A former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Nursing Officer will deliver a national televised address to commemorate Anzac Day alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial tomorrow morning in light of traditional marches and services not taking place due to COVID-19.
With Australians unable to gather in person to honour past and present veterans, a private Anzac Day Dawn Service will be held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and broadcast live across Australia on the ABC from 5.30am.
A ceremonial piper, didgeridoo player and bugler will be among the traditional elements supplied by the Australian Defence Force.
Retired RAAF Wing Commander Sharon Bown, who narrowly escaped death after surviving a helicopter crash while deployed in East Timor back in 2004 when working as an aeromedical evacuation nurse, was chosen to speak at the service and is set to use the platform to call on Australians to summon the Anzac Spirt.
Proceedings will involve Mr Morrison delivering the commemorative Anzac Day address, with Ms Bown to speak after the PM on behalf of veterans and families.
“It’s an incredible honour to be chosen.” Ms Bown said.
“It’s an unprecedented set of events for Anzac Day and it will be a ceremony unlike any other that we have ever had in Australia.
“[I’ll be] reminding Australians of the Anzac Spirt and that despite differences in generations, our ability to overcome significant adversity hasn’t changed. So on Anzac Day, remembering not so much how we commemorate but who and why and it’s those Anzac qualities that I want people to remember.”
Ms Bown said the Anzac Spirt embodied many qualities.
“The ones which we often speak about and the ones which are absolutely relevant today during the COVID-19 pandemic are endurance, courage, ingenuity or resourcefulness, good humour and mateship,” she said.
“The theme of my speech will be living our lives in the service of others and connecting the fact that’s what the ANZACs is. They and anyone who puts on the uniform and goes into conflict is living their life in the service of others. That’s what nurses have always done, continue to do and are doing right now in the midst of this [COVID-19] crisis.”
Ms Bown, a Council Member of the Australian War Memorial and ambassador for Phoenix Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that supports Australians affected by trauma, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of the helicopter crash in East Timor, which left her with a broken back and fractures to her jaw.
A passionate advocate of military and veteran’s health, she views Anzac Day as an opportunity for all Australians to pause and reflect on the sacrifice made by veterans.
“For me, Anzac Day is a time to reflect on my service, so 16 years in the air force as a Nursing Officer, and on the friends and family that I’ve lost during my service.”
The retired Australian Defence Force nurse admitted delivering a national Anzac Day address alongside the PM brings a sense of pressure.
“I think the pressure is more on who I represent and honouring those that I represent, so not just those that have passed, but those that continue to serve the country today, and their families. Speaking on their behalf; that’s pressure. But it’s also a great honour.”
Ms Bown praised the Australian War Memorial for finding a makeshift way to unite the nation in commemoration in the wake of COVID-19.
She said other inspiring initiatives include the RSL’s ‘Light Up The Dawn’ event, which calls on Australians to stand in their driveways, on their balconies or in their living rooms at 6am on Anzac Day in commemoration.
Ms Bown described it as an honour for a nurse to be asked to speak alongside the PM on such a special occasion, adding that it was timely given 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife and with the world facing an unprecedented challenge.
“To use a military term, nurses have always been at the frontline of healthcare,” she said.
“We know that. But I think as a result of this crisis, Australians are coming to recognise that more than ever and that’s a positive out of a terribly tragic circumstance.
“I think the wonderful thing is Australians are asking ‘how can we help?’ And if that means staying at home to ease the burden on the healthcare system, then that’s what Australians are doing. I would encourage all nurses to take comfort in that, knowing that Australia is behind them and it’s my belief that they [nurses] are well and truly up to this challenge.”
Through her involvement with the Australian War Memorial, Ms Bown’s objective for this year had been to help raise funds to commission a sculpture of arguably Australia’s most decorated army nurse, Vivian Bullwinkel.
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) has been working with the Australian War Memorial to honour the courage, dedication and sacrifice of Vivian Bullwinkel, the sole survivor of the 1942 Banka Island massacre, since last year.
The sculpture, which is likely to cost about $500,000 to create and is expected to be erected in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial, had been earmarked for commission this year until the impact of COVID-19 delayed progress.
Nevertheless, plans for the commemorative sculpture are still moving ahead and expressions of interest from artists are currently being canvassed.
“It will be the first time that a female has been commemorated in that way and the first time for a nurse,” Ms Bown said proudly.
“It’s recognition of Australian service nurses and Australia servicewomen. Vivian Bullwinkel, not only was she a great nurse, she was a great Australian. She overcame significant adversity, unimaginable adversity, to be able to continue as a nurse and lead and provide healthcare to the Australian public.
“I think she’s a great role model for all of us, not just nurses, but for all Australians, particularly in this crisis and in my own journey of surviving serious injuries and continuing to serve, she’s been a great inspiration to me.”
The Anzac Day commemorative service will be broadcast from 5.30am on April 25 by the ABC and streamed online.
To donate to the campaign to create a sculpture of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel click here.