On the eve of Anzac Day 2020, nursing officer Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Anne Ikin is contemplative as she recalls the wonderful work of colleagues both here and around the world. But like many, her preparations to mark the day have pivoted.
“This year more than ever I am proud to be a nurse and midwife.”
As the current Director of Defence Force Nursing, she was to lead a combined group of both military and civilian nurses at the Canberra march down Anzac Parade this year. The group symbolising the long history of nurses supporting our forces while also celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
She will now watch the Australian War Memorial dawn service telecast on the ABC, light a candle for fallen comrades, raise a glass of wine in their memory and listen to The Last Post.
“Australian nurses have supported our troops since the Boer War. It’s also important to remember many of the nurses who volunteered were civilians when they went to war.
“This is such an important year for nurses to be recognised for the contribution we make globally to improve health outcomes.”
It’s also the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth.
“Florence’s foresight about infection control and patient centred care – still influences how we operate today.
“This year more than ever we see how important the lessons she has left for us are in containing the spread of COVID-19.”
Jo-Anne’s military career was predestined. Her family’s long connection with active service can be traced back to the Second Fleet. Since the arrival of Obadiah lkin in 1790, a member of each generation has served in some capacity. Jo-Anne is the first female in her family to join Defence.
In 1990 she enlisted as a reservist, then after ten years in 2000, joined the Army as a fulltime nursing officer.
Her first deployment was to Timor on Boxing Day in 2000, working at the United Nations Hospital in Dili.
In 2014 she spent four months with the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program. An annual Army initiative supporting different Indigenous communities – where engineers design a community capability program around construction, community education and health services. The 2014 contingent was 220km from Tenant Creek between two communities of Canteen Creek and Wutunagarra.
“We augmented the rural clinics in each location across a wide range of services including general medical, dental, anti-natal and children’s health.”
Another highlight was attending the 75th anniversary commemorative service in Bangka Island, Indonesia. As contingent commander Jo-Anne travelled with 10 Army nurses to commemorate the WWII massacre of 21 nurses by the Japanese on Radji Beach on 16 February 1942.
Jo-Anne shared the story of Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, the sole survivor. After the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, the Japanese captured the survivors then forced the nurses and their patients back into the water and shot them. Vivian survived, only to be interned as a prisoner of war for three years.
At the war crimes trial, Vivian recalled the final words of Matron Irene Drummond: “Chins up girls, I am proud of you and I Iove you all”.
After 30 years of active service, Jo-Anne and her partner have made a self-described “shift towards retirement with a sea change” relocating to the Sapphire Coast. Like many their New Year’s Eve and house warming plans were cancelled due to the bushfires.
“With red skies and ash falling all around us and no power for three days, it’s certainly one to remember.
“Through the experience we got to know all our neighbours and found the community spirit was something really special.”
Jo-Anne has recently joined Moruya Hospital as a weekend rostered casual midwife.
“On my third shift I was blessed with an Easter baby, it was very special.”
Jo-Anne and her partner share five beautiful children: twin daughters, a son and two step sons. Her 24-year-old son is also in the Army.
Jo-Anne trained at Ballarat Base Hospital then undertook midwifery at The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne. She completed her Maternal and Child Health training at RMIT University and gained a Graduate Diploma in Mental Health, Masters of Adult Education and a certificate in Rural and Isolated Practice.