Cowra (map) is a town and local government area located 310m above sea-level and about 300kms west of Sydney on the banks of the Lachlan River.  The area was originally inhabited by the Wiradjuri people. The first white explorer, George Wilson Evans, entered the Lachlan Valley in 1815. He named the area the Oxley Plains after his superior the surveyor-general, John Oxley. In 1817 he deemed the area unfit for white settlement. A Military Depot was established not long after at Soldiers Flat near present day Billimari. Arthur Rankin and James Sloan from Bathurst were amongst the first white settlers on the Lachlan. They moved to the area in 1831.

The township of Coura Rocks had its beginnings in 1840; by 1847 it had been renamed Cowra.  The village was proclaimed in 1849. In the 1850s many gold prospectors passed through the town heading for the gold fields at Lambing Flat (Young) and Grenfell. The first school was established in 1857; while the first bridge over the Lachlan River was built in 1870.  Gold was discovered at Mount McDonald in the 1880s. The rail head, from Sydney, reached Cowra in 1886. Local government was granted in 1888. The first telephone exchange was established in 1901. The town water supply was established in 1909, the gasworks in 1912 and town supplied electricity was introduced in 1924.

During World War II Cowra was the site of a prisoner of war (POW) camp. Most of the detainees were captured Japanese and Italian military personnel. On August 5, 1944 at least 545 (some sources suggest over 1000) Japanese POWs attempted a mass breakout from the camp, in perhaps the largest prison escape in world history. Simultaneously, other Japanese prisoners committed suicide, or were killed by their countrymen, inside the camp.

The actions of the POWs in storming machine gun posts, armed only with improvised weapons, showed what Prime Minister John Curtin described as a 'suicidal disregard of life' and had no chance of success. During the breakout and subsequent recapture of POWs, four Australian guards and 231 Japanese died; 108 prisoners were wounded.  A Japanese garden in Cowra commemorates these events. The garden was designed by Ken Nakajima in the style of the Edo period and opened in 1979. An annual cherry blossom festival is held in the gardens during late September early October each year.  An Avenue of honour also commemorates those who died in World War I.

The Shire has a number of small villages such as Billimari, Darbys Falls, Morongla, Mount McDonald, Woodstock, Gooloogong, Noonbinna, Wyangala and Wattamondara. 

Cowra GenWeb Coordinator:  Volunteer Required


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