Claiming the dead

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  • Published 20150505
  • ISBN: 9781922182807
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

THE CEREMONY TOOK place on a glorious morning in March at Cowra cemetery, the sky above a flawless blue, the horizon visible in the green distance across miles and miles of rolling pasture. The Japanese dignitaries had arrived before us in their big black cars, driving up from Canberra for a day in the country. The town officials stood around in their tight suits and smiled benignly at the mourners, as if it was within their power to bestow solace for past wrongs. As soon as I saw them I knew what we were in for: a couple of hours of bad theatre in which the story of why we were all here would be bent out of shape to fit the official narrative, its meaning subtly subsumed into the national mythology.

The reason I had come to Cowra was both simple and complex. My friend Yuriko Nagata, a historian of the Japanese diaspora, had invited me to take part in a symposium to be held in Cowra to coincide with the unveiling of an interpretive board at the entrance to the town’s Japanese war cemetery. Two years in the planning, the symposium was to be both a meeting of scholars and an opportunity for the families of Japanese civilians buried at Cowra to visit the graves of their forbears and honour their story.

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