Joint Media Release with the Australian War Memorial.
A new sculpture of nurse Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel will be the first sculpture of an individual nurse or woman in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.
The sculpture will feature a representation of Bullwinkel in recognition of her exceptional military service and importance to the development of Australian nursing.
Head of Art at the Australian War Memorial Laura Webster said: “The sculpture is being created to recognise all Australian nurses who have lost their lives or survived atrocities while serving their country.
“Artist Charles Robb is creating a moving sculpture which features a life-size portrait of Vivian Bullwinkel in a standing pose in working summer uniform. Her hands are gently clasped, in a pose that reflects her dignified composure and unrelenting dedication to nursing principles of care.
Bullwinkel and other nurses escaped Singapore before it fell to Japanese forces in February 1942.
After their ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft, the nurses and a large group of men, women, and children made it ashore at Banka Island. As the group left to find someone to surrender to, the nurses stayed behind to tend to the wounded.
When Japanese soldiers massacred the group, Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet and pretended to be dead, before realising she was the sole survivor. After hiding with a wounded soldier for 12 days, she surrendered and spent three and half years in captivity.
Australian War Memorial Director Matt Anderson said: “Sister Bullwinkel’s harrowing story of dedication, compassion, survival and bravery will be commemorated in bronze at the Australian War Memorial.
“Vivian Bullwinkel should be a household name. The Memorial will commemorate this inspirational Australian and her legacy as a proud nurse and a brave leader.”
Bullwinkel retired from the army in 1947 and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne’s Fairfield Hospital. She devoted herself to nursing and honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses’ memorial, and serving as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and later President of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia.
The tribute to Bullwinkel will be made possible through collaboration between the Memorial and the Australian College of Nursing Foundation, which is leading the fundraising effort for the statue.
Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN said: “I’m inspired by the thought that generations of children to come will see a statue in bronze of a nurse and midwife at the Australian War Memorial.
“The statue will be a powerful and long-lasting symbol of nurses’ selfless service to Australia and its citizens whether in war or in peace.
“It also serves as a reminder of the prominent role women have had throughout history in protecting our country and the sacrifices they have made on our behalf.”
Brisbane-based artist Dr Charles Robb was appointed to create the sculptural work following a limited invitation design competition in 2020.
“I feel immensely privileged to be charged with the responsibility of creating a sculpture of this remarkable woman, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel,” Dr Robb said.
“I hope to represent the strength, kindness and warmth that speak so powerfully to me when reading about her incredible life story. This is the first commemorative sculpture of a woman in the Memorial grounds, and the largest portrait sculpture in their collection – both statements of Nurse Bullwinkel’s standing in Australian history.”
The sculpture will include 21 stainless steel discs, representing the 21 women killed in the Banka Island Massacre.
The discs will be arranged at the base of the sculpture as a reflection of the stars that would have been visible in the night sky on 16 February 1942.
Vivian Bullwinkel was born 18 December 1915 in South Australia.
The Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel Sculpture Advisory Committee in conjunction with the Australian College of Nursing are fundraising to meet the cost of production and installation of the sculpture.
For information on how to donate to The Bullwinkel Project: here.