Memorial Nurses Candlelight Vigil 2021
Representing the Premier, Assistant Minister, Mr Bart Mellish; representing the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Christian Rowan; President of the Centuar Memorial Fund for Nurses, Colonel Julie Finucane and Committee of Management members; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I thank Major Martin for the welcome to country, as I too acknowledge the traditional owners of these lands and extend respectful greetings to Elders and emerging leaders.
I am honoured to join you once again – in person this year – for this solemn Candlelight Vigil.
Today we remember an act that, even amid the brutality of war, shocked Australians to their core – the deliberate sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur off Moreton Island in May 1943.
The facts remain confronting despite the passing of 78 years.
The clearly-identified hospital vessel was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine about two hours before dawn.
The ship caught fire and sank rapidly. Only 64 of the 332 on board survived. Even that small number seems a miracle given that most were below decks at the time.
There were twelve nurses among the medical personnel on board but only Sister Ellen Savage survived, seriously injured. Regardless, she tended to the wounded for 36 hours on a makeshift raft before the survivors were rescued.
Hers was an example of extraordinary dedication and courage in tragic and desperate circumstances.
Yet we all instantly recognise the nursing ethos of care, compassion and professionalism that lies behind Ellen Savage’s quiet heroism. That is because many of us have known the compassion and professionalism of nurses during our own lives.
The vital role of nurses on the front line of another kind of battle – against COVID – has only reinforced our community’s enormous admiration for the profession.
This evening, as we stand in candlelight beside this poignant memorial, as we hear and speak words of mourning and consolation, we remember Sister Ellen Savage and the eleven nurses lost on the Centaur.
And in remembering them, we remember and honour also the selfless service of Australian nurses in our defence forces, both at home and overseas, spanning many decades.
As Governor, I thank the Centaur Memorial Fund and the Defence Services Nurses RSL Queensland Sub-Branch for their untiring dedication to the memory of the nurses of the Centaur. I also congratulate the Brisbane Girls Grammar School ‘Encore’ Choir for their beautiful performances today.
Finally, as Patron, I thank the Memorial Fund for its determination to look to the future too, encouraging through the Centaur Scholarship and Joy Croker Medal the professional development of nurses at the outset of their careers.
In this way, the legacy of the nurses of the Centaur binds together past, present and future, showing us how hope can spring from tragedy, honour from sacrifice and service.
It is all the more fitting, then, that today we renew our solemn vow: We Will Remember Them.