Dedication of Australian Service Nurses Memorial and Enhancements to War Nurses Memorial Park
I thank the Bundaberg and District Ex-Service Women’s Association for honouring me and Kaye with an invitation to participate in this important ceremony. I also acknowledge the many distinguished guests gathered here today, ladies and gentlemen.
I at once pay my respects to the Taribelang Bunda, Gooreng Gooreng and Gurang peoples, whose traditional connection to the area around Bundaberg goes back thousands of years.
Exactly one hundred years ago today, the first group of nurses from Queensland embarked on a troopship in Brisbane, just seven weeks after war was declared, to join the first ANZAC convoy bound for Egypt.
It is difficult for us, a century later, to put ourselves into the nurses’ shoes. But it is likely that, like the first contingents of Australian soldiers eager to join the fight, the nurses had little inkling of the scale of the horrors they would face.
They had their first experience of war soon enough, as the letters of Sister Connie Keys, born just 100 kilometres west of here at Mount Perry, clearly show. The nurses in that first convoy found themselves caring for the wounded survivors of the German cruiser Emden after a battle with HMAS Sydney in November 1914.
Sister Keys was not the only nurse from the Burnett region to serve in the Great War, but her experience tells us much about the experience of others.
She served in several theatres of war. In Cairo she cared for Australian troops wounded in the Middle East and then the flood of Australian sick and wounded from Gallipoli. In Britain, France and Belgium, she tended the wounded from the slaughterhouse of the Western Front.
Sister Keys survived bombing and shelling, and was highly decorated for courage under fire, one of hundreds of nurses awarded decorations for their service. Her attitude to danger still has the power to move and inspire us. “I am only afraid of being afraid”, she said.
She and her colleagues worked at times in primitive and hopelessly overcrowded tent hospitals, tending tirelessly to the sick and to those with torn and shattered bodies and minds. They felt deeply the loss of young men who could not be saved. And in an age before antibiotics, this was a sobering number.
They worked with consummate professionalism but also with great compassion. Sister Keys and her colleagues, for example, wrote letters and postcards to patients who had not received mail from home.
We are all familiar with this high order of professionalism and dedication in the profession of modern day nursing.
Imagine, then, how much the care and attention of Sister Keys and her colleagues meant to tens of thousands of sick and wounded young Australians far from home.
The beautifully refurbished and revitalised memorial park we see around us pays tribute, with great generosity of spirit, to the extraordinary service of Australian nurses in wartime from the Boer War through to the present day.
It takes under its wing not only nurses who worked for the Australian armed forces but also those who worked with other organisations that cared for war wounded.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to those whose vision and drive created this memorial park and pavilion in 1949. We owe an equally great debt to all those involved in creating this enhanced and refurbished memorial wall and space to mark the centenary of the “Great War”.
As Governor, and on behalf of the people of Queensland, I most sincerely thank and congratulate the individuals and organisations involved in supporting this marvellous community project, making special mention of the Bundaberg and District Ex-Service Women’s Association.
I will shortly have the great honour of joining others in dedicating the Australian Service Nurses Memorial Wall. We will do so in a spirit of gratitude, pride and sorrow, particularly at this sombre time for our nation, as further military involvement in Syria and Iraq looms. Yet we will also do so in the knowledge that this very special place will serve to remind many generations to come of the dedication, compassion, courage and sacrifice of Australia’s service nurses,
Lest We Forget.