Heritage protection for grave of Japanese pearl diver

NT Government

The grave of a Japanese pearl diver who died from the bends has been permanently declared as a Heritage Place.

Kato Osamu died in August 1955 and was buried by his sea-faring friends beneath a Kakadu Plum tree on South Goulburn Island.

Two years later, the Japanese Society of Darwin built a gravestone for the 26-year-old, inscribing his name, hometown and date of death on the humble concrete construction.

The declaration means the grave will be protected by the Northern Territory Heritage Act 2011 so it will be an offence to damage or disturb it in any way.

It also means funding and expert advice will be available to assist in the conservation of the grave that is one of the Territory’s very few recorded Japanese burials outside official cemeteries.

The Heritage Branch carried out restoration work on the site in 2019, reassembling and stabilising the gravestone after it broke into three pieces.

The declaration has the full support of traditional owners from the nearby Warruwi community through the Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation; the Northern Land Council; and the Australian Japanese Australian Association of the NT.

Quotes from Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech:

“This is a fascinating story about a young man who died tragically a long way from home.

“It is a rare, tangible reminder of a particular chapter in our maritime history and a poignant memorial to the young man who had been working on a pearling lugger in the Arafura Sea when he unexpectedly died.

“Although he lies alone, the Warruwi community has developed a sense of guardianship over the grave and was keen to have the site protected.”

Quotes attributable to Warruwi senior Traditional Owner, Johnny Namayiwa:

“[Kato Osamu] is a part of us, he rests with us. He’ll always be a part of us forever.”

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