“Koalas Came to Town!”
Australian Prime Minister Gillard visits Minami-Sanriku Town
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, Japan received warm supports from people all over the world. Among many foreign dignitaries who visited the afflicted areas. Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia was the first to do so. She visited Minami-Sanriku Town, where the Australian search and rescue team carried out their operations. Her visit was made possible with the warm support of the town.
On April 23, thick fog over Sendai Airport made us worried whether the visit could be realized. However, the plane with Prime Minister Gillard on board successfully landed at the airport at the third attempt. She left for Minami-Sanriku Town by land thanks to the cooperation of the Miyagi Prefectural Police. Upon her arrival, Prime Minister Gillard visited the remains of the town’s disaster management center, accompanied by Foreign Minister Matsumoto and Mr. Rob McNeil, the leader of the Australian rescue team. Mr. Jin Sato, Mayor of the town, explained how the tsunami devastated the town on March 11.
Prime Minister Gillard then visited an evacuation center (Bay Side Arena). She was greeted by the warm welcome of the town’s people there. Prime Minister Gillard handed stuffed dolls of koala and kangaroo she had brought from Australia and the children were very much delighted. I also took part in the delivery relay, passing the dolls to the Prime Minister. Not many koalas left in the stockpile, I was trying to hand a kangaroo doll to a nearby child however the child become so angry with me and shouted, “No!! I want a koala doll from auntie Gillard!” Prime Minister Gillard was that popular. Then, Prime Minister Gillard had conversation with family members. She politely took her shoes off when she entered a space partitioned off by pieces of corrugated cardboard.
After we saw her off, the mayor told me and Australian colleagues, “This is the first time we saw their many happy faces in town since March 11. I am so grateful that Prime Minister Gillard came to see us”. When Foreign Minister Matsumoto passed on the message to Prime Minister Gillard, she was smiling all over, clapping her hands with joy. I learned later that Minami-Sanriku Town, in particular, left a deep impression on her among her visit to Japan, South Korea and China.
Deputy Director, Oceania Division, Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau
(Mr. Kozaki accompanied Prime Minister Gillard to Minami-Sanriku Town.)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hands out koala dolls to children
(photo by Minami-Sanriku Town)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, at the center, is briefed by Foreign Minister Matsumoto on the damage during her visit to Minami-Sanriku Town.