This museum is a large museum with many military vehicles...and railway memororabilia...one of Australias largest model railway...great for kids and grown ups..they say it has over 8000 items exhibited in the museum....there is an admission charge but its not much...I can remember there is a lot to see and worthwhile the time to visit....
Most Australian country towns have a local community museum. These museums usually: are run by local volunteer enthusiast groups; are under-funded; are under-resourced; lack the climate-controlled air conditioning and fancy presentation of ‘official’ museums; tend to have mixtures of material provided by the local community. On the other hand, they often contain exciting surprises; their members must be applauded for their efforts, for otherwise much of this material would be lost forever; and the entry fees usually are low, so you risk little by visiting to look for the ‘gems’. They deserve your support.
Cowra’s ‘Fun Museums’ fits the outline above, but it’s larger than most and covers a substantial area behind a long-closed service-station façade. And here’s the real enigma, for I find the name totally at odds with the content. Outside you’ll see the ‘Bugs Bunny’ signs and may expect something to amuse the smaller kids: but the collection of railway, rural and (heaven forbid in a ’Fun Museum) war and POW relics is hardly meant for small children, though they may enjoy the large model trains display.
It’s quite an amazing collection. We had a special night visit with the car club, so photos were limited by the flash and by the limited lighting. There are rows of old tractors and agricultural implements; huge amounts of railway memorabilia, including carriages (and who knows what else outside in the darkness); working steam engines; and a large military collection including guns, tanks (and a German Hanomag half-track with Nazi flags behind), uniforms and various items from the former POW camp. Yes, it’s definitely worth visiting – but ‘Fun Museums’ is a complete misnomer! Open daily from 0900-1700.
Main photo:’Fun Museums’ sign on an old fire truck
Second photo:As you enter, the description is clearer
Third photo:Emptying some of those cans might have been fun!
Fourth photo:Rows of old tractors and (behind) railway signs
Fifth photo:Part of the military collection.
In my “Transport” tips, I have mentioned that Cowra no longer has passenger train services. It still has trains though, courtesy of an enthusiastic volunteer crew who run the Lachlan Valley Railway – so rail enthusiasts can still go for a ride, if not very far. The website below has details of trips.
The old Locomotive Depot is situated just at the edge of town, and that is the headquarters for the LVR. Here they have a range of steam and diesel locomotives and at least one vintage railmotor. They also do comprehensive maintenance and rebuilding of their rolling stock – I think I’ll stay with old motor cars, they’re somewhat less challenging!
We were able to ride on a 1927 vintage diesel railmotor. The excitement mounted as we passed through the 1900-era station to see what a curious old beast it was! With timber panelling redolent of a bygone era, not to mention curious signs, it all was something of a timewarp as we rattled and shook down the track to, eventually, a long-disused railway platform in the bush. What a difference from the TGV to Tours!
Main photo:Leaving Cowra railway station on the railmotor
Second photo:The old railmotor at a disused platform
Third photo:The old railmotor at a disused platform
Fourth photo:Thirsty – head for the luggage room (well, isn’t that where you’d expect to find a drink?).
Fifth photo:The LVR workshops take on some big jobs!
The World Peace Bell Association is a non-political non-sectarian organisation formed to promote peace around the world. The original of the Peace Bell is in the forecourt of the United Nations and other countries in Europe, South America and Asia have copies – usually in their national capitals. This bell resulted from the formation in Cowra of the Australian Chapter of the Peace Bell Association in 1989. The bell was funded largely by public donations and was dedicated in September 1992 for World Peace Day.
The tiles around the pavilion housing the bell were made by students, community groups and individuals as part of an arts project.
A sign inside the pavilion encourages visitors to ring the bell as a reminder of the need for world peace. Did I ring it? The workers inside the adjacent Shire Council offices could have been forgiven for thinking a fire alarm had gone off! We must hope that the resonant gonging sound also echoes in the appropriate ears....
As you stand at the lookout, rolling countryside typical of western New South Wales before you, it is chilling to recall the bizarre and tragic events here on 5 August 1944. At 0200, to the sound of a bugle, over 1100 Japanese war prisoners made the largest mass breakout from a prisoner of war camp in modern history. Not with any intent of returning to Japan, but driven by a need to die, preferably in battle, in order to expunge what they considered the disgrace of being prisoners. What ensued was the only land battle in Australia of the Second World War.
Breaking into four groups, and armed with makeshift knives, swords and clubs, they threw themselves onto the barbed wire en-masse, using blankets and heavy clothing as some form of protection. Then they charged a small guard emplacement which had a Vickers machine gun, aiming to capture the weapon and use it. Fortunately the Australian guards were able to sabotage the weapon before three died as they succumbed to the numbers.
The Japanese burned down most of their camp and over 350 escaped. Many Japanese committed suicide. Another Australian was killed during the recapture process, which lasted over a week. The last Japanese to be captured were actually in the course of being given a meal by a station owner’s wife who felt pity that they were essentially starving – she demanded they be allowed to finish before they were taken. Forty years later, one of the Japanese revisited the family.
Main photo:Memorial to the Breakout.
Second photo:From the viewing platform: information signs and remains of huts
Third photo:This sign shows the layout of the camp, divided into four sections. The breakout was from the top left sector.
Fourth photo:The last two escapees eating before being returned to custody.
