Colleen Mealy's story
Colleen Mealy was born in 1943 in Port Augusta, South Australia. As a child, Colleen had polio, a highly infectious viral disease. During recovery, she stayed in a specialised children's home in Adelaide. She later returned to primary school in Port Augusta and regained the full use of her legs.
After school, Colleen became a nurse, training at St Andrew's Hospital in Adelaide. In 1965, she followed her dream to join the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps (RAANC).
I liked the life, the lifestyle, the career. I'd always wanted to be an army nurse, ever since I can remember
[Colleen Thurgar interviewed by Susan Mann, 27 September 2007, Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project, State Library of South Australia]
Her first posting was to Brisbane, working in a surgical theatre where they treated many men returning from the Vietnam War. During this time, she completed camp training, learning to live and operate in tents.
Colleen discovered that she was being sent to Vietnam in a most unusual way, on ABC radio. In 1967, at 22, Colleen was one of the first 4 army nurses deployed to Vietnam. Later nicknamed the ‘Fab Four' after The Beatles, they served with 8 Field Ambulance on the ground in V?ng Tàu, Vietnam.
As a team, the nurses set up the hospital in 4 tin huts with no running water. They worked 10-hour shifts, and sometimes worked around the clock to care for the sick and wounded. Colleen fondly recalled the resilient spirit of the wounded, who forever changed her life.
Not long after arriving, the unit upgraded to 1 Australia Field hospital, heralding an increase in the provision of equipment.
The 4 nurses returned to Australian in 1968 after paving the way for future army nursing staff in Vietnam. After 5 years in the Army, Colleen resigned with the rank of Captain and continued nursing.
Colleen met her husband John ‘Jack' Thurgar when he was admitted to a Canberra hospital with a fractured shoulder. Jack served in the Army's Special Air Services Regiment before joining the Australian Federal Police. Colleen and Jack married and had 2 sons. Over the years, they have both contributed immensely to the veteran community.
Colleen worked as a welfare officer and home visitation officer for the ACT Returned Services League (RSL). She was also actively involved with the ACT Health Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Committee.
In 1993, Colleen was awarded Member of the Order of Australia for her services in Vietnam. In 1994, Colleen became the state President of the Women's Sub-branch. She was an active member on the Vietnam Welcome Home Parade Committee and was also involved in the project to build the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade.