Vivian Bullwinkel, Fairfield’s matron of honour

Vivian Bullwinkel

Matron Vivian Bullwinkel. Image: Angell Productions (

PRO HUMANITATE, ‘in the service of humanity’, is the motto of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps. Lieut. Col. Vivian Bullwinkel (pictured left) exemplified this principle to become one of the best-loved and respected nurses of her time.

Rejected by the RAAF because of her flat feet, she enlisted as an army staff nurse in 1941, aged 26, and served in Singapore until February 1942 when nurses were evacuated as Singapore fell to the Japanese. Vivian’s ship was bombed, but 22 nurses reached Banka Island – only to be ordered back into the sea and gunned down by a Japanese patrol.

Vivian, a non-swimmer, was wounded but played dead, floating among the nurses’ bodies until dark. After two weeks in the jungle nursing a lone British soldier, Vivian gave herself up. Her indomitable spirit shines from the one postcard she could send during three years as a POW: “My roving spirit has been somewhat checked.”

As an army matron after the war, Vivian Bullwinkel built a warm rapport with the young nurses she trained. Librarian Phyllis Wilson recalls Vivian’s encouragement and ‘wonderful sense of humour, vivid blue eyes and most beautiful smile’. Later, as Director of Nursing at Fairfield Hospital, Vivian led the famous rescue of Vietnamese war orphans from Saigon and supervised their adoptions.Wilson quote

Vivian was the first female trustee of the Australian War Memorial which now holds her personal papers and wartime diaries, and displays her white nurse’s uniform with a bullet hole above the hip.

In the 1970s, as president of the now Royal College of Nursing Australia, she helped to establish the system that moved nursing tuition from hospital to university, using her influence on the Nurses’ Wage Board to improve their conditions. She worked tirelessly with the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups, and instigated a scholarship fund for Malaysian nurses to study in Australia. In 1977, she retired from Fairfield Hospital to marry. Vivian was one of 200 featured in a National Heritage publication, The People Who Made Australia, for Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.

Vivian Bullwinkpoppyel dedicated her every award or honour to the memory of the nurses massacred on Banka island. ‘…the lives, opportunities, sports and freedom for our young were bought at a price,’ she said, shortly before her death on 3 July 2000, aged 84.

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Fairfield ‘culture of care’ sustained

Fairfield NMITIT’S my opinion that one of the most beautiful campuses of any tertiary institution in Victoria is North Melbourne Institute of TAFE, at Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield. Recently partnered with Swinburne University and renamed Melbourne Polytechnic, NMIT has several thriving campuses around North Melbourne, but Fairfield is definitely the most attractive.

Manicured gardens, and turn-of-the-century architecture reminiscent of the ornate terra cotta -roofed Queen Anne style make it an unusual educational environment. Students of higher-education degrees in the business culture of music, graphic arts and publishing can mingle with future veterinarians, horticulturists, accountants, engineers or beauty therapists, from more than 500 nationally accredited certificate and diploma courses.

The campus was formerly the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, famous for its ‘culture of care’, and for its World War II heroine, matron Vivian Bullwinkel. The ethos of care and education survives in these historic premises, preparing students of all ages and backgrounds for a 21st-century bursting with possibilities.

Until I can work out how to embed a longer video, here’s a half-minute grab of Open Day at Fairfield NMIT:   (That should open in a new window.) With an unusual amount of e-luck, the longer video, about being a student, will be at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, a brief history lesson may be in order: Victoria in the 1860s was rife with fatally infectious diseases, and although a ‘fever hospital’ was urgently needed, bureaucracy hindered the opening of the Fairfield hospital until 1904.  In the light of the potential Ebola virus epidemic today, it is to be hoped that our citizens have become less tolerant of laggardly health care than they were then.

