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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1397


Mr HASTIE (Canning) (10:40): Today, 75 years ago, 21 Australian Army nurses in the prime of their lives were shot to death by Japanese soldiers on Radji Beach, Bangka Island. Today, we remember and honour their sacrifice in the service of our country.

Only days earlier, on 12 February 1942, Allied forces had begun evacuating Singapore. The SS Vyner Brooke attempted escape, carrying hundreds of injured servicemen, civilians and 65 Australian Army nurses. The ship was attacked and sunk on 14 February. The nurses aboard did their duty and ensured all passengers had been evacuated before they themselves jumped into the sea. Approximately 100 of the survivors washed ashore at Radji Beach, Bangka Island, in South Sumatra, Indonesia.

Among that number were 22 Australian Army nurses, led by Matron Irene Drummond, and they set about tending to the survivors immediately. By 16 February their situation appeared helpless, and it was agreed that they would give themselves up to the Japanese on the island. When the Japanese arrived to take them into captivity, they separated the men from the women. The men were soon after marched around a headland. The nurses heard a series of shots, after which the Japanese soldiers returned, sat down in front of them and cleaned their bloodied bayonets.

The women were soon after ordered into the water, knowing full well the fate that awaited them. As they did, Matron Drummond quietly told them, 'Chin up, girls. I'm proud of you and I love you all.' The Japanese then opened fire on their backs and machine-gunned them to death.

There was only one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel. Vivian was shot through the hip but lay in the water until the Japanese disappeared. She withdrew to the jungle and then treated herself and another surviving soldier. Vivian was eventually captured and spent the rest of the war enduring the brutal captivity of a Japanese prison camp. But her challenges did not end there. She struggled with PTSD throughout her life—her remaining 30 years.

Army psychologists in the postwar era minimised the traumatic events of wartime service, thinking that would help people move on. Today, we take a very different approach to PTSD. I am proud that this government has extended financial cover for the treatment of mental health to all ex-service men and women. But as a community we must do more. We are all charged with binding the wounds, seen and unseen, of those who have given much to protect us and our interests. It is our responsibility to preserve the memory of those brave nurses who died 75 years ago today on that beach on Bangka Island.

I want to acknowledge the member for Boothby for her work in making sure that today was commemorated in the media and in this House.