The Nurses Memorial Centre is a ‘living memorial’ to the heroism and sacrifice of the 77 Australian nurses who died in World War Two or survived years in prisoner-of-war camps during that time. Two worlds apart the vision of a living memorial was being formulated, on one side by Edith Hughes-Jones in Melbourne and on the other side by the nurses in captivity.
Our founders Vivian Bullwinkel and Betty Jeffery, were first hand survivors of the war. Vivian was sole survivor, of 22 captured nurses, on of the Radji Beach massacre on Banka Isand. Betty Jeffrey kept a diary whilst in captivity and this was published in a book called ‘White Coolies’ which subsequently inspired the film ‘Paradise Road’ directed by Bruce Beresford to be made. These nurses survived the ordeal of captivity for three and a half years. Following the sinking of the A.H.S Centaur, Edith Hughes-Jones began a campaign to raise funds for a “Centaur Scholarship” and subsequently helped raise funds for the Nurses Memorial Centre.
Upon their return home after 3 ½ years of captivity, Betty Jeffrey and Vivian Bullwinkel, with the support of colleagues Wilma Oram-Young, Colonel Annie Sage, Edith Hughes-Jones , and others, toured around Victoria in a little Austin car to raise funds for the establishment of the centre. They visited every hospital in Victoria with more than 20 beds to explain to their nursing colleagues how they hoped to make their vision of a living memorial a reality. A living memorial was not just to remember the passing of the fallen nurses but continue the ongoing professional development of nurses through education. A variety of fundraising activities was undertaken to raise the money needed, and this was the most successful appeal ever held in Victoria at the time.
In 1949 the Victorian home ‘Madowla’ situated at 431 St Kilda Road was purchased for the establishment of the Nurses Memorial Centre. These remarkable women were instrumental in helping to not only honor and remember the past, but to support and influence the future of the nursing profession in Australia. The Australian College of Nursing was established on the site. The Royal Australian Nursing Federation (now the ANMF) was also located on the site as was the Victorian Nursing Council, the forerunner to the Victorian Nurses Board.
Many nurses have been assisted to acquire a post-graduate qualifications to improve patient outcomes and support development of the nursing profession.
The Nurses Memorial Centre also provided accommodation for country and interstate nurses, educational opportunities, and a venue for many wonderful social occasions such as the very popular dances. The building may have changed over the decades but the Nurses Memorial Centre continues to provide scholarships to support nurses in their career development. We are fortunate to have the continued support of the relatives of Betty Jeffrey, Vivian Bullwinkel and Wilma Oram-Young who support the Nurses Memorial Centre by attending our events and Commemorative Services.