Annual Regional Lecture

Annual Regional  Lecture 2022


The History Council of South Australia each year proudly presents an Annual Regional Lecture in association with individuals or regional history groups to expand and promote historical books, collections, places, and stories.


Join the History Council of South Australia and co-host Light Regional Council at the Kapunda Soldiers Memorial Hall* for the 2022 Regional Lecture.


Please book for the 2022 lecture at the Eventbrite page here.


About this event

Professor Melanie Oppenheimer will present

Vivian Bullwinkel and the Bangka Island Massacre: 80 Years On

Kapunda-born Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the infamous Bangka Island massacre.

It is eighty years since the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 during World War Two. The preceding days saw a chaotic evacuation of hundreds of civilians, men, women and children, as well as Australian Army Nursing Service personnel who were directed to evacuate. One ship, the SS Vyner Brooke was sunk on 14 February, and a large group of survivors made it to Radji Beach on Bangka Island, Sumatra. Civilian women and children were sent to a local village to surrender while 22 Australian nurses remained behind with the sick and wounded. A Japanese patrol arrived, separated the group, and executed the men. The nurses were then ordered to walk into the sea and the Japanese opened fire. The sole survivor of the infamous Bangka Island massacre, Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel feigned death.

Although shot and wounded, Vivian and the badly wounded Private Kingsley were the only survivors of the massacre. They hid out for about twelve days until eventually surrendering to the Japanese. Kingsley died shortly afterwards. Vivian met up with the remaining thirty-two AANS nurses from the Vyner Brooke on 2 March 1942 and was interned for the next three years.

This lecture will revisit the infamous Bangka Island massacre and focus on Vivian Bullwinkel’s life after her return to Australia in 1945 and her contribution to nursing and advocating for the memory of her colleagues who did not survive. It will re-evaluate recent evidence concerning Japanese war crimes, government directives for Bullwinkel to remain silent about details of her ordeal, the issue of comfort women, and the broader implications for our history of women and war during World War Two.

History Council of South Australia 2022 Regional Lecture image


About Professor Melanie Oppenheimer (BA, Dip. Ed (UNE); M. Litt (UNE); PhD (Macquarie University)

Melanie is an Australian historian and a researcher based in the School of History at the Australian National University. She was previously Professor and Chair of History at Flinders University where she was appointed Professor Emerita in 2021. She has held positions in Australian History at the University of Western Sydney, the University of New England and the University of Tokyo. Melanie completed a three-year term as a member of the Australian Research Council’s College of Experts in 2018. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and was elected President of the Australian Historical Association for a two-year term (2020-22). Melanie joined the Editorial Board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography for a five-year term in 2021 and also co-chairs the ADB's Women's Working Party. Most recently, in 2022, she was a Fellow at the National Library of Australia undertaking research as part of her biography of Australia’s sixth Governor General, Ronald Munro Ferguson and his wife, Lady Helen, foundation President of the Australian Red Cross.

For over thirty years, Melanie has been interested in a range of topics including soldier settlement, the Australian Assistance Plan and the Red Cross Movement as well as women, war and volunteering. She completed her PhD on voluntary action and the Australian home front during World War Two, later published as All Work. No Pay. Australian Civilian Volunteers in War (2002). Other books include Volunteering. Why we can’t survive without it (2008); The Power of Humanity. 100 Years of Australian Red Cross, 1914-2014 (2014), with Bruce Scates, The Last Battle. Soldier Settlement in Australia, 1916-39 (2016), and perhaps her favourite book about WWI nurse, Narrelle Hobbes, Oceans of Love (2006).

History Council of South Australia 2022 Regional Lecture image



Read about 2022's lecture here.

Read about 2021's lecture here.

A recording of 2020's lecture can be accessed here.