Cowra - the great escape

Delicious food and wine, stunning natural attractions and a fascinating military history make Cowra a great place to visit. In 1944, 1,000 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from a local internment camp. Cowra has since forged a remarkable friendship with Japan and you can see this in the Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, teahouse, pottery house, bonsai house and pretty gardens at Sakura Avenue.


Cowra is a large country town situated on the Lachlan River at the junction of the Mid Western and Olympic Highways. It is the commercial centre of a strong agricultural area that covers horticulture, aquaculture and viticulture.

Cowra is noted for its historical and natural attractions, the magnificent Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, quality restaurants, wineries, galleries, craft shops and horse riding.

Cowra’s wine industry is now internationally recognised, especially the award-winning Chardonnay. The Cowra Wine Show in July is the third largest in the country.

The public identity of the town has become bound up with the Cowra breakout of 1944 (in which Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from a local camp during World War II) and the subsequent association with Japan. This history has led the town to focus on and promote the values of pacifism and internationalism, which are at the centre of the annual Festival of Understanding.

The magnificent Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre was erected on a 5-ha site as a symbol of the historical ties between Cowra and Japan. The garden was designed by Ken Nakajima, a world-renowned figure in traditional Japanese landscape gardening, in liaison with the School of Environmental Design from Canberra College of Advanced Education.


George Wilson Evans passed near the Cowra town site in 1815. He named the area the Oxley Plains after his superior John Oxley, the surveyor-general.

In 1831 cattlemen Arthur Rankin and James Sloan from Bathurst became the first white settlers on the Lachlan. In the early days the town site was a river crossing known as ‘Coura Rocks’. About 1847 the crossing became known as Cowra and the village was proclaimed in 1849.

In the 1850s the river crossing was used by gold prospectors headed for Lambing Flat (Young) and Grenfell.

Reef gold was discovered at Mt McDonald to the south-east (near what is now Wyangala Dam) in the 1880s and a settlement of 500 people developed. It was named after the McDonald brothers who first discovered gold in the area. Alluvial gold was also found at Woods Flat near Woodstock and in small quantities amidst the sands of the Lachlan River.

A bridge across the Lachlan was built at Cowra from 1891 to 1893. At the time it was the country’s longest single-span and total span bridge.

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Key Highlights

  • The magnificent Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre
  • The Festival of Understanding held annually in March
  • The POW Camp and Peace Precinct
  • Outstanding food and wine experiences

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