Ms Katherine Thomson

 & Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu


My name is Toshiro Abe, one of the members of Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu. The following is the article which I contributed to Mr. Kondo's "Website of Volunteers for International Exchanges." Originally, I wrote the article in Japanese for "Oceania Studies and Reviews" Vol. 12, the annual report of "The Society for the Study of Oceania English." I translated it into English and contributed it to the English version of Mr. Kondo's Website.
I express my sincere gratitude for Ms Katherine Thomson for reading my draft in English and for her corrections and suggestions to my article. She also sent her message to JASJ, which as follows. (February, 2001)

"I knew at the time of my visit to Joetsu that this was one of those life-changing experiences. I arrived thinking I was going there to visit the Peace Park, but instead made new friends in the members of the JASJ. Here is a group of people prepared to gaze unflinchingly at the POW history in Naoetsu. They have inspired me with their determination to build the memorial and the museum, to educate others, and thus to reconcile the wounds of the past between our two countries. I sincerely hope our friendship continues." 
Katherine Thomson   (February, 2001) 



1. Outline of JASJ

2. Kathy's Visit to Naoetsu

3. From Australia, With Love and Gratitude

4. The Performing Arts of Australia and Japan and Cultural Exchange between Two Countries

5. My Impressions on Reading "Diving for Pearls"


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"Diving for Pearls" is a play written by an Australian playwright Ms Katherine Thomson. It was translated into Japanese for the first time by Mr. Keiji Sawada, and published in April, 2000, as "Australian Drama Series 3," from Oceania Press in Japan. 

Japanese translation of her masterpiece and its publication in Japan were long-waited and delightful news for me, though I had neither interest nor any concern about Australian plays and theatres until January, 1999, when I met Ms Katherine Thomson at Naoetsu in Joetsu City, Japan. (Let me call her Kathy for short, henceforth.) 

I ordered and got the book soon. I really enjoyed reading her play, admiring Mr. Sawada's beautiful translation. And while reading the play, I remembered many things during Kathy's stay with us.

               Ms Katherine Thomson 

From the photograph in the book "Diving for Pearls" published by Currency Press, Australia

Brief personal history: Born in Sydney, NSW. Graduated from Macquarie University. She began her career in theatre in 1969, performing as an actor for many plays. In 1980s she began writing plays for the theatre; some of them are "Darlinghurst Nights", "Diving for Pearls", "Barmaids" and "Navigating". Among them "Diving for Pearls" which was first performed in Melbourne in 1991 is highly praised as; "a precious contribution to a noble tradition of dramatic writing in Australia." This play is used as one of the reading materials for the high school students in Australia. (From "Introducing the Author" by Keiji Sawada in the Japanese translation of "Diving for Pearls.")

How many of you know that there were 91 camps in Japanese mainland for the prisoner-of-war during Pacific War (1941-1945)? Naoetsu POW Camp 4-B was one of them. 

In 1942, during the first five months of the war, Singapore fell and Japan took about 260,000 Allied prisoners, and sent 32,000 of them to the 91 POW camps in Japan as the labor force for munitions factories and plants.(2)

In December 1942, there arrived from Singapore via Nagasaki, 300 Australian POWs at Naoetsu POW Camp 4-B. In those days there were big factories such as Shinetsu Chemical Works and Nippon Stainless Steel Factory in Naoetsu. Those POWs were forced to hard work at the factories and suffered from hunger and ill-treatment at the camp. During the period between March 1943 and February 1944, 60 of the 300 Australian POWs died from starvation, disease and ill-treatment. 

After the war, at the Yokohama trials, 2 ex-Japanese soldiers and 6 guards of the Naoetsu Camp were found guilty as the war criminals, and executed. (3)

Among the 240 Australian POWs who survived three years of horrible life in the concentration camp in Naoetsu and returned to their homes in Australia in 1945 was Sgt. Kevin B. Timbs, he was the uncle of Ms Katherine Thomson. 

