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Anzac Nurses  - Moira Pagan




The idea for this set of 12 paintings is a continuation of a theme I started in a show called 'Women as Icons' (shown in Northland New Zealand 2012) in which ordinary woman doing daily tasks such as ironing, washing hair, in a library were portrayed as icons and with halos or symbolic haloes in order to suggest them as spiritual beings doing spiritual work in their everyday lives. This was extended through my research to honour those women who as our ancestors were called to step outside their normal lives and into unexpected war zones. I created a set of 3 paintings of ANZAC nurses killed when their boat the Maquette was torpedoed.


Although inspired by archive photos of real women, the backgrounds include suggested stories or spiritual symbols in the case of these nurses the symbols included the long white cloud in number one, the torpedo which took their lives in number 2 and the waterfall to symbolise peace in number 3. These painting can be seen on my website under' Women as Icons' and are now in the UK in a private collection. (


Since moving to Port Macquarie in January 2014 I have continued with my research into this subject area and picking up on the extra energies around the centenary celebrations of ANZAC Day I have felt compelled to continue to explore the honouring of the lives of women who despite the laws of equality still bear memories past or present in their psyche of less than complete worthiness.

The nurses who served in the World Wars became a vehicle to express aspects of this.


For this  collection of paintings I have been inspired by archive photographs of Australian ANZAC nurses which are often shown in a studio setting or as 'posed' photographs or emerging from exotic settings in Cairo or Europe. My paintings intend to show an aspect of their individual personalties but to include in the darkness of the background some suggestion of the horrors they were to experience or were already experiencing whilst putting on a 'brave' or smiling face. The background images of explosions or soldiers appear intuitively during the process of painting and are not preplanned.


When the Shift Theatre Company brought  a production called 'Girls In Grey' to the Glasshouse Arts Centre in Port Macquarie NSW, I thought that my series of Anzac nurse paintings may well complement their play and provide some further 'food for thought' for the theatre goers during the interval.

The Art centre agreed and the 12 paintings were displayed for a week in June 2014


Press release below

I hope you enjoy these images and that they invoke responses or questions or reveal stories you hadn’t previously heard about

The Other ANZACS  written by Peter Rees was an initial inspiration and since then his book has been televised and recently shown in Australia- 6 part series called ANZAC GIRLS


Anzac Nurses

1. Sisters

255mm x 255mm 


2. Hospital Ward

255mm x 255mm 


3. Camping Nurses

255mm x 255mm 


4. Lady With The Lamp

255mm x 255mm 


5. Nurse With Buddha

255mm x 255mm 


6. Nurses In Egypt

255mm x 255mm 


7. Nurses And Soldiers

255mm x 255mm 


8. Nurses With Golden Tree

255mm x 255mm 


9. Nurse With Golden Book

255mm x 255mm 


10. Portrait With Lowered Eyes

255mm x 255mm 


11. Three Women Workers

255mm x 255mm 


12. Tasmanian Nurse

255mm x 255mm 



Artist Notes - Anzac Nurses




Lady With The Lamp


Inspired by a photograph of a nurse with The Australian Army Nursing Service checking a patient’s temperature while on Night duty In North Queensland 1944


The nurse and patient in the original photograph were under canvas but when I came to painting the background I felt I wanted to suggest the noise and explosions of battle in contrast to the serenity of the nurse doing what she had to do in whatever circumstance beyond her control. The gold leaf within the fire and unseen guardians express the spiritual work of the moment.


Camping Nurses


Inspired by a photograph of Sisters Eleanor Wibmer Jeffries and  Nellie Constance Morrice outside their tent at No 3 Australian General Hospital with flowers picked from the bank of the Somme


The nurses in many battlefield areas shared tents and had little privacy, often poor rations, and experienced the cold and mud close to the front line. The flowers gathered and draped across the lap of one of the nurses symbolise beauty amidst the mud and bloodshed of warfare. The women smile for the camera. The golden tent shelters and protects them.


