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Launch of the Australian Women in War exhibition on the Australian Women's Archives Project website.



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The Hon. Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs Speech 5 March, 2004

The Hon Danna Vale MP Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Launch of the Australian Women in War Exhibition on the Australian Women’s Archives Project Website

Friday 5 March 2004

It is my personal privilege and pleasure to be here today to launch the Australian Women in War exhibition on the Australian Women’s Archive Project website.

Thanks to Ruth’s excellent demonstration we have seen how this website captures the stories of Australian women and their associations.

Women from many backgrounds have made outstanding contributions to our nation, but one group deserves its own recognition - women who have served our nation in war and in the defence of Australia.

The military service of Australian women in war dates back to 1900 when, on 17 January 1900, 14 members of the New South Wales Nursing Service Reserve sailed from Sydney on the troopship Moravian for the Anglo-Boer War. About 60 women from all over Australia served in Australian and British hospitals during that war.

From this time on, Australian women have answered the call of our nation to serve in times of war and conflict.

Their service is as impressive as it is diverse.

There were those who served on the home front, keeping homes together or helping to keep vital industries alive in Australia and while so many of their men folk were away at war these women were holding the fort. They worked in a range of important civilian jobs, they worked in munitions factories and indeed in traditional male occupations - they worked and they served in the Land Army and provided vital assistance to our rural areas, and they volunteered, working for organisations like the Red Cross.

Australian women also formed part of the military services, and served within Australia and further afield in areas ranging from Singapore to New Guinea, the Middle East and Europe.

Traditionally, women in the forces served in nursing roles, where they excelled, tending to the sick and wounded.

In World Wars I and II, thousands joined the Australian Army Nursing Service, serving in every front, and in World War II they were supported by members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments and the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service. Others served in the RAAF and RAN Nursing Services. Nurses have played important roles in subsequent conflicts, such as the Korean, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.

In World War II, however, there was an important development. Women were finally given the opportunity to prove themselves in non-medical roles.

As the threat to Australia developed, each of the armed forces recruited women’s services to support the men in administrative, mechanical, signals, transport and even anti-aircraft units.

The Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force and the Australian Women’s Army Service showed how really capable women were! Women in khaki actually served here, in Victoria Barracks.

After the war, these services were disbanded but the armed forces found they could not do without the women who had proven their abilities and their resourcefulness so excellently in wartime. The WRANS reformed in 1951, along with the new Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps and Women’s Royal Australian Air Force.

Finally, in the 1980s, the women’s services were disbanded and women have served ever since as fully-fledged members of the Australian Defence Force. This was shown in the recent war in Iraq, with women of all three services represented in the force deployments - and of course you will know that there were women on board our ships in the Gulf, there were women pilots who were actually flying Hercules into Baghdad airport. I have actually been told but I can’t verify it that the first Australian Hercules to land at Baghdad was actually flown by an Australian woman pilot, an RAAF officer. It’s important to know women were there taking their part.

It is also important also to remember the role many women have played in our veteran community as the women and partners who have cared for and supported our veterans and service military. Many women have, as wives and partners of husbands returned from wars, shared trauma and helped with recovery and have been the strength of their families.

Through service and personal sacrifice in times of war, the names of many Australian women have earned an honoured place in our history.

On the Women in War website, women are listed for their deeds in wartime, but also listed are their peacetime achievements, which are just as impressive.

This website is a resource which shows us how much these women, some of whom I am pleased to see are with us here today, have contributed to the Australian community, both in war and in peace.

As Australians, it is our duty to ensure that the service and the sacrifice of our Australian women is honoured by future generations of Australians, and what better way to do this than to use the Internet, a tool that is ably used by our children, to record the courageous deeds of these women.

Websites such as the one we launch today ensure that not only Australians will hear the stories of our women in war, but that women around the world can be inspired by the courage and daring displayed by Australian women in wartime.

The Australian Women in War website exhibition also goes a step further than recording the deeds of individuals.

It also contains lists of the records of service associations formed by women in this country, providing a central location database for the historically important records of these associations.

The Australian Government, through its commemorations program, Saluting Their Service, has recognised the importance of preserving the records of our ex-service and related associations to ensure that their work in supporting Australian veterans and war widows is recognised and honoured by future generations.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Office of the Status of Women for their contribution to this very worthwhile project and the National Foundation for Australian Women and the Women in War working group for their hard work and dedication to this project.

I’d also like to send up a special signal to say thank you to the special staff at DVA who have worked in collaboration with these groups. It is thanks to you all that we have this wonderful website exhibition that will be a lasting resource for countless generations of Australians who want to know more about the service of our women in war.