Admissions to the hospital had peaked during the post-World War I epidemics of Spanish flu and polio. When World War II erupted in 1939,  720 beds and 56 wards accommodated 3100 to 6800 patients a year. Fairfield was then a training hospital for the treatment of typhoid, diphtheria, cholera, smallpox, scarlet fever. Then came HIV/AIDS, and by the late 1980s admissions had leapt to 10,000 a year. Laboratories and a research centre, now the Macfarlane Burnet Institute, were opened, as Fairfield Hospital gained international recognition for its expertise in research and its innovative multidisciplinary health teams.

In 1996, despite community outrage, a short-sighted government closed this sole Australian hospital dedicated to treating infectious disease. Today, much of the site is occupied by the Melbourne Polytechnic-NMIT. The nurses’ quarters have been refurbished as Yarra House, an on-campus residence for students, where above a door to one of the corridors is a simple, painted door-plaque bearing the name of  Vivian Bullwinkel – Fairfield Hospital’s Director of Nursing from 1961 to 1977. Already a famous Australian, she was destined to be one of the nation’s most celebrated nurses. In another post I’ll elaborate on Vivian Bullwinkel’s story.

It is ironic to consider how her career might have been affected in the time of World War I when, in the interests of Australia’s national security, all businesses having links with Germany were ordered to cease trading, and anyone with a German-sounding name was ignorantly suspected of being a collaborator. Anyone of German nationality could be detained indefinitely without charge  in an internment camp — and thousands were.   Sadly, a variation on this theme is taking place today in so-called peace time. But could you imagine an Australian Member of Parliament being interned as an ‘enemy alien’ even then?  It happened in Hahnsdorf, South Australia, to an elected parliamentarian whose second-generation son was a medical specialist in London.

It would be a welcome indication of a more mature Australia, if, like the former Fairfield Hospital, our nation once again truly deserved to be known worldwide for its ‘culture of care’.


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Sing the praises of the unsung editor

I love Twitter.  It’s so addictive.  There’s so much going on, and at such a speed that the more folks you follow, the more tweets you will miss, but there’s always one you’re so glad you caught. (Just as there’s always one glitch even that inevitably escapes the proofreader.)

Like Holly Robinson’s recent blog post that is a glowing tribute to editors.  We’re not your extrovert Alpha-personality types so we don’t get a lot of limelight, and a kind word is like a little ray of sunshine.  Holly  — writer and red dirt rambler —  calls editors ‘the unsung heroes of publishing’, and so much more in that vein that I’m reaching for my sunglasses.   If you’re an editor, or that equally indispensable species, a writer, do read her article, at, and the many appreciative comments.

While we’re talking of treasured editors, let me introduce you to one who is honoured with an annual award in recognition of her skill: Barbara Mary Ramsden (1903–1971).  In the days when Ramsden was wielding the red pen, editing was very much a man’s world; not so today, as you might discover if you’re booked in for the Editors Victoria dinner meeting this week.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002, records that in 1941 Ramsden was formally appointed assistant-reader with Melbourne University Press. Her legacy was seen in the growth of M.U.P., in the generation of editors whom she trained, and in the high standard she set by her meticulous editing. Her biographer, Ros Moye, wrote in 1988* that she was a formidable editor, both in expertise and in manner, providing much of the stability and authority in scholarship that M.U.P. enjoyed.

Ramsden was honorary treasurer of the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the brightest stars in Melbourne’s literary firmament. Her death in 1971 prompted the FAW to establish an award in her name, presented to the author and editor of a book that reflects credit on them both. This year,  the annual Barbara Ramsden Award will be sponsored by Penguin Random House, a publishing partnership that recognises the importance of the editor’s indispensable contribution.

Entries are now open, and guidelines for the award, which applies to any professionally edited manuscript, are available from the FAW at or by phoning Lynn Smailes on 0407 868 814.

If you are a writer who has had a joyous and enlightening collaboration with a hitherto unsung editor who has known intimately every one of your 70,000 words — if you’re happy and you know it, sing their praise!

