I like to tackle the really big issues here, so today I thought I would have a crack at world peace! Give me the reins of the world for a day and I have a proposal to tackle world peace. There are approximately 195 countries in the world and, although I have only been to 18 of those countries, I am pretty confident that what I have seen in those countries is reflected across all nations. We all are basically the same. Shock, horror! When you cut us, we all bleed red blood. We all laugh at slapstick comedy. And when a relative dies, we all feel incredible emotional pain. It has always been difficult to understand why otherwise sane human beings bear arms and kill other humans during times of war – for no greater crime than the fact that they were born on a separate piece of soil on this one earth.
I have a belief that the more connected the world becomes and the more interaction we have with people from all nations, the less likely we are to want to go to war with other countries. Rotary has a wonderful program internationally with about 9,000 student exchanges occurring every year. It started in Europe in 1929 with the Rotary Club of Copenhagen initiating the first exchange and the program now extends across 150 countries.
At a local level, we have two international sister-cities and we enjoy many ongoing exchanges with both. Generally a sister-city relationship can build goodwill between nations and allow economic and cultural exchange. We have had a sister-city relationship with Wujiang in China since June 1995 and Mayor of the day, Squadron Leader Tom Slattery, signed a sister-city agreement with Minokamo in Japan on 2 June 1989.
I am currently in Japan (on a completely self-funded trip) having just finished an official visit to Minokamo to speak at a Symposium on our sister-city relationship. While at the Symposium I made the very bold move of speaking about the unspeakable. In front of an audience of more than 100 locals, I mentioned… the war. Many in the audience would not have been acutely aware of the fact that Australia and Japan were once at war. The first enemy attack on Australian soil was on 19 February 1942 when 242 Japanese aircraft dropped more bombs on Darwin than they dropped on Pearl Harbour. From that first entry into the war through to 12 November 1943, more than 60 raids on Darwin occurred from Japanese aircraft. The last bomb was dropped on Australia by a Japanese aircraft less than 70 years ago, yet there we all were together sitting at a Symposium talking about our wonderful sister-city relationship. I talked about the importance of understanding other cultures so that we can hopefully prevent another world war from ever occurring. I talked about the value of annual student and professional exchanges and how experiencing other cultures helps us learn that other cultures can be different to ours – and that doesn’t mean wrong. Different just means different, and that is OK.
It was a brave move to mention the war, but once I had the floodgates opened. Practically every speaker after me spoke about the war and the tragedies involved with wartime and how they enjoy their relationship with Dubbo. It prompted even more discussion from me. I made the point that the Mayor who signed the original agreement with Minokamo was someone who had served a 37-year career with the Royal Australian Air Force. He had obviously been able to put the past in the past to sign a significant agreement. I also told the story that the wonderful Shoyoen, arguably the most authentic Japanese garden in Australia, had some minor cultural obstacles to overcome before being established. The location of the Shoyoen is near a retirement village. When the location was first suggested, some people in the village resisted and found it insensitive due to the fact that they had fought against the Japanese or they had lost relatives in WWII. It was a fair point and it took some hard work by the leaders of the day to ensure that the residents overcame the past and looked to the future – a future where war was discouraged and relationships with other nations were of the utmost importance.
The 25-year anniversary of our sister-city relationship occurs next year and Minokamo now has a new Mayor. He concluded at the end of the Symposium that he would like to see a physical representation in Minokamo of our sister-city relationship to mirror the physical presence we have in our Shoyoen. He is currently asking residents what they would like to see in their city. The timeframe is ambitious, but they hope to have something by the 25 year anniversary.
So give me the reins of the world for a day and I would implement a program of ongoing cultural exchanges across the world to let everyone know that people are people. Despite different languages and different looks and different ideas, we are all people sharing the one planet. If we interact with other people, I think we are less likely to demonise them and more likely to learn from them.
Tell me if you think I have become slightly too philosophical at email@example.com.
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo