Australian nursing history inspiring today’s leaders

Wednesday 24 April 2024

This ANZAC Day echoes deeply with Rachel Fishlock, Acting Director Primary and Community Care at Grampians Health. Earlier this year, Rachel was honoured to be selected as a recipient of the esteemed Bullwinkel Scholars Program by the Australian College of Nursing (ACN).

The Bullwinkel Scholars Program offers 22 new scholarships tailored for inspiring nursing leaders nationwide. This new initiative empowers future generations of nurses to lead their journey in delivering exceptional health care to all Australians. The 22 scholarships honour the memory and sacrifice of the 21 nurses who perished in the Radji Beach massacre on Bangka Island, in February 1942, along with the sole survivor Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel. 

The 22 brave nurses were aboard the ill-fated SS Vyner Brooke, tragically bombed, resulting in the Australian nurses and 25 British soldiers washing ashore at Radji Beach, Banka Island. There, they surrendered to the Japanese as Prisoners of War. On February 16, 1942, the Japanese bayoneted the soldiers and ordered the nurses to march into the sea, where they met their heart-breaking end. Amid this horror, only Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and a British soldier managed to survive. Both were captured as Prisoners of War, but only Sister Bullwinkel survived until the end of the war.  

Rachel has proudly embraced the scholarship in memory of one of the 22 nurses who were ordered to march into the seas on that fateful day, Sister Mary Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Cuthbertson FACN. At just 31 years old, Beth came from Ballarat, the daughter of William and Lillian Cuthbertson, and completed her nursing training at the Ballarat Base Hospital. Beth enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service on August 20, 1940.  

“It holds incredible significance to me to be able to pay tribute and acknowledge Australian nursing history. To be awarded the scholarship under the name of someone who once walked the halls of my workplace is enormously special. I can share her story and help to raise awareness of the events that transpired. The fact that they are not forgotten is important, it holds weight, and the perpetuity of the scholarship means it will never end,” said Rachel.    

Leanne Shea, Chief Nursing Officer at Grampians Health said “Rachel’s passion to nursing shines through in her leadership and mentoring efforts every day at Grampians Health. We take immense pride in Rachel being awarded this scholarship, and we are deeply moved by its connection to our nursing teams, both past and present.”  

This scholarship supports Rachel to attend a comprehensive 5-day leadership course in Sydney during May and participate in a 6-month mentor program. With humility, Rachel is devoted to enhancing her leadership skills to assist in providing even greater care and support for the wonderful team and patients at Grampians Health. 

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