The story behind how Cowra became the home of Australia’s first World Peace Bell in 1992 involves serendipity as much as perseverance and hard work according to Rod Blume, former mayor of Cowra (1991-1994). He’s one of the key people responsible for bringing the bell to Cowra. In fact, he literally drove it to Cowra on the back of his Toyota Hilux.
The World Peace Bell movement has its origins in Japan in 1951, when Chiyoji Nakagawa cast a bell from his own military sword and melted coins collected from 26 countries, installing it at a temple in Nakagawa’s home prefecture of Ehime. In 1954, Nakagawa donated a replica bell to the newly formed United Nations, and ever since, similar replicas have been installed in about 20 countries, symbolising the spread of global peace.
Most peace bells are hosted by large cities, so when a delegation from the Tokyo based World Peace Bell Association came to Canberra in 1988 to discuss the possibility of housing a peace bell in Australia, Canberra or Sydney were naturally the first options.
But a Canberra official, who happened to be in Cowra on holiday, was so impressed with the story of friendship between Japan and Cowra that he proposed the regional town host the first bell. At the time, Blume was the chairman of the Japanese Garden Committee and delegate to the Cowra Tourist & Development Corporation (now Cowra Tourism Corporation), and he took on the task of bringing the symbolic bell to Cowra.
He enlisted the support of Cowra Council, local and federal politicians, found donors among Australia’s business elite like Kerry Stokes and Dick Smith. He even flew to Japan to convince the somewhat reluctant World Peace Bell Association in Tokyo that the bell would find a perfect home in Cowra, despite being a town of just over 10,000.
Finally, in May 1990 recounted Blume, a fax arrived notifying him of the decision to grant Cowra the bell, and by July, the bell had arrived in Yokohama ready to ship to Australia.
But with no funds to transport such a large object, Blume contacted his mate Len Oliver, owner of the local Toyota dealership to see if the bell could hitch a free ride on the next shipment of Toyota vehicles imported to Australia. This brazen suggestion was accepted by Toyota headquarters and before long, the over 100 kg bell arrived in Sydney.
The final journey from Sydney to Cowra was one Blume took on himself, because luckily, he said somewhat bemused, he owned a Toyota Hilux. So he carried the bell on the back of his truck from the Toyota depot to Cowra. (Listen to AUDIO)
‘I seem to be very good at getting other people to do things for free,’ laughs Blume, as he explained how only had to ask, and local architects George Ferguson and Karen Gay of Design West volunteered to design a pavilion for the bell ‘as a civic duty’. In fact, the pavilion is an embodiment of community spirit and participation – school children hand made the tiles that form the mosaic feature at the foot of the pavilion.
Blume claims the aesthetic is a fusion of the Japanese and the Australian, with local Cowra granite forming the floor. The choice of granite was deliberate – the name Cowra has its origins in the local Wiradjuri word referring to rock.
Blume said he was emotional and proud at the unveiling ceremony for Cowra’s Peace Bell in 1992 at the Civic Centre, next to Council Chambers. He reflected how easy it was to get the co-operation of the community. ‘I guess that is a testament to the merit of the whole project,’ Blume reminisced.
The bell is rung on World Peace Day each year in September, but visitors are encouraged to ring it any time they are in Cowra, and as they do, to reflect on world peace.
Text and Audio by Masako Fukui