1.Outline of Japan -Australia Society of Joetsu

The former name of "Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu" (JASJ for short)was  "The Council to Erect Statues of Peace and Friendship at the Former Naoetsu POW Camp Site (the Council for short, henceforth)," which was organized in Joetsu City in August, 1994. The aims of the Council were: to build the Peace Memorial Park at the former site of Naoetsu POW Camp, to erect Statues of Peace and Friendship in the Park, to hold the Memorial Ceremony, to edit and publish the commemorative book "A Bridge Across the Pacific Ocean" etc. In order to achieve those aims, the Council started to raise the fund of \250,000,000 from the citizens of Joetsu who were praying for peace, and from the people in and around Niigata prefecture, and also from abroad. 

The fund-raising activities of the Council were supported by the Joetsu Municipal Government, and received a lot of publicity in the mass media. In promoting the activities, a lot of troubles and obstacles came up and the Council had to go through all of them with utmost effort. I participated in the Council in August, 1995, just a few months after my retirement from my job as the principal of junior high school. 

On October 8, 1995, the memorial ceremonies of peace and reconciliation were held at the Peace Memorial Park attended by Mr. Jack Mudie, 88 years old, and other five ex- POWs. They were accompanied by relatives and family members, 32 in all, some of whom were the relatives of the ex-POWs who had died in the camp. Other VIPs and guests were the Australian Ambassador to Japan, Chief of the Oceanic Section of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mayor of Joetsu City, the bereaved relatives of the eight executed guards and many citizens of Joetsu. (About 500 participants)

Under the clear, autumn sky, the unveiling ceremonies of two cenotaphs and memorial services, and the unveiling of the Statues of Peace and Friendship, two angels flying high in the Peace Park, were held solemnly and impressively. (4)

The Council to Erect the Statues of Peace and Friendship achieved its aims successfully. And in June of the following year of 1996, it was dissolved and  a new "Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu (JASJ for short, henceforth)" was formed with some one hundred members and started its activities. The main purpose of the Society is to promote the mutual understanding, exchange programs and friendship between Australia and Japan.  (5)

Since then, the Society has been working hard coordinating tours to Australia, welcoming visitors from Australia, holding "Gathering for Peace" on 15 August and a "Peace Lecture" in October every year, and keeping the Peace Park in good condition. 

2. Kathy's Visit to Naoetsu

Just before the Christmas in December, 1998, an e-mail was sent to JASJ by Mr. John Cook, one of the ex-POWs who attended the Memorial Ceremonies at Naoetsu in 1995. He wrote that Ms Katherine Thomson would come to Naoetsu to see the Peace Park on the 20th of January, 1999. Then, early in January, Kathy e-mailed us introducing herself and telling why she would visit the Peace Park in Naoetsu. We were very much impressed to know her deep love and sympathy for her uncle, Mr. Kevin Timbs, an ex-POW in Naoetsu, who was still suffering from the deep physical and emotional scars that the treatment from the guards in the prison camp inflicted. The Society prepared for her visit, and my wife and I decided to offer her homestay at our house on that day.

The following is the article which I wrote for the JASJ Bulletin of April 1st, 1999. 


Ms Katherine Thomson (Kathy), who visited Naoetsu on January 20, sent a thankyou e-mail to Yoshikazu Kondo and me on February 1. She asked us to pass her e-mail to Yohko and Shoichi Ishizuka (the chairman of JASJ) and to the rest of the society. Considering some of the members of JASJ who don't know much about her, I would like to explain about Ms Katherine Thomson and what it was all about before quoting her e-mail. 

Ms. Katherine Thomson lives in Sydney,  and works as a writer --- mainly for the theatre and for television as a freelance dramatist. She has an uncle, Mr. Kevin Timbs, who was a prisoner of war in Naoetsu POW Camp. She has always been very close to her uncle. 

In January this year (1999), she was invited to the meeting of Japanese Dramatists Association held in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and came to Japan on January 8th. Incidentally, this is her first visit to Japan. At the conference in Sapporo, her play "Diving for Pearls," which had been translated into Japanese the previous year, was given a staged reading and was highly praised. Her drama is going to be published by OCEANIA PRESS in Tokyo this year. 

According to her e-mail, her uncle Kevin lives in the industrial town of Wollongong near Sydney, with a very cheery wife. He has three grown sons and many grandchildren. For many years he was a coal miner, and also worked in the steelworks. 

