Defence nurses running marathon to raise money for statue of Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel

Defence Force nursing director Lieutenant-Colonel Serena Lawlor, who is raising money for the first statue of a woman in the War Memorial's sculpture garden. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Defence Force nursing director Lieutenant-Colonel Serena Lawlor, who is raising money for the first statue of a woman in the War Memorial's sculpture garden. Picture: Keegan Carroll

There are statues of mythological figures and animals in the Australian War Memorial's sculpture garden, but there isn't one depicting a woman who has actually lived.

That is set to change with the construction of a $250,000 sculpture of Australian Army nurse Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel.

Colonel Bullwinkel, who died in 2000, is among the most well-known nurse veterans to have served Australia in World War II.

Her story is one of astounding determination, resilience and courage. She was among nurses, patients, women and children forced to evacuate Singapore in 1942 on the SS Vyner Brooke, which was later bombed.

Colonel Bullwinkel struggled ashore with other survivors on Banka Island, where Japanese troops gathered 22 nurses and ordered them into the ocean.

Australian Army nurse Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel. Picture: Australian War Memorial

Australian Army nurse Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel. Picture: Australian War Memorial

The troops gunned down the nurses from behind. Colonel Bullwinkel was the only survivior in the Banka Island massacre, having played dead in the water.

She hid from Japanese troops for 12 days, then surrendered to them again and was a prisoner of war for more than three years.

Defence Force nursing director Lieutenant-Colonel Serena Lawlor said what was even more astounding was that Colonel Bullwinkel, when she ultimately came back to Australia, "carried on with her life".

Colonel Lawlor is leading a group of defence nurses in the Canberra Times Marathon Festival this Sunday to raise $10,000 towards the statue's construction.

"[Colonel Bullwinkel] had a family and then she nursed, and then she was on the board of the Australian War Memorial," Colonel Lawlor said.

"That's an example of someone who just went through the most horrific experiences of life that you could possibly ever experience and she came out the other side through faith [and] determination.

"[Her message was,] don't let this experience define you. You can move forward and you can do great things."

The statue of Colonel Bullwinkel is being constructed thanks to a partnership between the Australian College of Nursing and the war memorial.

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The college of nursing is taking on the role of organising funding for the project, and anyone who wants to donate towards it can do so on their website or the website of the marathon festival.

The war memorial offered $50,000 in seed funding for the initial design and development of the project. A competition to determine the sculpture's design has since been completed, but the design remains a secret.

Colonel Lawlor said she was surprised such a statue hadn't been built already at the war memorial.

"Contextually, here's a woman who deployed and served her country [and] represents what women did [in World War II], but we don't have a statute of her in the war memorial," Colonel Lawlor said.

"I think that [she's] a really great example, not just for nurses, but for all women.

"I hope my daughter would always be this tough."

The college of nursing hopes to raise money beyond the $250,000, which would go towards scholarships to memorialise the nurses massacred on Banka Island.

The Canberra Times Marathon Festival begins on April 11 and registrations close on April 8.

The maximum capacity of the event is between 7000 and 7200 participants, with registrations filling up fast.

The 50km Ultra Marathon takes runners past Capital Circle and around Lake Burley Griffin to finish up by Old Parliament House.

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This story Nurses running marathon to fund first statue of woman in War Memorial gardens first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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