The Cowra general cemetery lies to the north of the town: adjacent to it are two war cemeteries, one Japanese, one Australian. Italian war dead in Australia are buried elsewhere.
The Australian War Cemetery has the remains of 26 Australian soldiers, including those killed by the Japanese during the breakout. It also has a member of the Royal Air Force.
Not long after the war, the Australian Returned Servicemen’s League began to maintain the graves of the Japanese war dead in Cowra. Some many years later, the Japanese Government repatriated the remains of most overseas war dead back to Japan. Because the Cowra graves had been maintained so well, it was decided to allow them to rest. This now is the only Japanese war cemetery in Australia and contains the remains of not only the 234 men who died in the Breakout and its aftermath, but also those of other Japanese war dead and civilian internees.
Main photo:Entry to the Australian war cemetery
Second photo:Grave of one of the Australian defenders killed during the Breakout
Third photo:Entry to the Japanese war cemetery
Fourth photo:Japanese war graves
Fifth photo:Shrine in the Japanese war cemetery.
Several thousand Italians, repatriated to Australia from north Africa, were housed in a different section of the same POW camp as the Japanese. One must wonder what they made of the ‘Breakout’. Unlike the Japanese, they had accepted that the war was finished for them and settled into a quiet life with minimal restrictions. During the day, they went out doing agricultural work, such as cutting firewood and, it has been suggested, tried out their Latin charms on some of the local ladies!
This memorial has been erected in memory of all Italian POWs at the former prison camp site. The second photo has the same message in English.
Arising from the links forged between Japan and Cowra, the Cowra Japanese Garden was developed with funding assistance from both the Japanese and Australian Governments. It was designed by a prominent Japanese garden designer and in layout is representative of the landscape of Japan, with different areas standing for (eg) Mt Fuji and the Inland Sea. The Kaiyushiki (strolling) garden covers an area of 5 hectares and is the largest such garden in the southern hemisphere.
If the Information Office display is a ‘must see’, the Japanese Garden is the best known tourist attraction in Cowra. It is, simply, superb. We wandered around taking photographs – and finding that, to our surprise, no matter which way we pointed our cameras the scene was delightful. Our visit was at Easter, probably the busiest time of year for visitors, but the numbers were never intrusive. An audio tour guide is available for minimal cost and runs for one and a half hours – roughly the time it took us to walk the garden. The website lists the garden’s entry fees.
A final thought: if you are a keen gardener (that leaves me out), be sure to pick up a copy of the information brochure which catalogues all the types of plants used. As you walk around, you will find the trees and shrubs are numbered, such as the tree identified with the 91 tag in the final photo – that is the only reason I am able to tell you that it is a Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’ (Pink Flowering Cherry).
Open daily 0830 to 1700.
Main photo:Doesn’t it look like Japan? View through the gardens
Second photo:The entry to the gardens, Australian and Japanese flags
Third photo:Japanese temple bell
Fourth photo:Another view through the gardens
Fifth photo:Hey, that’s a Prunus serrulata ‘Kanzan’ – has to be, it’s 91 in the catalogue!
While you are at the Information Centre, you cannot fail to see the superb and quite extensive rose gardens outside. I found that spending a little time there proved ideal for contemplation after watching the theatre presentation. Whether that was why the gardens were created, or whether they were intended purely for ornamentation I do not know. But they still were flowering in April and provided an excellent display.
Main photo:Panorama of the gardens(expands when clicked)
Second photo:As pretty as the flowers – Renault 4CVs at the garden gate
Third photo:Rose gardens in front of the Information Office
Fourth photo:Close-up of one of the roses
Fifth photo:Another rose close-up.
Just to the west of the town centre, the Lachlan River flows to join distant rivers heading for the far ocean, near Adelaide. On the bank opposite the town, the Information Centre awaits you and should be any visitor’s first stop, as it is far more than somewhere to collect travel leaflets or to buy the locally produced jams and pickles.
Here you will find a small display relating to the Prisoner-of-War camps and the Cowra Breakout, as the event is known. Best of all, there is a small theatre in the style of a POW hut, running a free 9 minute show which is truly magical. A ghostly little lady the size of a leprechaun walks the stage and tells the story of her fiance who was a POW of the Japanese and how he was fortunate, unlike many others, to emerge alive at the end of the war despite the terrible conditions. She also tells the story of the Japanese and Italians who were POWs in Cowra and the aftermath. On the little stage, she is surrounded by actual items from the former POW camp and, in the background, changing photos from the period.
Her image is created by a process called Pepper’s Ghost (not, as often suggested, by a hologram). This display is without doubt the most impressive and professional I have seen in any Information Office – factual, informative, charming and moving. Don’t miss it!
Oh yes, while you are there, don’t forget to pick up some of the information brochures which are available from the very friendly staff.
Main photo:View of the inside of the theatre
Second photo:The ghostly leprechaun lady
Third photo: The lady tells us about the layout of the POW camp
Fourth photo: The lady also interacts with items on the stage.
Fifth photo: Part of the small museum outside the theatre.
Beautiful gardens. It's 5 hectacres of traditional Japanese Gardens. There's also an adjoining cultural center and tea house. Open 8:30-5. Admission $7.70
This is a spectacular Japanese Garden built with finance from Japan, Cowra Shire Council, some local donors and some government assistance.