* R. Moye, ‘The ”Legendary” Barbara Ramsden, Book Editor’, in Melbourne University Mosaic (Melb, 1998).

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Tea and No Sympathy: the Invisible Editor

KJ Charles

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 14.05.06

Editing is an underrated, underpaid skill in large part because it’s invisible. Good editing, in the reader’s experience, is a negative. Some people may note the absence of typos, or the lack of stumbles over poor sentence structure. Nobody but editor and author knows about the rambling, pointless plotline, the ending that weakened the whole book and had to be redrafted, the inexplicably omitted antagonist, irritating repeated word, massive plot hole, or 5000 words of unnecessary verbiage. By God you’ll see all that if it’s left in, and leave scathing reviews accordingly, but with a properly edited book, for all the reader knows, the author delivered an impeccable MS and every plot twist, satisfying scene and well structured ending is her genius. Nothing to do with anyone else, oh no.

And of course, because editors are invisible, you get people thinking they don’t need them. Authors who refuse to accept…

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Peter Greste writes from jail in Egypt

I commend this disturbing email from PEN Melbourne, forwarding an open letter from our kindred spirit Peter Greste.  Please feel free to reblog or quote the contents.

Peter Greste, jailed Australian journalist and tv camera

Peter Greste, jailed Australian journalist

(PEN centres are voices for literature and freedom of expression in their respective countries, supported by PEN International.  PEN Melbourne is one of 145 PEN centres around the world. Download past issues of its Quarterly at

PEN Melbourne is appalled by the terrible news that Australian journalist Peter Greste has been sentenced to seven years in an Egyptian prison after being found guilty by an Egyptian court of spreading ‘false news’ and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
We join with many other human rights organisations around the world to condemn this decision, which appears to have been made in the absence of credible evidence that would support the charges made against Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.
PEN Melbourne calls for the reversal of this cruel decision on behalf of our fellow writers, journalists who have already been punished by being imprisoned unjustly for over six months for the peaceful exercise of their profession as reporters, and their right to free expression. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to release the three journalists immediately and unconditionally.

For more information see

Please also see below, an open letter that Peter Greste sent from Tora Prison in February:

“I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.

“I’ve been locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning, so the chance for a walk in the weak winter sunshine is precious.

“So too are the books on history, Arabic and fiction that my neighbours have passed to me, and the pad and pen I now write with.

“I want to cling to these tiny joys and avoid anything that might move the prison authorities to punitively withdraw them. I want to protect them almost as much as I want my freedom back.

“That is why I have sought, until now, to fight my imprisonment quietly from within, to make the authorities understand that this is all a terrible mistake, that I’ve been caught in the middle of a political struggle that is not my own. But after two weeks in prison it is now clear that this is a dangerous decision. It validates an attack not just on me and my two colleagues but on freedom of speech across Egypt.

“All of a sudden, my books seem rather petty. I had been in Cairo only two weeks before interior ministry agents burst through the door of my hotel room, that of my colleague and producer Mohamed Fahmy, and into the home of Al Jazeera’s second producer Baher Mohamed.

Accuracy, fairness, and balance

“We had been doing exactly as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands.

“Most of the time, it is not a difficult path to walk. But when the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be “terrorist organisation”, it knocked the middle ground out of the discourse. When the other side, political or otherwise, is a “terrorist”, there is no neutral way. As George W. Bush loved to point out after 9/11, you are either with the government or with the terrorists. So, even talking to them becomes an act of treason, let alone broadcasting their news however benign.

“The following day, the government fleshed out its definition of the term. Anyone caught handing out Muslim Brotherhood leaflets, or simply participating in protest marches against the government could be arrested and imprisoned for “spreading terrorist ideology”.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has lost much of the support and credibility once had when its political leader Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president just over a year and a half ago. And many here hold it responsible for a growing wave of Islamist violence, but it remains the single largest and best organised social and political force in Egypt. What then for a journalist striving for “balance, fairness and accuracy?” How do you accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved?