Nurse with Golden Tree


Inspired by a photograph of Kathleen Adele Brennan who died of influenza in Leicester, England on 24 November 1918 just days after the end of the war


She was a member of the Australian Red Cross Society and left Australia for the United Kingdom aboard HMAT Osterley, on 27 September 1916. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people.  Her beautiful photograph posed on a blanket spread on the ground with and golden tree behind symbolizing the work she did which spread out its impact without her knowing. Her peaceful countenance contrasts with the day-to-day trauma she would experience.



Nurse with Golden Book


Inspired by a studio portrait of staff Nurse Christine Erica Strong after she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1917


She went on to serve in the British hospitals in Salonika Greece and returned to Australia in 1919. The golden book symbolizes the learning and self-discovery she would have made in her 2 years serving during the war and the background to her painting hints at the Spiritual within her life and service.


Nurses and Soldiers


Inspired by an image of a group of nurses with officers and men of the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station


The group are smiling and having fun when round the corner a nurse would write:


‘At Gezaincourt the Unit opened for the reception of walking wounded. Trains ran into the little siding loaded with wounded from the Somme Battle Fields. This was our first picture of the results of war, the weather was terrible and the mud up near the line was so bad that many cases came in for treatment literally covered from head to foot.’


Portrait with Lowered Eyes


Inspired by a photograph taken in November 1917 of Australian nurses taking tea in their quarters at the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station, near Steenwerck. 


The lowered eyes and slight smile of Sister Mildred Crocker-Brown reminded me of a contemplative Buddha figure so I deliberately emphasised this aspect of the nurses’ need to remain fully grounded and focussed in the midst of the extreme suffering of others, the loss of life and gruesome injuries she would have tended.




Nurses in Egypt


Inspired by a photo of two smiling nurses outside a dairy in Heliopolis, Egypt 1915


The warm exotic streets and sightseeing visits to the pyramids and Sphinx distract from the horrors of war. Wounded soldiers appear in shadows curled up in the foetal position.




Tasmanian Nurse


Inspired by an image of Clare Deacon from Tasmania


Clare worked, as a nurse for five years, on the Western Front during WW1 and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery by King George V at Buckingham Palace. She was also awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and is listed in the Dictionary of Biography of notable Australians. I love the strength and determination in her face as she looks over her shoulder into the unknown. The gold shapes behind her suggest the spiritual presence of her life and the Unseen.


Hospital Ward


Inspired by photograph of a ward in Rosemount Hospital in Brisbane which continued in service as a military hospital right through the Second World War


I liked the repetitive shapes of nurses and patients typical of the regimented systems of military life  which break down in the chaos, confusion and destruction of battle. The ceiling hints at the blue sky of peace and compassion, which encompasses and enfolds all those in combat, whichever side they are on. Beneath the order and healing environment the floor represents the soldiers’ fears and lurking darkness of post traumatic nightmares which appear as a boiling mud of demonic faces or creatures unknown. Golden rectangles represent the clarity and peace within all that is disturbing.





Nurse with Buddha


Inspired by a studio portrait of Staff Nurse Frances Mary Byron MacKellar


Frances left Sydney in May 1917 and was posted to the 34th Welsh General Hospital at Deolali, India.  Although her life at the hill station in India would have been far from exotic and glamorous, her life as a nurse in war-time made her life far different from what she would have expected growing up in Queensland.  She served in Dartford, England in a hospital for those suffering from shell shock and was promoted to Sister in June 1919. The Buddha statue beside her shows the mudra or gesture of Fearlessness.






Inspired by a group portrait of nurses and  soldiers from an album compiled by Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie, who was stationed outside Cairo


The tight group of 4 nurses expresses  the importance of sisterhood and close friendship for the mental health and support which made the work that had to be done bearable and even enjoyable at times.  Such deep connections turned friends into family during these extraordinary times.



Three Women Workers


Inspired by a photograph take in Heliopolis, Cairo (


Not all who served during the war were qualified nurses. Seated centre is Nora Beresford who was a Certificated Volunteer Worker from Tasmania. Her main duties were to prepare and serve food.







Source of photographs:


Australian War Memorial

Museum of Victoria




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