Chapter 2 ......Japanese Koalas

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, or at least the name, embodies two symbols, that could not be more Australian. Lone Pine has its revered memories etched in blood upon the the historic battlefields of Gallipoli. It evokes in the bosom of all patriot Australians the embryo of nationhood, prowess and identification. Men died in appalling numbers in the glorious defeat at the hands of the Turkish soldiers out of which rose the tradition of ANZAC forged by the camaraderie of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Lone Pine stands as a lasting reminder of young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Twenty-six years later men died in atrocious conditions at the hands of the Japanese, not fighting in honourable combat, but perishing as prisoners of war. The indignity of their demise, borne out by documented evidence, has left an understandable scar upon the Australian psyche. In New Zealand where the people are naturally conservative, the indelible imprint in not as conspicuous. Australians just have a shorter fuse on the issue of Japanese atrocities. So it was that when the Courier-Mail, the Brisbane morning broadsheet, announced that the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary had been sold to a  Japanese interest, all hell broke loose.  The newspaper article unleashed a torrent of ‘letters to the editor’. Day after day, irate Australians wrote to their municipal and provincial dailies extolling the betrayal of the Australian people, selling off ‘our ‘ sacred sanctuary. What evoked the charge of betrayal had everything to do with the fact that the buyer was Japanese, and very little to do to do with the fact that the sale being made to foreign interest. Alex Smith writing in the now defunct Brisbane Sun complained that he would have to ‘pay the Japanese so that his children could see koala in their own country’. Many could not adequately express their deep disgust that the name Lone Pine and all it stood for, should serve as a beacon to help generate revenue for a people who once tossed babies in the air and staked them on their bayonets as they fell, who marched diggers to their death and who sprayed a rain of bullets into the backs of terrified nurses as they sought escape into the sea. Illogical as their arguments were, it was as inevitable as night follows day. If the Japanese bore the brunt of this wrath the Australians did not escape either. The question most asked was why Australian businesses stood back and allowed this to happen. “Where was their patriotism”, was the call? Why had we sat back and allowed the ‘stinkin nips’ to walk all over us? Just as they clicked their cameras and gabbled on in their gibberish over the graves of sailors who were cleaned out in Pearl Harbour, so too were they now laughing at us. The ‘bloody Japs’, it was just all too much.

In truth however, Lone Pine Sanctuary was put on the open market. Lack of interest in the project as a tourist acquisition, a malady common in a country that is driven by short term profits, saw the advent of a sale languish. Offers were made to break the property up to facilitate investor interest, the plan apparently being to create land for development purposes. The prospect of this happening did not apparently rest easy with the owners, for they did not go along with this proposal. Finally a Japanese buyer realising the potential of the place, purchased it. Australians rung their hands in despair at this sacrilegious act of vandalism; they ranted they raved but in the end they did nothing. They have a name for this sort of thing ...apathy

Meanwhile down on the Gold Coast, ninety kilometres south of Brisbane a New Zealander, the author, took no more than a passing interest in the local outcry. However, the thought that did occur to him was one that he passed on to his Australian wife one evening over tea, almost in a mood of total detachment. “You know” he said “the Australians are all up tight about this business of selling their bloody koalas. They have got their nickers in a knot over a sacred name, but there missing the real problem. What about the kids land and the fellows who gave their lives fighting for it? That's what they should be questioning”. The moment passed. The man who was to send shockwaves through the corridors of power in both Japan and Australia, was no more interested in what the Japanese were doing than the next person. Ironically in the weeks to come it was the historical significance of the Anzac tradition, that fired the passion of this conservative New Zealander to take up the fight. Lone Pine may not raise the same passions in the Kiwi as it does in his Aussie cousin, but when he holds in his hand two service medals that are a constant reminder that his two great uncles are buried within its shadows, the legacy of Anzac burns. The sons and daughters of Anzac are duty bound to uphold the principle and tradition that had been indelibly etched into our culture. Our forefathers fought for this land, now we were selling it to the very people who tried to take it at the point of a gun. "As a proud  descendent of an Anzac I make no apologies for upholding the spirit of that tradition". For a people that stand to attention at the bugle call in clubs around this nation ‘Lest We Forget’, it has always been a matter of sorrow that it was left to a New Zealander to defend the legacy that the diggers at Lone Pine bequeathed. Australians should hang their heads in shame!

Chapter 3