Nursing scholarships honour Vivian Bullwinkel and Bangka Island nurses

The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) today honoured the memory of Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel and 21 of her dedicated wartime nursing colleagues with scholarships awarded to emerging Australian nurse leaders.

The ‘Bullwinkel Scholarships’ – valued at up to $10,000 each – were awarded at Duntroon House at the Royal Military College in Canberra, on the 82nd anniversary of the massacre of the brave Australian nurses at Radji Beach on Bangka Island, Indonesia, on 16 February 1942.

The 22 scholarships carry the names of the 21 nurses who died and the sole survivor, Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel, whose statue now stands in tribute at the Australian War Memorial.

The Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Ged Kearney MP, herself a nurse; Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell AO DSC; and John Bullwinkel, nephew of Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel, officiated at the ceremony.

ACN CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN, said the Bullwinkel Scholarships honour the courage and selflessness of the Bangka Island nurses and will support aspiring nurse leaders who are forging impressive nursing careers based on the same values as the wartime nurses.

“The scholarship recipients are outstanding nurses who exemplify the same unwavering spirit, resilience, and compassion demonstrated by our fallen heroes,” Adjunct Professor Ward said.

“These scholarships foster the growth of future nursing leaders who will continue to uphold the values of service, sacrifice and devotion to people in need of care.

“Melanie Robinson MACN, the recipient of the first ACN Foundation Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel scholarship, is a First Nations nurse who wants to give back to disadvantaged Indigenous communities.”

In addition to the scholarships, the ACN Foundation today officially recognised the exemplary contributions of all 65 nurses on the SS Vyner Brooke, which was sunk by Japanese bombers on 14 February 1942.

The ACN Foundation conferred posthumous ACN Fellows and a Distinguished Life Fellow for Vivian Bullwinkel in the honour of these nurses, who exemplified the dedication and selflessness exhibited by all the nurses at Radji Beach.

Adjunct Professor Ward said that ACN and the nursing profession recognise their unwavering commitment and contribution to the profession and to the nation.

“Their legacy will be honoured, and their impact on the nursing community will be remembered for generations.”

The Bullwinkel Scholars Program is made possible by the support and donations of government, military nurses, businesses, and the general community.

The Department of Health and Aged Care supported the scholarships with a $1 million matched funding grant in 2023.

The ACN Foundation provides access, through funding, to support initiatives that enhance, develop, and recognise contributions made by nurses that will improve the health of Australian and Pacific Island communities and secure nursing history.

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