Story & photo Melissa Hargraves
Buddhist teacher John Allan, sister-city visitors Setsuko Nakatani and Hiroko Hirai with Lismore’s Father Paul Glynn at Monday’s Tree for Peace ceremony.
Peace devotees joined together at Lismore Peace Park yesterday for ceremonial watering of the Remembering and Healing (RaH) Tree for Peace. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Lismore–Yamato Takada (Japan) sister-city relationship.
It also being the 68th anniversary of Hiroshima, RaH thought it appropriate to invite all faiths to come together in a commitment to peace.
Buddhist teacher John Allan stood beside Catholic Father Paul Glynn to offer prayers and chants for peace, with many words of wisdom between them. Hiroko Hirai and Setsuko Nakatani visiting from Yamato Takada also joined in the ceremony.
The Lismore-born priest established the sister-city relationship between Lismore and Yamato Takada back in 1963 after spending some years as a missionary in Japan.
Healing the hatred
‘The relationship was really forged on the Burma–Thailand railroad,’ he told Echonetdaily. ‘The Japanese had taken the whole Malaysian peninsula and they were intending to invade India, but the ships were being sunk by American submarines. So they decided to build a railroad through the jungle.
‘About one-third of Australian soldiers on that railroad died of malnutrition and beatings and so forth. In the code of the Samurai the soldier does not surrender, so the Japanese had no respect for the Australian soldiers who had surrendered, a very different culture.
‘Army chaplain Marsden, who had gone to Woodlawn Catholic School in Lismore, was captured in Singapore. On the Burma–Thailand railroad he witnessed the violence against Australians and was overcome with anger, enough to want to kill another.
‘He had totally abandoned all his ideals and was full of hatred. So he felt on the abyss of everything that he had believed in, so he pulled back and began to pray.
‘Finally, he promised to himself that if he survived the war he would go and work for the Japanese. In 1945 he came back to Woodlawn and spoke to us. Over four years of the war he was the only voice that said anything good about the Japanese.
‘So half a dozen of us Woodlawn boys went to the mission in Nara, Japan and I was sent to Yamato Takada. Around 1956 I had read that Australia had 62 sister cities but none with Japan; it was still a pariah nation.
‘I went along to the mayor of Yamato Takada and said wouldn’t it be wonderful if Japan had a sister city with Australia. He agreed but knew there was a lot of hatred still against Japan; there was a tremendous anti-Japanese feeling.
‘I next wrote to Lismore’s then mayor Clive Campbell and he thought it would be great too; both mayors were really big-thinking people.
‘So really it goes back to that chaplain going to Japan and breaking with hatred.’
Exchange student remembers
Healing hatred extended to a local family. A young woman shared her story of becoming an exchange student in Japan.
‘My grandfather was actually captured by the Japanese and when my mum first told them I was doing it we weren’t sure how they would take it,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘But they were all for it, even though my grandfather only had bad memories he wanted me to have my own thoughts, so they paid for half of it. I later went on to care for my grandparents when they were sick and old.’
Lismore City Council (LCC) deputy mayor Simon Clough chaired the ceremony and commended the actions of the LCC in establishing a Japanese sister relationship in such a challenging climate of hate.
‘There must have been some pretty courageous people on Council at that time; it would have taken a lot of guts to do that. It is truly inspiring as that is exactly what we are going to need when someone wants to put a uranium mine in NSW.
‘Will we sit around and think that lessons have been learnt from the past? Well I’m sorry that that is not the case. We will be personally challenged to try to stop this activity. We need to stay constantly aware and vigilant.
‘Let’s not underestimate how hard it would have been for the people of Japan to have a sister-city relationship with Australia; there was certainly a lot of stories of hatred and history of horror that people had to try to overcome.
‘Peace never stops – it is a continually creating process. We have to do it every day and keep it in mind, particularly with the nuclear issue.’
Cr Clough feels it appropriate to acknowledge atrocities of the past as atomic and nuclear horrors are present today.
‘Fukushima with its nuclear power stations is an example; this is not going away. Apparently our NSW government has allowed uranium exploration all over the state of NSW. There are proposals for a nuclear power plant on the New England tablelands!
‘We would be very naive to believe that nuclear power and the military side of the nuclear industry will ever be benign or peaceful.’
Buddhist teacher Mr Allen believes that ceremonies dedicated to peace should have representations from many religions.
‘The more the merrier,’ he told Echonetdaily. ‘Many religions historically have been at the forefront of conflict, so we need to be at the forefront of peace as well.’
Sabina Baltruweit coordinates RaH events and told Echonetdaily, ‘we always try to have representations from many faiths at our peace ceremonies; even the atheists are represented: they don’t give a prayer for peace – they give a wish for peace. It is so beautiful when differing faiths stand together – like today we heard Father Paul thanking his Christian God for the Buddha.’
Father Paul has been a mentor and strong supporter of RaH since its beginning in 2009. The group believes that ‘all commemorations of war always need to go hand-in-hand with the strong commitment to work towards peace. Only by striving to prevent the suffering of war in the future can we truly honour those who have suffered in the past.’