La Trobe University historian and author Dr Janet Butler has won this year’s NSW Premier’s Australian History Prize for her book Kitty’s War, based on the diaries of World War One army nurse, Sister Kit McNaughton.
The $15,000 award, one of Australia’s top history prizes, was announced last night. The judges described Dr Butler’s work as a ‘brilliant study of heroism and tragedy’. It tells the story of the transformation of a young and inexperienced nurse from country Victoria into a hardened professional, who ended the war as Australia’s first plastic surgery nurse.
Dr Butler compares Kitty’s accounts with those found in the diaries of people she worked with, and stories gleaned from official army records.
The judges said this sets her story ‘within the wider context of the experiences of Australian army nurses – the conditions they endured, their mistreatment by their male army superiors and their friendships with the Diggers. With great sensitivity, she describes how Kitty was deeply scarred by the horrors she witnessed and by the deaths of her friends.’
Continuation of a long tradition
Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar congratulated Dr Butler on her achievement. ‘The lives and contributions of Australian women in World War One has tended to be overlooked by historians. A study like this helps bring their heroism and achievements not only into the historical record, but also to the attention of a whole new generation of readers,’ he said.
Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Tim Murray, said the quality of Dr Butler’s research and writing in the fields of Australian historical and women’s studies continues a long tradition of La Trobe teaching and scholarship and in the humanities.
Dr Butler’s research interests are in war and autobiographical narratives, war and change, and the relationship between gender, identity and war. She has also won both the Max Kelly Medal and Ken Inglis Prize for her work.
Kitty’s War: The remarkable wartime experiences of Kit McNaughton was released to coincide with this year’s ANZAC Day celebrations. It is published by University of Queensland Press.