KUCHING: The Australian Borneo Exhibition Group, which organises annual trips for Anzac (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) veterans and students to commemorate WWII in Sabah-Sarawak, is seeking stronger support to fund its programme.
Its president Ryan Rowland said the group is looking to increase participation especially among the youths, as well as bring back its popular World War II gallery to be exhibited across the state.
Each year, the group would bring Anzac veterans including family members, children and exchange students on its Forgotten Hero Tour to both states and were planning to expand the programme.
Its previous exhibition across Borneo in 2010 attracted some 100,000 visitors and Rowland believed the gallery should make a return.
“Our programmes give people access to history and raise awareness on what happened to their forefathers during the war.
“We bring people here on family pilgrimage to establish a cross-culture exchange, feeling of compassion and closure, while maintaining our beliefs to denounce war, terrorism and inequality of people between religions and political ideology,” he told reporters after a visit to meet Kuching South mayor Datuk James Chan here.
The group has been organising their tour since 2000.
Apart from Anzac Day, the programme included trips to Sandakan, Sabah, in remembrance of Freedom Day (the surrendering of Japanese troops on Aug 15), as well as Sept 12 in Kuching to mark the official liberation of Borneo.
“The whole peace reconciliation aspect is very important and one way to do this is the development of education through the youths. There were too many tragedies and trauma suffered not only by the liberators and the army, but also the prisoners of war and local community.
“We need to acknowledge the fact the people here had suffered. To be instrumental in what we do, not only that we raise awareness, our students must learn about the history in Borneo,” he said.
The group’s gallery that was exhibited at the state museum seven years ago was extended for months because of overwhelming response.
The gallery was then displayed in several other venues across Sabah and Sarawak for a further five months.
“Easily 100,000 people might have visited the exhibition, it was astonishing. Such success has never been accomplished again even in Australia.
“We have taken the exhibition to many regions in Australia including Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, and the response was not as big as Sarawak,” Rowland said.
The group was now looking for assistance and subsidy to bring the gallery back to Sarawak. The programme also received support from Rotary, Lions Club and veterans’ organisations.
“We want to put a strong message to corporate bodies, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the public that we need their support to keep the programme going,” Rowland said.
Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) Heritage Development Committee chairman, Datuk Lim Kian Hock, said they were planning to set up a war memorial in Pending to mark the liberation of Sarawak and Borneo from the Japanese occupation.
The proposed site would be located at the spot where Australian Brigadier Sir Thomas Eastwick accepted the surrender of General Yamamura and the Japanese troops.