House debates

Monday, 14 February 2022

Statements by Members

Bangka Island Massacre: 80th Anniversary

1:35 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On this day 80 years ago the SS Vyner Brooke was fleeing the Fall of Singapore. The little boat was overflowing with 181 passengers, mainly women and children. Sixty-five passengers were Australian nurses. The SS Vyner Brooke was clearly not a navy boat, yet, on Valentine's Day 1942, 80 years ago today, nine Japanese planes bombed the vessel 30 times in five minutes, killing many passengers and sinking the ship. Twelve Australian nurses never made it to shore. Of the 53 nurses who did make it to Indonesia's Bangka Island, 21 would live just another two days before they were marched into the sea and machine-gunned to death by Japanese troops on Radji Beach.

We know this because one nurse, South Australian Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, survived and told the story of the extraordinary bravery of her colleagues. Although scared, these nurses had not tried to hide from the Japanese because they had sick and wounded to care for. They thought that, being women and nurses wearing Red Cross armbands, they would be safe. Tragically, they were wrong.

Yesterday, in my seat of Boothby, the Governor-General dedicated a brand new memorial to these unbelievably brave women, made possible by $500,000 of federal government funding—a project I have worked on and spoken about throughout my time in this place. This is one of the very few memorials to Australia's servicewomen, and I hope that we will soon see funding for a sculpture of Sister Vivian Bullwinkel at the Australian War Memorial. For today, we remember all the nurses for their courage, bravery and sacrifice. Lest we forget.