The 2018 Bellingen Anzac Day Parade next Wednesday will be led by the six female members of the Bellinger River RSL Sub-Branch (from left- Susan Lumsdaine, Kaye Barr, Valda Watt, Mary Ann Perry, Chrissy Lewis and Kathy Mortimer absent). Dianne Hutchinson and Emma Palmer, who are still currently serving in the Army Reserve, will be joining them. Emma will be marching in uniform and will give the main address at the Bellingen service.
Valda Watt is a WW2 veteran, being a member of the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) which existed from 1942 to 1951, when it was disbanded and incorporated into the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.
Valda remembers her time in service as “one of the best parts of my life. It sounds like an awful thing to say because of the sad things, you know, but being able to contribute in some way was really satisfying.”
Valda will be one of the many female veterans across the country who are being encouraged to march as a group on Anzac Day 2018 as part of a Women Veterans Network Australia initiative called ‘By the Left’. This initiative was born out of the growing disquiet about the lack of recognition for female veterans.
The inaugural Female Veterans and Families Forum (FVFF) was hosted by the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) in 2016. The recognition of female veterans was raised at the time, with many female veterans admitting that they no longer wore their medals or marched on ANZAC Day, as they felt that they were constantly being asked to prove their Service. Of those who attended the FVFF, the majority indicated that at some point they had either been questioned about whose medals they were wearing, or were asked to move their medals to the right-hand side.
They described their experiences as disheartening and undermining the value of their service. This feedback prompted Minister Tehan (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC until December 2017), to call on all Australians to recognise the service and sacrifice of female veterans.
“It must be emphasised that female veterans do not want to be viewed differently; we want to be viewed the same – as veterans. But to achieve this, we must first be seen,” says local GP and former Army doctor Susan Lumsdaine.
“The male veteran community is overwhelmingly backing ‘By the Left’. Our local sub-Branch, which is just over 80% male, voted unanimously to have our female members lead the parade this year. In the end though, male and female veterans simply want to be seen as one under the veteran banner. When we served we worked together as a team, we are the same as veterans. I am usually asked at least once each ANZAC Day about my medals, are they my father’s?, why am I wearing them on the left if they are not mine? I see each interaction as a positive chance to inform people about the role that women have had in the ADF,” says Susan. Susan spent 20 years in the Australian Defence Force, initially as an Army Reserve Nursing Officer and later as a doctor in the Regular Army and Medical Corps, before retiring in 2016. Susan had deployments to East Timor, and humanitarian assistance missions in Indonesia and Pakistan. Susan is the Honorary Secretary for the local RSL sub-branch.
‘By the Left’ is a play on words, which highlights the significance of veterans wearing their medal(s) on the left side, while incorporating a military marching word of command. Just for 2018, regardless of Service, Corps, Association, full-time or part-time Service or deployment location, female veterans will be invited to march as one group in major centres on ANZAC Day.
In 2018 women make up 15 per cent of full-timers in the military. It hasn’t been a particularly easy road to travel, as change has been slow. Women have only been allowed to serve with men since the 1970s and, until recently, combat roles were off-limits. However, Valda has no complaints. When asked if she has any advice for women thinking about joining the services today, Valda just simply replies “it was a really good experience.”
If there are other women in this community who have previously served in the ADF and would like to be involved in this year’s Bellingen Anzac Day Parade please contact Susan Lumsdaine at Bellinger-RiverSB@rslnsw.org.au or just turn up on the day. Marchers need to assemble in Church St near the BCU by 8.45am. The parade will step off at 9am for the Main Service at the War Memorial. Members of the community are also invited to the Dawn Service which commences at 5.30am at the War Memorial in Hyde St.
Bellingen Shire is a secret Australian hamlet along the Waterfall Way on the NSW mid-north coast. This region is popular for its unique landscape where the Great Dividing Range almost touches the sea. It boasts a diverse history and proud indigenous culture, and is home to an eclectic and supportive community of farmers, alternative lifestylers, tree-changers, and families who have called this region home for generations. Interesting in so many ways and with so much to offer, it’s no wonder visitors return time & time again, while other never leave…