Her uncle spoke little about his experiences as a POW until Kathy's 21st birthday in 1976, when he began to talk to her about how his time as a prisoner had affected him. He has since talked to her more than anyone else in his family--- the time as a prisoner of war was a very significant time in a young man's life. 

On October 8th, 1995, when the opening ceremony of the Peace Memorial Park and the unveiling ceremony of the Statues of Peace and Friendship were held in Naoetsu, 6 ex-POWs and the bereaved families came all the way from Australia, and attended the ceremonies. (They were 32 in all.) It was a great occasion. At that time he was approached to join the party going to Naoetsu. He also had the opportunity to return, but decided not to go, partly because of the ill-health of his wife. Kathy said that she would pay for him to go back at any time, and would go with him, but he hasn't wanted to, and is now not in sufficiently good health to travel. 

Before Kathy started for Japan, he asked her to visit Naoetsu on his behalf. Kathy said to him that she was very honoured to do so.

Kathy arrived at Naoetsu by train at 12:56 p.m. on 20th January. Mr Shoichi Ishizuka, president of JASJ, his wife Yohko, and some members of the committee met her at the station. After the short rest at Mr. Ishizuka's house, they showed Kathy to the Peace Park and to Kakushinji Temple.(6)

After that, the welcome dinner party for Kathy was held at a hotel near Naoetsu Rd Station, sponsored by JASJ. Mr. Shoichi Ishizuka. president of JASJ, made a welcome speech for her at the party. The following is the excerpt of his speech quoted from the JASJ Bulletin of April 1, 1999. 

"We were very happy to know by Mr. John Cook's e-mail that you would visit Naoetsu in January. According to your e-mail to us, we knew that your Uncle Kevin talked about his experiences as a POW to you more than anyone else in his family. As I was a POW at Vietnam at that time, I can understand what and how he felt as a POW. No more wars. You may know that 60 Australian soldiers died here at Naoetsu POW Camp 4-B, and eight Japanese guards were executed after the war. We sincerely wish you would tell your uncle that the Statues of Peace and Friendship and two cenotaphs(7) in the Peace Memorial Park were build at the former campsite by the support of local government of Joetsu City, the ex-POWs and the bereaved families and relatives, and by the citizens' sincere wish for lasting peace." 

After the welcome dinner party, I took her to my house. She really enjoyed staying at our Japanese style house; the bath, futon, breakfast and so on. 

Kathy left for Tokyo next morning at nine from Naoetsu Station. 

At the Peace Park 

Ms Katherine Thomson


At welcome party 


At welcome party 

Mr & Mrs Ishizuka



3.From Australia, With Love and Gratitude

 ―Kathy's Thankyou Letter to JASJ―


Subject: thankyou
Date: Monday, February 01, 1999 

To you of a Joetsu Japan-Australia association 

Dear Yoshi, I have returned to Australia now, and have been waiting until visiting my uncle in Wollongong yesterday before reporting back to you all.

Firstly - would you be kind enough to pass this email to Yohko and Shoichi Ishizuka,... and to the rest of the society, of course. 

... I have to say that my time in Naoetsu is what most people here are interested in when I talk about my trip, and I assure you that even though it was such a short time it has had a profound effect on me.

Yesterday I took all the material down to my uncle Kevin, who I must say does not look well at all. As I said he is a carer for his wife, and is not in good health himself,I explained that in a way, that Naoetsu was looking at its past in the same way as we are now looking at what happened to Aboriginal people in Australia - that is, some painful truths which need to be remembered, and to enable reconciliation to take place between people's hearts. 

I think I really did get across your commitment to healing that period of history, and when I said that you wanted to open a museum, and that the books on the camp were in schools, he seemed very pleased. I basically reported the entire trip to him, and told him first what Mr Ishizuka had said regarding his observations re the codes of behaviour in the Japanese army at that time ( i.e. the severe treatment of new recruits) and also that he had been in the camp in Vietnam. 

... But I think the thing that most impressed him, and me, and my friends whom I tell, is that someone remembered him standing out in the snow with the bowl over his head all night. To think that he had been remembered in that way, and that that woman who saw him later supported the memorial, was, I think, very significant to him. ...

