Remembering Aboriginal and Japanese nuclear tragedies

In the Nagasaki peace park stands a memorial donated by the City of Fremantle in Australia and made in collaboration with the Aboriginal communities of Yalata and Oak Valley/Maralinga.

Recently the Jesuit Major Superiors of our Asia Pacific Conference met in Japan. For some, like myself, it was our first visit to that country.

Australian memorial in Nagasaki peace park.

Australian memorial in Nagasaki peace park.

After the meeting finished, we were able to see more of Nagasaki and, for those who wished, Hiroshima as well. Both cities have peace parks and memorials to the nearly 130,000 people who died in the two atomic bombings of 6 and 9 August 1945.

Nagasaki holds a particular Christian memory, as approximately ten per cent of those who died that day were Christian, including a number of Religious sisters and others who were attending mass at the Cathedral when the bomb dropped.

In the Nagasaki peace park, there are memorials to peace from different countries. They include one from Australia, donated in 2016 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing. It was a gift of the City of Fremantle and made in collaboration with the Aboriginal communities of Yalata and Oak Valley/Maralinga.

It recognises atomic survivors worldwide, including those affected by British nuclear testing at Maralinga, Emu Field and Monte Bello Islands.

The memorial, a tree holding a traditional carrying dish (piti or coolamon), is called Tree of Life: Gift of Peace. It describes how the tree gives life to make the piti, which is used for carrying food, water, and babies. It represents the sharing of resources between families, communities and nations for peace and harmony.

What is special about this memorial is that it is from the Anangu people (those of the Western Desert of Australia), and written in Pitjantjatjara. It reminds us of the atomic bomb testing we conducted in this country.

The torn, roughly cut tree embodies the post-nuclear landscape of the land on which it sits. A uniquely shaped piti dish, an Aboriginal symbol of peace, with the tree as its donor, perches at the top. The work embodies the resilience of both its donors and its recipients and stands as a symbol of friendship.

On this approaching yearly reminder of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us not forget the human price our world continues to pay for war. Let it renew our commitment to that path for peace, and the sharing of life and resources beyond all borders, cultures and faiths.

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial