The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Victoria, Australia on October 11, 1997 · Page 9
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Victoria, Australia · Page 9

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Melbourne, Victoria, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Saturday, October 11, 1997
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Page 9
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News 9 THE AGE I SATURDAY 11 OCTOBER 1997 Tragic end for a woman with a dream Greg Roberts For Michiko Okuyama, this was to be the holiday of a lifetime. Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. Or "God's own country", as the telephone recording at the local tourism promotion bureau proclaimed. The 22-year-old had been saving for what was to be u 12-month working holiday. A swimming instructor and pool attendant in the Japanese port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Ms Okuyama's great love was diving. She had a master's certificate in diving, wanted to qualify as an instructor and could think of no better place to do so than at the (ileal Barrier Reef. She never got to see the reef. Between six and 10 days after arriving in Cairns, she was bashed to death in a derelict warehouse, just two blocks from the holiday apartment her parents had rented for her through a friend. In those first few days in Cairns, Ms Okuyama was often seen sitting on the veranda, gazing out over Cairns High School to the rainforest-clad hills behind the city. On 20 September, she caught a bus to the city centre. She was last seen just before midday on the esplanade, a popular venue for tourists. She posted two letters and bought meat and vegetables at a supermarket. She was believed to be on her way home when she met the Mi-year-old youth who appeared before the Cairns Children's Court on Wednesday charged with her murder. The youth and three teenage friends had been frequenting a disused warehouse near the city centre for several weeks. It is a huge, empty building, with walls covered in graffiti and floors strewn with rubbish. The owners were negotiating a lease and had told the teenagers to stay away from the premises. The youth had been living in a caravan in a Cairns suburb and repairing a truck in a vacant lot near the warehouse. He had left school when he was 14 and was looking for full-time work. His parents were not in court when he appeared and was remanded in custody for a committal hearing in December. The youth evidently craved attention. He had been interviewed recently by a local television station for a story on street safety. On the day Ms Okuyama disappeared, his photograph appeared in the Cairns I'ost, he had collected a quantity of discarded needles and was complaining of the public risk they posed. Strangely, when police, hoping to stir the public's memory, put a dummy dressed like Ms Okuyama in a city shopping cenlre, the youth fronted up claiming to have seen her. Indeed he had, police allege. They found the groceries Ms Okuyama had bought on a kitchen bench in an upstairs room in the warehouse. They believe she was persuaded to enter the building, which was on her way home. )ust how remains a mystery because Ms Okuyama spoke little English. She was allegedly bludgeoned to death in a soundproof steel vault beneath the room. The official causes of death, blood inhalation and facial fractures, indicate a savage attack. Tests have determined that she died within four days of her disappearance. On Tuesday last week, the youth allegedly put Ms Okuyama's decomposing body in a wheclic bin and dragged it four kilometres to a swamp in the suburb of Manunda. After burying it in a shallow grave near a track 100 metres from busy Wilkinson Street, he dragged the bin back to the warehouse. The body was found last Saturday by residents who, returning after a week's absence, detected a strong smell in a grove of pandanus palms behind their house. The naked body was so decomposed it could not be determined if Ms Okuyama had been raped. The button-up singlet and dark shorts she was wearing when she disappeared have not been recovered. The body was identified from an item of jewellery and from dental records. A variety of debris found under the body led police to suspect a wheelie bin was involved in its disposal. When that suspicion was publicised, J it j Av t- 1 Pi n l i ut- i ".n Mizy- v ar-sr-- l r.r, . , -i Michiko Okuyama, the young Japanese woman who longed to work on the Great Barrier Reef. Yesterday her parents scattered their daughter's ashes on the reef at Cairns. police were inundated by calls from people who had seen a youth dragging a bin. Police found the bin in the warehouse, lying on its side-near the vault door, l:tensive blood stains were found inside the vault and on the floor outside, no effort had been made to remove them. The murder received extensive publicity in Japan, prompting concerns that the local tourism industry, already in the doldrums, could be damaged. The federal Tourism Minister, Mr Andrew Thomson, who is fluent in Japanese, flew to Cairns on Tuesday. He asked the big contingent of Japanese journalists not to overreact to an isolated