“I worried about this at the time with Mohamed Fahmy, but we decided that the choice was obvious – as obvious as the price we are now paying for making it.

“The three of us have been accused of collaborating with a terrorist organisation [the Muslim Brotherhood], of hosting Muslim Brotherhood meetings in our hotel rooms, of using unlicensed equipments to deliberately broadcast false information to further their aims and defame and discredit the Egyptian state.

“The state has presented no evidence to support the allegations, and we have not been formally charged with any crime. But the prosecutor general has just extended our initial 15-day detention by another 15 days to give investigators more time to find something. He can do this indefinitely – one of my prison mates has been behind bars for 6 months without a single charge.

The prisons are overflowing

“I am in Tora prison – a sprawling complex in the south of the city where the authorities routinely violate legally enshrined prisoners’ rights, denying visits from lawyers, keeping cells locked for 20 hours a day (and 24 hours on public holidays) and so on. But even that is relatively benign compared to the conditions my colleagues are being held in.

“Fahmy and Baher have been accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members, So they are being held in the far more draconian “Scorpion prison” built for convicted terrorists. Fahmy has been denied the hospital treatment he badly needs for a shoulder injury he sustained shortly before our arrest. Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul-destroying tedium. Remember we have not been formally charged, much less convicted of any crime. But this is not just about three Al Jazeera journalists. Our arrest and continued detention sends a clear and unequivocal message to all journalists covering Egypt, both foreign and local.

“The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices. The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government. Secular activists are sentenced to three years with hard labour for violating protest laws after declining an invitation to openly support the government; campaigners putting up “No” banners ahead of the constitutional referendum are summarily detained.

“Anyone, in short, who refuses to applaud the institution. So our arrest is not a mistake, and as a journalist this IS my battle. I can no longer pretend it’ll go away by keeping quiet and crossing my fingers. I have no particular fight with the Egyptian government, just as I have no interest in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group here. But as a journalist I am committed to defending a fundamental freedom of the press that no one in my profession can credibly work without. One that is deemed vital to the proper functioning of any open democracy, including Egypt’s with its new constitution.

“Of course we will continue to fight this from inside prison and through the judicial system here. But our freedom, and more importantly the freedom of the press here, will not come without loud sustained pressure from human rights and civil society groups, individuals and governments who understand that Egypt stability depends as much as on its ability to hold open honest conversations among its people and the world, as it does on its ability to crush violence.

“We know it is already happening, and all of us are both moved and strengthened by the extraordinary support we have already had, but it needs to continue.”

Peter Greste
Tora prison, Egypt

To voice your protest write to:

Mr Khaled Rizk
Consul General of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Level 6, 50 Market Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000

And to write your letter of support to Greste :< >

Photo by  — one of the few independent voices left in the world, and a seriously endangered species, hunted even in Australia.   Twitter: @ABC_friends

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Kidney donor saves PM

I put up a post about ABC announcer Mark Colvin’s kidney transplate in March last year (2013), and though his operation is well over and he’s back on ABC Radio National’s PM program, I’m prompted to revisit the story after reading two recent and related reports.

The first was about a ‘domino donation’ of kidneys that depended on one altruistic Australian donor to start off the synchronised transplants.  This heartwarming chain of organ donations was Australia’s first such venture, echoing a similar 12-patient procedure at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, USA, in February 2009.   The story can be read here:


The second reason to revisit my post was a report of a sharp increase in patients who return home from surgery with hidden cargo — surgical instruments secreted in their innards that turn them into medical ‘mules’.   My hope was that Mark (@Colvinius on Twitter) would return to his nightly news program unencumbered by such unintended donations. Patients who feel sufficiently cut up about it are demanding metal detectors at hospital exits.

