HONOURED: Former Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has been conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Consul-General in a ceremony on February 7.
HONOURED: Former Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has been conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Consul-General in a ceremony on February 7.

Rare honour bestowed on former mayor

"THE news is still quite overwhelming.”

Former Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell is a deeply humble woman, and said she was "shocked” to hear she would be awarded a prestigious Autumn Imperial Decoration by the Japanese government.

In a special ceremony at Lismore Regional Gallery last night, Sydney's Japanese Consul-General conferred the Order of the Rising Sun: Gold Rays with Rosette honour on the former mayor in recognition of her efforts in promoting the sister city relationship between Lismore and Yamato Takada.

The award is the third highest order bestowed by the Japanese government, and is the highest ordinarily conferred order, with the two highest rankings reserved for heads of state, royalty and politicians.

Speaking to The Northern Star before the ceremony, Mrs Dowell said she was "nervous”, but was deeply honoured to receive the order.

"The award was announced October last year, so I've had a few months to get my head around it, but I'm still a little shocked,” she said.

"I am undeserving of such a rare honour. I've seen the list of past recipients and I'm in very special company. It feels quite strange.”

Mrs Dowell joins an elite group of recipients, which includes Rena Kanokogi, best known for pioneering women's judo competition at the Olympic Games, former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and American actor and activist George Takei.

Mrs Dowell is quick to deflect praise away from herself, saying she believes the award reflects the "efforts Lismore City Council has made, particularly in recent years, to recommit to the first relationship of its kind between Australia and Japan”.

The sister city relationship between Lismore City of New South Wales and Yamato Takada City of Nara Prefecture was established in 1963, which was the first sister city relationship established between Japan and Australia.

"When I became mayor, I discovered a lot of effort was being put into the sister city relationship by the Yamato Takada side, but we really weren't contributing quite as much,” she said.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sister city agreement in 2013, Mrs Dowell initiated events including Yamato Takada Day in order to introduce Japanese culture to Lismore citizens.

Yamato Takada Day restarted the student exchange program, and the exchange between the two cities was revitalised.

She said she is pleased to see the current council continue to maintain the strong relationship, including inviting Yamato Takada delegates to last year's Lantern Festival, and said she looks forward to seeing what the relationship may bring in the future.

"By all accounts, (the delegates) thoroughly enjoyed the festival which was a very proud moment for Lismore,” she said.

"I think its wonderful to see this strong relationship between the two cities, and I am humbled to have been able to play a part in that.”

Mrs Dowell was a Lismore councillor for 12 years and was mayor of Lismore between 2008 and 2016 before retiring from politics.

She has previously been recognised for her contributions to the city of Lismore after she received both an Order of Australia Medal and a doctorate from Southern Cross University in 2017.