonious serenity.
Curved, paved paths wind through every corner and cleverly concealed spots suddenly open out into sweeping perspectives. Little benches are thoughtfully positioned.
A waterfall splashes down a hill into the lake and ponds where koi carp in shimmering colours weave their way between little islands. The beautiful tea house is the spiritual centre of the garden, while the tiny Edo house has the tatami matting and sunken bath typical of a Japanese home.
Covering almost 5ha, the estate is meticulously maintained by four fulltime gardeners.
Although it is a kaiyu-shiki strolling garden, electric golf buggies are available and a hand-held audio guide fills in details and plant names.
The big, indoor cultural centre has some wonderfully exotic costumes, warrior helmets, paintings and ceramics, all carefully and attractively presented, and a small traditional stone garden without a bush or blade of grass.
Meals are served at the airconditioned cafe or on the terrace, where a group of bonsai is a charming addition. Strangely, there is not a single book about the garden itself, and at the Cowra Information Centre the emphasis is on the breakout. In a 10-minute hologram, a young girl tells the story of what happened on that fateful day.
Cowra is one of our unsung country towns, encircled by canola fields, with blossom trees lining its main street. The Cowra and Japanese war cemeteries show just how beautifully and sensitively laid out a graveyard can be.
Designed by Ken Nakajima, the garden is a place of harmonious serenity