Back on 3 March 2013 I read this ABC blog about Mark’s operation:

and hopped onto WordPress to report that something pretty momentous had happened in ABC Radioland.  On ABC 774 Radio’s ‘Drive’ program that day, Erin Mathews blogged:

“You know Mark Colvin as the legendary presenter of ABC Radio’s current affairs program, PM. You may also know his authoritative social media voice as the prolific tweeter @Colvinius.

“What you might not know is that the ABC journalist has battled severe illness since 1994, when he was a foreign correspondent covering the Rwandan refugee crisis. For years he’s lived with deteriorating kidney function, bound to regular dialysis – until now. Thanks to a living donor and very generous friend, Mark has received a life-saving kidney transplant. Speaking from his hospital bed, he shared his story with Rafael Epstein.

Tweet hospital

Mark Colvin’s transplant operation was the subject of a Four Corners documentary on Monday, 8 April on ABC TV1 at 8.30pm.

Hear in this remarkably frank interview how Colvin arrived at the difficult decision to accept a kidney from a living donor:

Personally, as a blood donor past the 110 mark (donations, that is, not age) I consider it the best type of investment anyone could ever make. For less than an hour four times a year you get a health check, a chance to lean back and meditate or read a magazine, choose a free lunch and feel pretty good that three more recipients of that magic fluid would not be alive without it.

I heard with astonishment Mark Colvin’s statement that the average wait for a donated kidney was seven years — and that he would not have survived the wait. Nowhere near.

It just shows how muddled our thinking is when most people accept blood donations and applaud the donors yet find it hard to consider the recycling of organs. Nearly everyone on earth has two kidneys and a good number of those tiny miracles will still be in working order at their owners’ inevitable demise.

Why are so few doing as Mark, and presumably thousands before him, have suggested: talking with their loved ones about donating their kidneys or anything that works?

Rational and compassionate people see the value of holding a family conference to formulate a decision that will be binding on all of them. The earlier this is done, the easier it is.  The last thing a patient hoping to go home soon wants to hear is ‘What shall we do about your organs?’  And that is half the problem, so do it early if you’re going to do it at all.

I cannot imagine the disappointment of a person on dialysis who is being prepared to receive a life-saving kidney when the approval took too long. A family’s lack of preparation for that sadly necessary conversation with the surgeons after a person’s death is often the only reason that an organ cannot be used, despite the deceased person’s own intention. The decision has to be made quickly, before the organ deteriorates.

It would be some indication of human progress if we could swap the current celebrity cachet of having had a convict in one’s pedigree (I don’t, so I’m boring) for the pride of being related to an organ donor. For what it’s worth, those of my relatives who will, I hope, outlive me already know they have that opportunity.

Medical science moves on, and oh sure, there’s a fibreglass leg, a titanium hip or two, a few false teeth and the odd metal pin around our (bionically) extended family, but it’s a wondrous fact that when it comes to a matter of life and death, one little kidney can trump the lot.  Go on — sign up and get a life.

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A load of old cobblers

What an amphigoric load of old cobblers there is in the dictionary!

Some of the malarky, like flapdoodle, codswallop, kybosh and balderdash, have but the terse definition ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’ or ‘idle chatter’, with no or doubtful provenance; others, like bunkum, gammon and gibberish, merit more interesting palaver.

Cobblers is persiflage for testicles, from the English cockney rhyming slang of cobblers’ awls for balls. To local yokels who rant that we’re magpies spouting Flemington confetti, we retort the ethnic origin of much of our media’s bumf.  They’re talking bosh, a word from Turkey, meaning empty or vain. It’s piffle, both verb and noun, from Old English pyff, or puff — all baloney, from the famous Bologna sausage.

You may whisper ‘horsesh*t’ to that, but we prefer poppycock, the double-Dutch translation of pappekak, soft dung.  However, it’s an ignoratio elenchi that even after this raving, roving rodomontade, you will see something in the dictionary and still plaintively pyalla: ‘It’s all Greek to me.’

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