Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Site | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Site

Item details

Name of item: Cowra Prisoner of War Camp Site
Other name/s: POW
Type of item: Archaeological-Terrestrial
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Internment Camp
Location: Lat: -33.8152790265 Long: 148.7064097440
Primary address: Evans Street, Cowra, NSW 2794
Parish: Cowra
County: Bathurst
Local govt. area: Cowra
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Cowra
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP196204
LOT305 DP823438
LOT21 DP862774
PART LOT22 DP862774
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Evans StreetCowraCowraCowraBathurstPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Cowra Shire CouncilLocal Government07 Apr 99

Statement of significance:

The Cowra POW camp-site exists within a landscape that is both evocative and aesthetically pleasing. This landscape may be used to interpret the context of the camp as the site's primary historical feature, because it remains essentially the way it was during WWII.

The site is one component of a national body of evidence which documents the most profound physical impact of WWII on Australian soil. It also represents the only land engagement on the Australian mainland during that period.

The camp-site has a wide ethnic and multi-cultural association and was instrumental in the decisions of many families to migrate to Australia after WWII. The site has a particular cultural and spiritual significance to the Japanese nation, as it was the focus of the break-out and loss of life of Japanese prisoners. Links formed between Cowra and Japan have been instrumental in affecting the form, direction and identity of the town in the post-war period. This situation is unique in Australia. (Thorp 1993: 45)
Date significance updated: 01 Oct 97
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Builder/Maker: Australian soldiers and POWs
Construction years: 1941-1944
Physical description: The camp is located on gently sloping land that is separated from the town by a ridge line. The camp generally exists in a cleared setting although there has been considerable tree growth in and around many of the structural remains. None of the original perimeter or internal fences, paths or structures remain to any appreciable level above ground level, although remnants of floor slabs, footings and drainiage lines have been identified using aerial photographs. A single ruinous, but above ground structure is located at the north western end of the Headquarter's area. It comprises four walls constructed from a variety of materials including stone rubble, salvaged bricks and concrete blocks. Evidence of a relatively shallow-pitched roof remains. Two buildings remain intact off site, having been sold at auction after the camp was disbanded. They are 60' by 80' timber huts with corrugated asbestos pitched roofs. (Thorp 1993: 26-32)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Few of the former facilities survive to any great extent above ground level.
Archaeological potential is extremely high in all areas of the complex.
Modifications and dates: 1991 - Cherry Tree Avenue extended across the Camp to link with the War Cemetary and Japanese Gardens.
Current use: Private grazing/ crop cultivation/ public access to camp site
Former use: Prisoner of War camp


Historical notes: The Cowra Prisoner of War Camp was constructed in 1941-2 to house Italian POWs captured by Allied Forces during WWII. It was part of a nationwide system of POW confinement and enemy alien containment. In all, twenty-eight major camps were established in Australia by the British Military Board during this period. The camp was to consist of four compounds, two with permanent amenities and two temporary. Although officially operating from June 1941, the first internees were marched into Cowra nearly four months later, on 15 October 1941. The major building program was still underway at this time and was not completed until well into 1944. Both POW and local labourers were used to complete construction, the prisoners living in tents until April 1942 when accommoadation huts became available.

By December 1942 over 2,000 mainly Italian, prisoners and internees were housed in the camp. Between January 1943 and August 1944, over one thousand Japanese POWs and internees arrived. By the end of June 1944 the camp was already overcrowded beyond its intended capacity. At 2 am on 5 August 1944 the Japanese prisoners staged an outbreak, during which over 300 escaped outright and over 250 died. 18 buildings were burnt to the ground. This action has remained significant in popular memory as the first time the War was fought on home soil and as the largest revolt of its kind in Australia's history. This has often overshadowed the experience of the Italian, Javanese and assorted other ethnic groups which populated the camp during its operation.

