By Leo D’Angelo Fisher
A new wellbeing, recreational and support services centre for veterans and their families opened in Melbourne this week.
The Vivian Bullwinkel Veterans and Families Wellbeing Centre, which is jointly operated by Melbourne Legacy and RSL Victoria, will provide the veteran community with vital care from specialist staff and essential support services such as counselling, advocacy, case management and referral pathways.
The centre also offers a “safe and comfortable club environment” for veterans and their families visiting the Melbourne CBD.
Features include a lounge area, quiet rooms, tea and coffee facilities, a kitchenette, secure storage, computers, printers, a children’s play centre and shower facilities.
The centre is named in honour of Vivian Bullwinkel, an Australian Army nurse during the Second World War and the lone survivor of the Bangka Island massacre. On 16 February 1942, 22 Australian nurses were marched into the sea at Bangka Island, Indonesia, by Japanese soldiers and shot with machine guns.
Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel was one of the 22 nurses shot in the massacre but survived by playing dead. Ms Bullwinkel dedicated her life to nursing and honouring those killed on Bangka Island. She died in 2000 at the age of 84.
At the official opening of the Wellbeing Centre a portrait of Ms Bullwinkel by Melbourne portrait artist George Petrou was unveiled.
"Vivian Bullwinkel exemplified resilience and a devotion to duty like no other. She also portrayed the essence of what it means to be a true ANZAC,” says Mr Petrou, who specialises in portraits of Australian war heroes.
The new centre has been welcomed by veteran Joel Sardi.
Mr Sardi served in the Australian Army as a rifleman for five years, including a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2013. In 2014 he sustained a devastating injury that resulted in him becoming a C5 quadriplegic.
“When I was discharged from the Army, I was immediately separated from the incredible support network and amazing friendships I had established over the previous five years,” Mr Sardi says.
“The Wellbeing Centre is going to be a place where I know I am always welcome to bring my family and we will be taken care of no matter what. I look at the Wellbeing Centre as my new battalion.”
Melbourne Legacy president, Hugh Robertson says the centre will offer veterans and their families a “safe haven”.
“The Vivian Bullwinkel Centre will provide them with the support and care they need, in one location. But we cannot continue the service our veteran community needs without the help of donors to fund this initiative well into the future,” Mr Robertson says.
The Vivian Bullwinkel Veterans and Families Wellbeing Centre is located at Legacy House, 293 Swanston Street, Melbourne.
Leo D'Angelo Fisher is a regular columnist and Editor-at-Large at Australian Veteran News. Connect with him on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher.