Bringing Japanese Australian history to life
On February 10-21st this year, Japanese-Australian photographer and writer Mayu Kanamori tells her story of exploring Australia’s past through the lost photographs of Yasukichi Murakami. Murakami was a Japanese photographer, entrepreneur and inventor in pre-war Darwin and Broome. Many of his stunning photographs were lost when he was interned during the war. Showing at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre after sold out performances in Darwin, Broome and Adelaide, ‘Yasukichi Murakami –Through a Distant Lens’ merges Murakami’s and Mayu’s photos with music, performance and video, bringing to life the interplay of their stories.
Mayu has kindly agreed to be interviewed to share her perspective on Australia’s Japanese history and how it connects with the present day. To start with, I asked who was Yasukichi Murakami, and why is it important to tell his story?
Mayu: Most people don’t know much about the Japanese history in Australia before WWII. It is as if the violence of war wiped out all memory of Japanese who were here before and contributed during time of peace. The story of the Japanese in Australia did not begin with war – yet that is as far as people seem to remember.
On this day in 1941, Australian authorities arrived at the homes, business and schools of Japanese residents bearing arrest warrants. Even third generation Japanese Australians had to be registered as aliens under the Acts of the time, so the names and addresses of every person were known in advance, and the arrest warrants had been issued months previously, awaiting the outbreak of war for their date and signature.
Most people were arrested and taken to their local gaol within 24 hours. Most were allowed to pack a suitcase, though no one knew how long they would be away for – some policemen suggested it would only be a couple of days, leading to those arrested taking nothing with them but a pair of pyjamas and a toothbrush. Homes and businesses had to be abandoned and some school children were arrested by soldiers with fixed bayonets in front of their schoolmates. On Thursday Island there were over five hundred people to arrest, so instead a barbed wire fence was built around the Japanese quarter with machine guns installed at each corner, making a temporary prison of their homes. Read the rest of this entry
Browsing in the awesome Kimberley Bookshop in Broome I came across Noreen Jone’s book Number 2 Home, which explores the history of the Japanese in Western Australia. I was intrigued: I’d heard a lot about the role of Chinese and Afghan/Pakistani people in Australia’s history, as well as English, Scots, Irish, Greeks and Vietnamese, but very little about Japanese people. I bought it and discovered an intriguing and heart-breaking history of a thriving community that was essentially wiped out with the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry