Wing Commander Sharon Bown (Ret’d)
Launch of the Memorial's plans for Our Continuing Story
Australian War Memorial
18 November 2019
My name is Sharon Bown and I am a proud Australian veteran.
I am a Returned Service Nurse of the Royal Australian Air Force, with service in Australia, New Britain, Bali, Afghanistan and in East Timor, where 15 years ago, I survived a helicopter crash with a severe spinal injury, facial fractures and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I am also a member of a Defence family.
My husband, MAJ Conway Bown, a helicopter pilot in the Aust. Army, has served our country in times of peace and war for most of his adult life – with service in Australia, PNG, East Timor, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Our two sons, Ty and Austin, have known no other life than that in which their parents have served Australia. At 2 years of age, Ty was awarded a medal for bravery on the home front whilst his Daddy went to war in Afghanistan. Any parent of a 2-year-old might agree that it’s the medal I most deserved but never received!
We are members of Prince Harry’s Invictus Generation - the generation of Australian veterans whose story of service exists, but which largely remains untold.
But I am here today to welcome you to our home – The Australian War Memorial. The place in which we feel valued, respected and somewhat understood. The place in which we now know that our continuing story of service will be told. The place to which we return alongside our fellow Australians to honour, to learn and to heal.
The names of my family and friends are listed on the Australian Roll of Honour. Ancestors I never knew are listed opposite friends whom I did know and with whom I trained and served.
At bronze panel No. 67, I honour my Great Uncle, Private Albert Arthur Reader. I speak to visitors of his service as a stretcher bearer in the First World War and of how he landed at Gallipoli, was MID at Pozieres and awarded a Military Medal at Boursies for “courage in rescuing wounded under heavy fire.” How at just 28 years of age he was KIA in the Battle of Lagnicourt. In the galleries below, those same visitors can learn the story of his Battalion and of the battles in which he served. They can begin to gain an understanding of his service.
At bronze panel No. 3 I honour my friends, Wendy, Lynne and Paul, who died in a helicopter crash, delivering humanitarian aid to the Indonesian Island of Nias on 02 April 2005. But even after 14 years, it’s hard for me to share details of their stories. But I know that the galleries below cannot yet do that for me, so, with a lump in my throat, I try. Because I don’t want visitors to only feel the tragic loss of their deaths. I want them to learn of their stories of service, to learn of our nation’s continuing story of service, and to be inspired and ever thankful that my three friends had lived! They were so much more than names on a wall and their lives were so much more than the circumstances in which they died. They deserve to have their story told.
The AWM is a place in which we honour and in which we learn, but as a nurse, a patient, and a survivor, I have come to understand that it is also a place in which we heal.
A place in which we can begin to reconcile the sacrifices of service with the purpose of those sacrifices. Where:
Australian servicemen and women encounter members of a grateful public who simply want to shake their hand and offer a sincere “thank you;” groups of curious school children with cheeky yet intensely honest questions about service; staff, volunteers, curators and historians with a thirst to understand and to support; and more often than you might think, new Australians who simply want to understand their new home.
Defence families, clinicians and community members gain insight into war and operations so that they may better understand and support those who have served.
I have spoken of the Roll of Honour, but to assist those that support our veteran community, we must also tell the stories of the survivors and the everyday veterans, many of whom are here today, who are actively shaping the world in which we live. Those that never seek the limelight, but whose stories of service shed light on who we are and all that we can achieve.
It is time for the story of our generation and our continuing service to be told here, by a team that will tell it more broadly, more openly and with a narrative that is more balanced than some of stories shared publicly today.
The Australian veteran is not broken. The Australian veteran is resilient and unique, and whilst some of us require support as we return to Australia and as we transition out of the Australian Defence Force, Australian veterans enrich our society and provide unique capabilities not otherwise available to Australia.
The AWM is a place where veterans, families and all Australians can begin to understand our continuing story of service. A place where we can honour, learn and heal.