After the end of the War the camp and its surrounds were sold to the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and a private owner. Part of the site remains within a public reserve. The private part of the site is used for grazing and crop cultivation. (Blackmore 1988: 6-18)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Ethnic influences-Activities associated with common cultural traditions and peoples of shared descent, and with exchanges between such traditions and peoples. Segregating people on the basis of ethnicity-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The development and occupation of the Prisoner of War camp was unique in the region, has important historical associations and has had a profound effect on the post-war development of Cowra. It represents a profound physical impact of WWII on Australian soil. The site can also be used to interpret the modified rural landscape in which it exists. The activities of the Agricultural Research Station have had a profound influence upon the district as a whole. (Thorp 1993: 41)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The landscape surrounding the site may be used to interpret the context of the camp as the site's primary historical feature, becuase it remains essentially the way it was during WWII. The pleasing and spacious environment is particularly evocative of both the conditions within the camp during its life and its post-war history. The intrusive tree and shrub growth however, are seen to detract from the siginifcance of the place by obscuring the interpretation of the site as an open space and masking many of the ruins. (Thorp 1993: 42)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The camp was not the first nor the largest POW campsite in Australia. Neither is it the best preserved. There is however, a substantial body of archaeological and documentary evidence that enables this site as part of a national body of evidence to demonstrate the POW experience of WWII in Australia. It is important for ethnic and multi-cultural experience in Australia. It has an association with the Japanese breakout, which has military significance. As the site on which many Japanese lives were lost it also has cultural and spiritual significance for the Japanese nation. Finally, the events which occurred at the site have initiated a profound impact on the form and cultural activity of Cowra in the post-war years. This is an event and process which is apparently unique in Australia. (Thorp 1993: 44)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The physical remnants that remain in-situ represent a technology and building method for an architectural typology which is relatively rare in Australia and which existed for a short time and for a specific purpose. The physical and archaeolgical resources represent a database that could be used to more accurately examine the habits and lifestyle of both the guards and the prisoners within the camp. (Thorp 1993: 43)
SHR Criteria g)
The site is not the first, largest or most intact POW camp. There is however, a substantial body of archaeological and documentary evidence that enables it, as part of a national body of evidence, to demonstrate the POW experience of WWII in Australia.
Integrity/Intactness: The site is not well preserved, with few of the original features remaining above ground. It does however have an intact archaeological resource. This, and the extensive documentary resource add significantly to its interpretive and historical potential.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Redefine the PCO curtilage; apply for an RNE listing; relocate existing land owners.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentPOW Camp 12, Cowra, CMP, by M & J Tracey for Cowra Council, dated October 2003 CMP received for consideration for endorsement 5 December 2003.  
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act See File For Schedule

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
Maintenance and repair of existing farm fences and the provision of internal subdivision fences;
Maintenance and repair of existing dams, water storage facilities and reticulation systems .
Eradication of noxious plants and animals (weed species in natural areas to be removed either by manual means or treated by spot application of herbicide to avoid effects on native vegetation);
maintenance and repairs to existing access roads;
horticultural and agricultural management.
Oct 13 1989
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0061902 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0061913 Oct 89 1008483
Local Environmental Plan  26 Oct 90   
Potential Heritage ItemA    
Heritage studyHeritage Study 13 Jun 03   
Register of the National Estate 10126527 Mar 01   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Cowra Shire Heritage Study2003 Heritage Archaeology, Kingston, ACT  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written J.H. Winston-Gregson.1991Cherry Tree Avenue, Cowra PoW Camp
WrittenHeritage Archaeology2003Conservation management plan - Prisoner of war camp 12, Cowra, NSW
WrittenHeritage Archaeology.2003An archaeological assessment of the site of Prisoner of war camp 12, Cowra, NSW
PhotographHeritage Office1997(not stated)
WrittenKate Blackmore, Paul Ashton and Andrew Wilson1988Cowra Prisoner-of-War Camp Historical Study
WrittenPOW campsite working party.1993Cowra Prisoner of War camp oral histories /
WrittenThe Integrated Design Company2013Cowra POW Camp, WWII history signs View detail
WrittenThe Integrated Design Company2013Cowra POW Camp ruins heritage interpretation View detail
WrittenWendy Thorp POW Camp-Site Plan of Management

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045173
File number: S90/00661;S91/06355 &HC870813

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