Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Break Out At Cowra

It's been a week since I returned from leave and, as usual, it doesn't feel like I've been away from work at all. This time the week off was a lot less hectic, not like last time. Tony and I spent the first couple of days in Cowra and then I spent the rest of the week pottering around at home.

View of Cowra town centre from Bellevue Hill

Cowra?!! So many people asked Tony, “Why Cowra?” It was a little easier for me to explain. A friend from work retired 18 months earlier and she and her husband had moved to Cowra. So I was telling people we were going to Cowra to visit my friend (or more simply "I'm going to visit S..."). Being such an integral part of our team for so long, everyone I told knew exactly why we were visiting Cowra.

Other than my friend living there, Cowra is renown for the Cowra breakout (the mass escape by the Japanese from the POW camp in the early hours of August 5th, 1944) and the subsequent close ties that developed between Japan and Cowra. According to the Cowra tourism Web site the Cowra Breakout is one of two experiences you can enjoy. The other (much newer) experience is the wine and food. Because my friends are wine connoisseurs and foodies, we spent a couple of leisurely days taking in the sights and sampling the local fare.

My family had visited Cowra in 1982. My memories were (not surprisingly) fuzzy although I knew we had visited the Japanese Gardens, the site of the POW camp and the Japanese War Cemetery. But it is so different to be introduced to a town by a local.

During our stay we witnessed how close the community is in a country town. My friend said that this is the first time she has really had to own a diary: she needs one to manage the many social activities she is involved in. ‘Popping into town’ is not a short half-hour trip. By the time you stop off for a ‘quick coffee’ with everyone you meet, it can turn into quite a social event. On the Sunday we were introduced to:

  • The lady at the counter of the Japanese Gardens (who just happened to be the same person manning the Tourist Information the day before and who booked us into our accommodation)
  • A friend from the musical society and her husband

    During discussions, my friend had discovered that this lady was a distant relative of my friend's husband.

    Her friend's husband was the local bookshop owner, who said he unfortunately didn't have the keys to his shop so he couldn't open it for us even if he wanted to.

  • Local identity and author, Lawrance Ryan, who as president of the Cowra Breakout Association was a walking encyclopedia on the Breakout, the subsequent relationship between Japan and Cowra and the plans for the 65th anniversary of the Breakout.

The following day we were in Canowindra (pronounced Ca-noun-dra) and my friends bumped into a fellow wine connoisseur and member of the local motorcycling club. I was starting to feel that Tony and I had to be on our best behaviour otherwise any untoward actions would reflect badly on my friends. And being a ‘mixed-race couple’ we were pretty unique in this country town. So I confess: I rang the Peace Bell around 6:00pm on the Monday night and Hubby (it seemed) quickly stepped out of the lighted pavilion so he could disown me.

Having friends who were so knowledgeable about their community let us fit quite a bit in without travelling far. We visited the mill at Windowrie Estate and The Taste of Canowindra to sample a wide range of local produce and wines. (If you ever visit the mill, try the caramelised capsicums!) And without a local's advice I'm not sure that we would have found the Canowindra Trading Post, a store with an eclectic collection of antiques, homewares and gifts. We were treated to a chauffeured tour of Cowra, complete with commentary, visiting all areas from the new estates at ‘Cowra Heights’ to the industrialised outskirts, past all the known tourist attractions and other attractions you would never find in the tourist guides.

My main memory of Cowra was feeding the cod at the Japanese Gardens so I could not describe what has changed in the past 27 years. Although, looking through the faded photographs in the family album, the only differences I could see were in the three Chinese teenagers and the clothes we were wearing.

Kookaburra at the entrance to the gardens

The other thing I noticed was the abundance of bird life: a trio of kookaburras flew towards the entrance and one of them perched on the roof ridge as if to welcome us; a superb parrot (I think) looked for seeds while we chatted nearby; a pair of blue fairy wrens and a willy wagtail flitted across our path as we wandered through the gardens; sparrows congregated around shrubs and the ducks foraged and fought on the lake.

I'm not sure that Tony and I are ready to slow down to the Cowra pace of life. Feeling a bit restless after a day of sightseeing and a long, delectable lunch, we drove down to the Lachlan River to study the aboriginal murals on the bridge pylons and wander along the river.

Cowra Bridge pylon

We had a truly relaxing time in Cowra and will probably base ourselves there if we decide to explore the Central Tablelands and the Lachlan Valley. It would be nice to visit Cowra for Sakura Matsuri (The Cherry Blossom Festival) when all the cherry blossoms are blooming. Before we left, we made one last stop at a market stall outside of Cowra (location provided courtesy of our local guides) and did the weekly grocery shopping. We couldn't believe the size of the onions—they're at least 2–3 times bigger than the ones I bought the week before.

Onions we bought in Cowra compared to one we bought the week before

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