He also said that he and Watanabe (if you recall I said he would have gone to the Tokyo trials if they had caught him) had an odd relationship. Sometimes they would sit down and chat together. He thought Watanabe and he might have been similar personalities, and that Watanabe recognised a similar stubbornness in my uncle. This doesn't mean that he didn't get hit by the man frequently, but my uncle said that sometimes after a particularly solid belting he would then bring him a cube of sugar. And that it had been thanks to Watanabe that he had been brought back inside after his time out in the snow that night.... so nothing is ever black and white, of course.

Anyway, I think that your efforts in the memorial, and the books  (9), and your welcome to me, has laid some ghosts to rest in my uncle's heart. I think he believes that by creating the memorial, by looking at the history, you are doing all you can to ensure that war never happens again. 

He was delighted by the dolls (I gave him mine, hope you don't mind, but he has two beloved granddaughters and they will love them), and impressed by the idea of the notes on the fan. Needless to say I told him how hospitable you were, how very generous you were. 

... All in all, I think his heart is a more peaceful, and that he also feels that his experience has somehow been validated in this acknowledgement. He thought he could see himself in one of the group photos, for instance, and can show his wife, or sons, the maps of the camp etc. 
More later, thankyou all again and sorry for the delay.

Best wishes,   Katherine Thomson 

4.The Performing Arts of Australia and Japan and  Cultural Exchange between Two Countries

As I stated before, Ms Katherine Thomson was invited  as the guest to the meeting of Japanese Dramatists Association held in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in January 1999. But I didn't have much interest in the performing arts of Japan, not to speak of Australia at that time. Therefore, I had no idea about what was held in Sapporo and what the meeting meant for the performing arts of Japan. Besides, Kathy's stay in Naoetsu was so short and busy that she had no time to spare to talk about that. 

As I was an English teacher at junior high schools, I have had some interest in Australia and New Zealand, the people living there, their language, culture and history. Kathy gave me a 1998 version catalog of Currency Press, one of the publishing companies in Australia. While reading the catalog, I wanted to know what Australian plays including her plays were translated into Japanese and published in Japan. So, I looked for the information on the Internet, and found the Website of Oceania Press in Tokyo. (10)

I was astounded to read the article and the photographs of the stage contained in the page whose title was "John Romeril's 'The Floating World' Built a Bridge of Cultural Exchange Between Japan and Australia." What surprised me was that this play was written and put on the stage in Australia in 1970's, that it was translated into Japanese and published in 1993, and that Japanese version of the play was performed in September 1995, at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Theatre, as a part of the project called The Japan-Australia Cultural Exchange Program in 1995. Coincidence of the event of the unveiling and memorial ceremonies at the Peace Memorial Park held in Naoetsu in the following month of October, 1995, also surprised me very much. 

According to Mr. Keiji Sawada's article "On reading the Japanese version of Katherine Thomson's Diving for Pearls" in the report of Oceania Studies and Reviews No.11(11), I was surprised to know that Mr. John Romeril, the author of "The Floating World" and the president of Australian Dramatists Association, was also invited to the meeting of Japanese Dramatists Association in Sapporo in January 1999. 

It seemed to me that the image of Les Harding in "The Floating World" overlapped Kathy's Uncle, Mr. Kevin Timbs in some way. I think that Kathy knew it very well. 

I was also very much impressed by Mr. Sawada's article written in English in the same Website. The title was "The Japanese version of The Floating World: a cross-cultural event between Japan and Australia"(12),

In the latter half of his article, there is a chapter of "Personal Reactions as a Translator," in which he presented very important and fundamental opinion for promoting the mutual understanding and cross-cultural exchange between Japan and Australia. By courtesy of the author I would like to quote some part of the chapter in the following.

"・・・Nowadays, it is not too much to say that the country which Japanese most want to visit is Australia, but their understanding of the present relations between the two countries is not at all connected with past events. While the memory of the war against Japan still lingers in Australia, overwhelmingly, the Japanese people who go there have no knowledge of the shared history. In such a situation, can we really establish a true friendship between the two countries? ・・・
For this very reason, our Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu (JASJ) was formed and has been doing our best to establish the true friendship between Japan and Australia. Let me quote some part of Introduction of JASJ from Mr. Kondo's Website.

