With service on Army medical missions on Bougainville, in Indonesia and in the Solomon Islands as well as inland Australia, Captain Kath Evans advises anyone wanting an adventurous or unusual career ‘if you want to do something, find someone else who likes doing it and ask them for encouragement and motivation – it’s easier than you think!’
Dreaming of a change from her Sydney office job as a shorthand-typist, Kath Evans joined the Australian Regular Army on 3 Feb 1982, aged 18. Following an initiation by fire at WRAAC recruit school, she undertook her initial health training that year and became a nursing assistant. She was one of a lucky few who were posted back to a home locality and found her feet as a young Private, working at Yeronga Army Hospital – known as 1st Military Hospital.
The dress of the day on the ward was a firmly starched, knee-length white dress, spotless white shoes, regulation stockings, and a perfectly folded and pinned in place – white paper cap. Kath says she rather liked her Royal Australian Nursing Corps paper cap – the Nursing Assistant’s miniature veil, though progress saw its demise in the early 1990s.
Kath enjoyed working on the wards looking after mainly Army personnel, while learning the ropes in the military. One of the first opportunities to serve the civilian community came as a medical support task to a cadet camp at Greenbank. She saw first hand how tough young folk were, compared to how tough she wasn’t back then. There were a number of similar tasks over the years, including medical support to an Army school children’s annual camp, not a job for the faint-hearted.
Although quite content in her basic nursing role, Kath was talked into taking an Operating Theatre Technician (nurse) course in 1986. Before she knew it she was actually doing a job she’d only ever looked up to, and her confidence grew accordingly – in the same way in 1998, she was talked into applying for a new part-time Bachelor of Nursing by distance education.
By far the most rewarding and adventurous of all overseas experiences was her first overseas deployment to the island of Bougainville in 2000. This was part of OP BEL ISI – the Army’s Peace Monitoring Group, where she joined the Combined Health Element (CHE). Her principal role was in the field operating theatre, which provided a wide variety of surgical services to both the ADF and Australia’s Allies, as well as the local people. Understandably though, with their local infrastructure in ruins, the vast majority of their work in the CHE surgery was to provide, in many cases, life-saving support to the region’s villagers. Kath says ‘the Bougainvillians are a beautiful people, quiet, generous and patient, with a loyalty that promises you that your contribution will never be forgotten by them’. There were so many moving and inspiring stories from that time in Bougainville, but it was the people that made it so unforgettable.
In 2001 Kath was part of the advance party for an AACAP mission – an Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program. Although only in the area for a short time, she gained some insight into local health and schooling conditions and was able to initiate activities for women. She developed a group of loyal followers – the school-age kids who loved to be ‘extras’ in Army promotional videos with their smiling faces and uncomplicated fun.
In April 2005, after the disastrous Indonesian earthquake, Kath was posted overseas on OP SUMATRA ASSIST II. Her first opportunity to sail on board a Naval ship proved tragically memorable. HMAS Kanimbla became a household name back in Australia when nine colleagues perished in the Sea King crash, with the two seriously injured survivors in the care of Kath and her medical team until their evacuation. Kath says about this mission ‘It’s doing our best that brings out the best in us. We got on with the important role of providing humanitarian aid to the earthquake victims who incredibly, despite their immense losses, also cared for our loss’.
Kath was again deployed overseas as a Nursing Officer on OP SOLOMON ASSIST, following the earthquake and tsunami centred around the area of the South Pacific Island of Gizo. A small group of medical, nursing, and some environmental health personnel, the team made a significant contribution to the aid effort. Kath believes this was largely due to the exceptional woman officer who led the team with determination, cool organisational skills, and an ability to function at a high level on very little sleep. Her impressive negotiation skills enabled the medical teams to deploy safely to many areas by air and sea over their two-week mission. As well as assisting in local health clinics, they gathered information vital to local authorities coordinating the numerous aid agencies.
Kath’s response to the challenges she tackles is always ‘Well, if ‘so and so’ can do it, and they’re no smarter than me, when I can surely do it too!’ She says this way she can ‘eat an elephant-one bite at a time – the philosophical equivalent of working as a Registered Nurse in Intensive Care! That’s how I ended up studying ICU nursing, and it’s what keeps me going during times of uncertainty’.