The room was a little stuffy for so many. And 2 1/2 hours on a sunny afternoon at the end of our "work season", as the charming 78 year old Nakanishi Iwoa phrased it, was a big ask. On the other hand it's not every day, in fact it's probably once in a lifetime, one gets to meet survivors of a nuclear bomb. These folks are the real Indiana Jones of today. Not in a lead lined 1950ies refrigerator in a fluffy Hollywood thriller, but in Nagasaki Cathedral or similar "strong building". They were the extremely lucky ones who won the lottery when 140,000 and then another 70,000 died as a result of a monstrous blinding white light that ate their respective cities.
It's not every day one is led like a child held at the wrist to one's chair by 70 year old Sato Hiroe who works for Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park since 1990. Steve Mori was there manfully struggling with a hot kettle in his own art gallery kitchen in undersized black singlet preparing endless trays of tea and lime waters for the honoured guests: The 100 Hibakusha, witnesses to the atom bomb dropped on them in Nagasaki and Hiroshima visiting Sydney until 5 pm this afternoon.
As retired High Court Judge Kirby has said recently Love is the most profound force in this world and that elixir was in Mori Gallery yesterday. Unexpected, unassuming, eye opening, healing. Some of the images here are sombre for a serious matter but that would be deceptive of the vibe of the event. Actually it was very vibrant with cross cultural openness and trust.
These often sprightly retirees and their orange shirted young brigade of interpreters were a treat. It was quite an operation too with multiple microphones, translations and displays. Senator Scott Ludlum as facilitator was highly deferential. He had come off a 3 day trip by water from Auckland to Wharf 8 in Darling Harbour as part of the 63rd Global Voyage for a Nuclear Free World - Peace Boat Hibakusha Project.
Is the ocean is a unifying symbol of our emotional world? One 70 year old Hibakusha in the group session said she kept that hellish time secret until this boat trip. Now she realised it was her duty to speak about it. Another who worked as a primary school teacher explained that not all of Japanese national curriculum learns the real lessons about the atomic bombs. Not all in Australia either.
We mentioned our article in December 2007 urging PM Rudd to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park to get beyond the anti whaling straitjacket and this was well received. Rudd did make that visit 6 months later. The Q & A also covered the 40 nuclear power plants and their waste in Japan, with the fear of another Chernobyl present. A local Victorian mentioned the Pugwash group of scientist against nuke bombs founded by one brave dissenter in the Manhattan Project who resigned when it was clear Germany weren't in the race.
Jillian Marsh, an Australian activist with the Adnyamathanha People in South Australia closed the loop regarding pollution from Beverley uranium mine there. She explained how in their legends the giant Emu Spirit vomited up the uranium and traditional wisdom has known for thousands of years to avoid the poison country (including no doubt the radon gas). Film maker and consultant to the UN Kathleen Sullivan spoke about the need to educate the world for a ban on nuclear weaponry, recalling the 7 year ban on press coverage in the US on the reality of the bombing in Japan.
Some quality media picked up the threads. We saw ABC prime time tv news and 7.30 Report stories. It may have been covered elsewhere too. The most profound moment for this writer was this photo across the language barrier. No Japanese. No English. Of a Hibakusha man simply pointing on the desolate map of Nagasaki 1945 of where he was (in the Cathedral) when it happened. He posed for this photo and I shook his hand, a real honour to meet in peace. And to contemplate the awesome capacity of the human spirit to reach out to our shores.
Here is the letter submitted to a representative of the Australian PM yesterday morning praising Kevin Rudd for establishing an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. We heard the Hibakusha were "restless" to see a global ban in their lifetime just like the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention. With cluster and land mine munitions on the list. As Senator Ludlum explained it was this same process of outreach and lobbying that concluded those bans by the same kind of people. Well said senator. Well said Hibakusha.