"...We want to hand down to the generations that succeed us the cruelty and excessiveness of war. We intend to accomplish that by including the detail of this war- experience as a part of our local history. If we sit idly by doing nothing, we are not true to ourselves and cannot truly maintain the peace we seek to uphold. That is the primary reason the Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu was formed...."

5. My Impressions on Reading "Diving for Pearls"

The world of Australian plays which I could look into through Ms Katherine Thomson was in fact strange and difficult for me to understand, although I haven't had no interest in Japanese plays, nor in Australian plays. It is no wonder that a Japanese who has never seen Australian  plays staged in the theatre would think and feel that way. Fortunately I met Kathy by chance at Naoetsu and came to know each other. And with the help of wonderful translation and explanation of "Diving for pearls" by Mr. Keiji Sawada, who is the expert of introducing Australian plays to Japan and translating them into Japanese, I was able to understand and enjoy reading the play somehow.

Anyway, I have had some questions and impressions on reading the play "Diving for Pearls." Let me write some of them down boldly in the following. 

My first question is: This play deals with the grave and serious social problems like economic recession, layoffs, labour union, and social insecurities, and is praised as one of the best Australian plays in the 90s. Why is this play so famous and popular in Australia? In Japan, such "grave and serious" plays would not achieve success. (13)

Mr. Sawada deals with this problem and writes in his "Explanation of Diving for Pearls," comparing the theatrical situations between Japan and Australia. (14)

Still I can't fully understand why. Maybe, this must be one of the cross-cultural differences between the two countries. Anyway, I'm surprised to know that this kind of "serious" plays are "noble tradition of dramatic writings in Australia." 

The second is my praise and admiration to the author's wonderful craftspersonship to describe the old industrial town and the people living there. I fully agree with Mr. Paul Thompson's comment; "she (Katherine Thomson) is a natural dramatist and a writer of memorable dialogue." (15)

Among the characters in the play, I was fascinated by Barbara. As I read her dialogue, I can imagine a middle-aged, energetic, and characteristic woman who speaks rather unrefined Australian English. I really wanted to see Barbara and listen to her on the stage in Australia.

Last but not least, I am very much looking forward to the Japan-Australia Cultural Exchange Program and the International Festival of Performing Arts in Tokyo and Melbourne. According to Mr. Sawada, the first International Festival began in 1995. In this program, Japanese and Australian theatre companies perform each other's plays in their own country's language. I believe this program is very effective to promote the mutual understanding between Japan and Australia. 


(1),Japanese Translation of "Diving for Pearls" 
Translated into Japanese by Keiji Sawada
Printed and published by Oceania Press
2-41-36 Maruyamadai, Konandai, Yokohama
233-0013   JAPAN


(2), A Bridge across the Pacific Ocean: Out of the Dark Days of Tragic Events at the POW Camps in Naoetsu and Cowra  p.111 
Edited and published on October 3rd, 1996 by the Council to Erect Statues of Peace and Friendship at the Former Site of the Naoetsu POW Campsite


(3),    ibid. p.93,94,100

(4),    ibid. p.43-62 

(5),    ibid. p.197 

(6),    ibid. p.133-135  Kakushinji Temple: A Buddhist temple in Kasuga Shinden, Joetsu City, which is about 10 minutes' walk from the Peace Memorial Park built in the POW Campsite. During the Pacific War(1943-1945) 60 Australian soldiers died in the Camp were cremated. 
But there was no one and no place to accept their ashes. At that time, Enri, the chief priest of the temple, took care of the deceased POWs' ashes, and prayed for them. He always said "Among the dead there are neither enemies nor allies."

(7),     ibid.   p.11  The Plaque for the Australian soldiers who died at Naoetsu POW Camp. The following epitaph is written on it. 









(8),   JASJ Bulletin, No.8  April 1999

(9),    ibid. as (2),

(10),   URL

(11),  Oceania Studies and Reviews No.11
p.1-10  Oceania Press   December 1999

(12),  URL 

(13),   ibid. as (1) p.188

(14),   ibid. p.195,196 

(15),   Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson, p.xi 
Currency Press 1998