incident. One of the journalists, Mr So Sekine, a director with the Nippon Television Network, said the story was big in his country primarily because Australia was seen as a safe destination. "People are veiy interested in this because the young people especially are very familiar with Cairns and Australia and think of your country as being very secure," he said. The assistant manager of the Japan Travel Bureau in Cairns, Mr Noburu Kageyama, believes how the crime is portrayed in Japan will determine if there Floral tributes from the local Japanese community and residents mark the spot where the body was found. are serious consequences for the industry. "It might have an effect when people read and see it but not long-term because they see that Michiko was by herself on a working holiday, but that is not what most tourists do when they come here," he said. Mr Steve Noakes, the director of Tourism 'Tropical North Queensland, agreed. "People in Japan will accept that these things can happen anywhere. It could be Sydney or l.os Angeles or Tokyo. Unfortunately, this time it is Cairns." The tourists themselves do not iippear overly concerned. "It is a very bad thing that happened but I don't think it can happen now for a long time," said Mr Fisuke Koaizawa outside the McDonald's restaurant where Ms Okuyama was last seen. His girlfriend, Ms Isako -Shimizu, said she felt safe in Cairns: "People are very friendly here and you don't think those things can happen." Cairns residents have demonstrated concern and sympathy for the Okuyama family. The local radio station has this week broadcast tributes and played Amazing (Irate at frequent intervals. The entrance to the track where Ms Okuyama's body was found is marked with flowers left by members of the city's large Japanese community and locals. Residents were outraged when vandals destroyed some of the floral tributes on Wednesday night. A tourist operator, Mr Steve Habjan, is raising money to pay the family's expenses. "We know money won't bring her back but it's the least we can do," he said. Ms Okuyama's father, Mikio, and mother, Toshie, have been in Cairns since their daughter was reported missing. They were joined by their two sons on 'Tuesday. 'The family attended a private funeral at the Cairns Crematorium on Wednesday. A local tour operator took the family out to the reef yesterday, where they scattered some of her ashes. A family friend, Ms Yumi Smith, said the Okuyamas were overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy. " They are very upset, of course, but not bitter. Their wish was for Michiko to go to the reef. . . she wanted to go there so much." Treasure hunt is on for the top 100 Tony Stephens and Leonie Lamont "Oh, that's a wonderful idea," said Dr Faith Bandler on being told of the National Trust's search for Australia's 100 living national treasures. What if Dr Handler were to be named as a treasure? "Oh, I don't know about that," she said. "Who said so?" The National 'Trust announces today the search foi the national treasures, with the help of readers of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Readers. are invited to nominate their treasures, in coupons on page 8 of News Hxtra. It is hoped that most of the 100 will turn up to a dinner next year, with proceeds going to the National 'Trust. The trust's Mr Michael Ball said it had been decided to ask people to vote, rather than have a panel select the national treasures. "Academies are fine for Oscars and professional bodies," he said. "But this is more democratic. "We believe at the National Trust that Australian heritage is much more than the built or the natural environment. "My definition of a national treasure is, 100 years from now, will the echoes of their voices still be heard loud and clear, and will their names ring true, and will people remember who they are?" The nominations are restricted to the living. Dr Bandler has often been called a gentle, splendid woman, but the gentleness disguises the steel in her soul. She fought the 10-year campaign that led to the 19H7 referendum giving black Australians full citizenship. She has worked for Aboriginal education and housing, was a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby and of the Australian Republican Movement. .Yesterday she nominated a few living treasures of her own: Margaret Fulton, cook and writer, the writer and broadcaster Allan Ashbolt and a former South Australian Premier Mr Don Dunstan. LI3 Qo GxDg? Odd qcd odscc? (3gdgdj0 QgmOG pcxQsoGQ m I ( 'if irl Sri sf i 1 S sins H.im.r 7 H;4i jtt n 'lit i I i IwwttfP Don't Miss Out! Recent Project "The Boulevarde" 632 St Kilda Rd Sold Out in Record Time! REGDSYER MOV to join Priority List Ik it; rrr XS " Iff 3 1 r L- y. " marketing display VfiS, send me information prior to release Name: Address: Sat & Sun, I -4 pm g Phone a.h: 83 Queensbridge St, SOUthbank Melway2FD9 1-1 b.h: b FreePest (no stamp needed): Reply Paid AAA313. Central Equity, Level 5 365 Queen St, Melb.Vic. 3000 Fax: (03) 9278 8830 CI ? FkS jrj 0B OS 0 Lr XP Q fl 0 Tr Sf U U CI D (FMJ 0 S6 WOocp OxPwd!acF aoo G 'oow Oowooom cDd)GXID 0 0 0 0

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