Earlier this year I spent some satisfying days in Canberra, the Australian capital. But when I told people I was going to Canberra, most said they had never been there. Sure it is not one of Aussie’s glitzy tourist highlights, such as the Gold Coast, Sydney or even Melbourne. Canberra resulted following the 1901 Federation when six independent colonies (states) combined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. A 3000 square kilometre corner of New South Wales was put aside to become the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Being an inland city 300km from Sydney and double that from Melbourne, Canberra is a tricky place to get to. I took the Singapore Airlines direct ﬂight from Wellington. I had been invited to the unveiling of the Canberra Rotary Peace Bell as a representative of the New Zealand World Peace Bell. How did this come about? About four years ago my host, Michael Rabey and his wife Joan, visited Christchurch. Devastated by the earthquake in the inner city, they sought an escape. As “we jumped on one of the trams. Onboard we met a strange guy, who introduced himself as the Wizard of New Zealand. “We got off at the Botanic Gardens and went for a wander. We came across the New Zealand World Peace Bell in its magniﬁcent pavilion. Having read the plaques, we thought it would be great to have one of these in Canberra. We agreed it would sit well in our Nara Peace Park adjacent to Lake Burley Grifﬁn. “A Google search tracked down Roy Sinclair, instigator of the bell in Christchurch. I also contacted the World Peace Bell Association in Tokyo to ﬁnd out if acquiring a bell was possible.” Michael Rabey and I became good mates. Hence my invitation to Canberra. A former real estate agent with LJHooker, Michael’s enthusiasm is matched by his energy. The day prior to the bell unveiling he is in high demand for radio and newspaper interviews. Nevertheless I do get my 30 minutes with him. He has already taken me to see the Canberra bell. Having set it up he invites me to ring it. I look at my watch. It is 10.47am. I suggest I wait four minutes and I can toll the Canberra bell at 12.51pm (New Zealand time). The bell in Christchurch will then be rung at the same time to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the devastating Canterbury earthquakes. Michael is Mr Peace Bell in Canberra. He tells me in addition to his visit to Christchurch, inspiration has been from Joan Rabey’s 15 years as a guide at Canberra’s National War Memorial. “During that time we were able to travel overseas. We visited war graves of thousands of Australians — and New Zealanders, Brits and others. We saw Japanese war graves and German war graves. “That got us thinking. Why-oh-why did all this have to happen? lt shouldn’t ever happen again.” After their Christchurch visit Michael made a presentation to his Burley Grifﬁn Rotary Club. The club agreed to support the Peace Bell idea. Interestingly, the club is named after Walter Burley Griffin, a Chicago landscape architect who, in 1912, won an international competition to design the Australian capital. A Rotary Peace Bell committee was formed. The World Peace Bell HQ in Tokyo informed us that a bell would be available in return for our donation of one million yen. That’s about $A12,000. We would need additional funds to construct a pavilion when the bell arrived. The total required was close to $200,000.” He enlisted ten Rotarians as foundation contributors. Another donation was from his Rotary Club. The ACT Government chipped in as did local schools. The Peace Bell duly arrived in Canberra.“Having nowhere to set it up I approached LJHooker Real Estate director of marketing, Andrew Lidgopoulos and asked him if architect Fred Kasparek, whom he knew well, might draw up a plan for a basic pavilion. Andrew contacted Fred, and he agreed to look at it. I rang Kasparek a week later and apologised that in telling him what we wanted. I had not given him any artistic freedom. He said, ‘That’s interesting, I’ve got something to show you.’ He had a model of our proposed bell pavilion. It was a project of his daughter, Lauren, an architectural student at the University of Canberra. I was blown away by the model. It and the ﬁnished pavilion are virtually identical. The whole thing came together way ahead of our wildest expectations. It sits magniﬁcently on its site beside Lake Burley Griffen.”
Michael tells me he, and others, walked around a small promontory until they stopped at a particular spot with a view of the lake and other Canberra landmarks. “We approached the ACT Government and surprise, surprise, after a long time the authorities allowed us to utilise that spot. “We intend gifting the bell and pavilion to the ACT. We will retain the striker. We can then control events and who uses the bell. We want to retain the Rotary title to the Peace Bell otherwise, over time, it will be forgotten how it got there.” Michael takes me on a tour of Nara Peace Park. It is named after the ancient Japanese city, a sister city of Canberra. We pause at a sculpture of a ﬁve-level pagoda. On the topmost point sits a bird symbolising peace. It is modelled on Latham’s snipe (also the Japanese snipe). During the non-breeding season the bird migrates between Japan and the Australian eastern states. The park also has a dry river bed. It is a venue for an annual candle-light festival typically attracting 10,000 — mostly Japanese — people. The event was instigated by The Rotary Club of Canberra Burley griffin but owing to numbers attending has been passed to the ACT Government. Seventeen Canberra diplomats, each representing Countries which have a World Peace Bell, were invited to the bell unveiling next morning, 23 February, which was World Rotary Day. A highlight of the event was the Presentation of the inaugural Chief Minister’s Rotary Peace Prize. Including $1000 donated by Rotary, ACT Government Attorney General, Gordon Ramsay, presented the prize to Dr Sue Wareham, a founder of International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) which had won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. In her impromptu speech, Dr Wareham said Australia had been at war in trouble spots for 16 years. Being at war has become the norm for Australia. “We have to change that,” she said. Michael Rabey plans to, in future, present the Chief Minister’s Prize on United Nations International Peace Day (21 September). “It is a day we must give prominence to. Many people have not heard of the important day.” He sees his future as managing Rotary Peace Bell events. Bell ringings will seek donations to fund four special projects;
• Rotary Foundation – Rotary’s principle charity funding projects worldwide;
• A Rotary programme training 100 people annually to work in peace initiatives;
• Shelter Box Australia, assisting emergency accommodation and basic necessities (such as tents and cooking gear). Costing $1000 each, Shelter Boxes have assisted in disaster relief in emergencies such as I after the 2010 Haiti earthquake;
• Domestic violence issues. A peaceful world ideally begins in the home.
“We will be encouraging religious groups, Scouts and Guide movements, and schools to hold events at the bell. Some World Peace Bells are rung only once or twice a year. We don’t think that’s the way ours should operate. Our bell will be rung as often as possible by as many people as possible. I am excited about school projects planned. That will really set us apart. I can envisage thousands of school children coming to ring the Peace Bell over the next year. If that happens I will know the Peace Bell has been a great success. Our main mission is getting the message of peace to those young minds.’ Michael is intrigued to discover my inspiration for a New Zealand World Peace Bell was from a visit to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Cowra, NSW There I had discovered the Australian World Peace Bell. Michael, in turn, was inspired by his Christchurch Visit. It has become a triangle of trans-Tasman Peace Bells — tolling for peace and building friendships.