Now before I actually join you all in launching this magnificent site I would like to say something special to each and every one of you. I know that on this website women in war generally have been honoured and recognised for their service. But on another level, on a personal level, each and every one of you have very personal stories and I just urge you all to at least write them down. You know once we are gone from this planet our

personal history and our stories are gone forever with us.

I only just learnt the other year about a special story about my grandmother that I didn’t know. I’d like to share it with you it’s only short because to tell something about me and my grandmother, I knew she was a formidable woman I think to be a pioneer woman in the early days of Australia you virtually had to be. But she was married she had five little children at the time, she ended up having nine, and she was living in Leichhardt. One of her little boys was nearly run over by a horse and dray on his little peddle bike and she thought “I can’t bring up five children here in the city it’s far too dangerous” (thinking what it must have been like then). So she took them out to Miranda which strangely enough is where my husband and I and our family live now.

Miranda, in those days, was mainly big farming areas, orchards and pig farms and the nearest neighbour was something like two or three miles away.

My grandmother went out there with her five children, her husband, my grandfather, worked on the north coast run. Many of you may remember you may have heard stories about the little steam ships that travelled up and down the coast of NSW before we had railways and good roads. These little steam ships used to take people and cargo and bring back produce from the dairy farms up north. Many of them of course were lost on the estuaries of the rivers as they go into those big northern towns. So my grandfather was away quite a bit. He obviously managed to come home because my grandmother actually ended up having nine children.

But to help my grandmother going out to this deserted farmland area to bring up her children in the good country air, good vegetables and chooks and having a horse, and the home cow and the goat. My grandmother actually took with her a mothers help. Some of you would remember what a mothers help was. Young girl of about 13 or 14 who was there to help her do all the motherly chores. Now my grandmother, had to take one Monday every month, she used to take the produce from her little farm, into the co-

operative at Hurstville where the market was to sell what produce she had. She had to leave young Josie at home looking after the children.

On one particular occasion, the man who delivered the chook food arrived at the house when Josie was there by herself. On that particular day, when Gran came home, Josie was in a terrible state. I think the expression was that “Josie was interfered with” in the language of the times. But Gran felt terrible what was she to do. All by herself she had this young girl, who was in her charge who was helping her as a mothers help with five children and no man around and no neighbours. And there was a policeman who was based at Hurstville in those days but the police can’t be everywhere when you need help and support. And Gran knew that the next Monday of the next month she’d have to leave Josie alone again and she’d have to travel into Hurstville and who was going to look after the girl.

I have to tell you what my grandmother did cause it stunned me when I found out. The next day, the next time she was supposed to travel she didn’t she actually went and hid the horse and dray. And she came back and stayed in the house with Josie until the man who delivered the grain arrived. She waited until he delivered the grain in the barn and when he was about to unshoulder, if you like, the last pack of grain, Grandma took the stock whip from the back of the door in the kitchen and she said to Josie “put the kettle on, I have some work to do”.

And so, when this gentleman apparently, and I’m getting all this from my Aunty Bett who’s still alive, and can verify it. And when the gentleman had put the last bag down, my grandmother started into him with the stock whip. And she didn’t finish until he couldn’t move. She came back inside and she and Josie just sat there in silence and had their cup of tea until they heard the horse and dray eventually leave the property.

Now this man was a bully he had a reputation of belting his wife, but the police constable of the town actually commented to my grandmother some months afterwards, you know “I don’t know what you done to that bloke but he crosses the road every time he sees you

coming and he goes white whenever your name is mentioned”. And that to me is, how does an ordinary woman with no one to help her, how does she stand up and protect her own.

That’s just a little story and I’m going to make sure that my Aunty Bett writes that story down, because that’s part of the history of this nation. That independence, that defiance that pioneering spirit that never say die against overwhelming odds. And I know each and every one of you have stories where you have done the impossible against overwhelming odds because of your particular histories by the fact that you have lived through, in many cases, some of you, even two world wars. The world’s worst depression that lasted such a long time in our nation. And there are stories of heroism that happened at a very domestic level which need to be told and they need to be told because younger generations need to have, need to have that inspiration and need to know that personal courage after all does win out at the very end.

You are all very much an important part of the weft and the weave of the tapestry that is this great country. You all have an important contribution to make and I hope, for your sake, and for the sake of your own families that you will write some of your special stories down so they’ll have it forever and ever.

And not here like me hearing an important story about my grandma just by sheer accident by visiting one day, one Sunday afternoon when visiting Aunty Bett. So please write those stories down, this is a very important step and this is a focus for you to know how

important those stories are for the rest of the world but even for the sake of your own family. Please write those wonderful stories that only you can tell down for the rest of us.

Now it is my personal pleasure to join with you all, can we all do this as a combined body, to launch the Australian Women in War exhibition on the Australian Women’s Archives Project Website. Can you give yourselves all a big round of applause.

ENDS