Fremantle Press and THEATRE 180 join forces on a new book for teens about Australian war hero Vivian Bullwinkel

Published in association with THEATRE 180, Courage Be My Friend by Jenny Davis OAM is the story of Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, who was the only survivor of the Bangka Island Massacre during World War II. Vivian’s selfless efforts to support her fellow prisoners of war in a Japanese camp garnered her many medals and saw her go on to become the first woman to have an Australian War Memorial statue dedicated to her in 2022. The Vivian Bullwinkel Wing at Hollywood Private Hospital in Perth was renamed in her honour.

Children’s publisher Cate Sutherland said Jenny Davis’s successful career as an actor, director, playwright and director of the WA Youth Theatre gave her the understanding needed to tackle the book’s sometimes difficult subject matter with compassion. Cate said, ‘According to a recent study by Deakin University, history and biography topped the list of non-fiction books teen readers are attracted to. At Fremantle Press, we believe it is important to give Australian teens the chance to read about our lesser-known heroes. Those people who did extraordinary things for our community because their empathy and kindness made them brave in the face of disaster. Both Jenny and Vivian epitomise these traits.’

‌Author Jenny Davis OAM said the book came about after successful productions of Fremantle Press books, A Fortunate Life by AB Facey and Light House Girl by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds, led to a closer relationship between THEATRE 180 and Fremantle Press. Jenny said, ‘When Fremantle Press saw the value in a new partnership, this time bringing stage to book instead of the other way around, we relished the opportunity. THEATRE 180 has an intergenerational audience and to write the story for young readers really appealed to us, especially as Vivian mentored many young people in her life. Perhaps the first of those was the lonely young girl she met and befriended in the internment camp during the war.’ Jenny said both the book and the theatre production centre on the friendship of Vivian and the nurses, a friendship that helped give them courage in the darkest times. Edie, spending her formative teen years as a prisoner in such harsh conditions, always credited Vivian not just for her friendship when she most needed it, but for saving her life and giving her hope for the future.

‌Featuring six of WA’s most outstanding actors, the theatre production that inspired the book is called 21 HEARTSVivian Bullwinkel and the Nurses of the Vyner Brooke. It is a celebration of the human spirit and an uplifting, inspiring story that reminds us of the great futility of war. THEATRE 180 Artistic Director Stuart Halusz says being able to bring to life the incredible tenacity and strength of Vivian Bullwinkel, and the nurses during that horrific event in 1942, is truly an honour and one that has been supported right across the country, including from family of the nurses through to the Australian War Memorial.

‌THEATRE 180 evolved from Agelink Theatre, a 25-year success story creating theatre from oral histories, founded by Jenny Davis OAM. The company focuses on great stories, well told, that bring together generations and communities.

The world premiere of 21 HEARTS: Vivian Bullwinkel and the Nurses of the Vyner Brooke will take place 11–21 April (now sold out) with a return season programmed for 30 October to 10 November at the Como Theatre.

Jenny’s book, Courage Be My Friend, is available now.

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