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Sharon Bown: A woman of spirit

Elizabeth Harris

No offence to Catherine the Great (she was indeed “Great” after all), but we think that there are some incredible women right here in Canberra.

Every day, women around us sacrifice for their families, their careers and themselves regardless, of what life throws at them. But some women stand apart in their perseverance against adversity with determination like no other.

It is these women who will be celebrated at the 2017 Lifeline Women of Spirit Awards. The Awards, sponsored by Bond Hair Religion and Icon Water, have now been running for over a decade and recognise outstanding women in our community. Two awards are given annually – The Rising Women of Spirit Award, which recognises a woman who has recently overcome adversity, and the Women of Spirit Award, which celebrates contributions to the local community following personal triumph over adversity.

This year’s keynote speaker at the 2017 Lifeline Women of Spirit Gala on 18 September has been deployed to Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Wing Commander Sharon Bown (Retired) has seen more than her fair share of devastation and suffering during her 16 years with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) where she served as a Nursing Officer.

Seriously injured in a helicopter crash in Timor-Leste in 2004, Sharon was diagnosed with PTSD. Severe injuries, including a broken back and shattered jaw did not prevent Sharon from achieving incredible things. Serving until 2015 despite her injuries, in 2006 Sharon served as the Aide-de-Camp for the Minister for Defence.

WGCDR Sharon Bown

WGCDR Sharon Bown

“The women recognised in the Women of Spirit Awards, have overcome adversity and are using their experience to inspire and assist others within their community,” says Sharon. “The Awards allow their story to be shared more widely and therefore provide inspiration to others who may be experiencing adversity themselves. It celebrates and shines a light on their achievements.”

Sharon well understands the importance of sharing stories and finding inspiration in the resilience of others.

“My sisters have faced incredible adversity in their own lives and I am inspired by their achievements. I have two close friends who have each experienced significant trauma, one as an Australian Army Nurse, the other whose husband died in service. Each have emerged from their experiences to become stronger and are inspirational to so many around them.”

While Sharon emphasises that she has drawn great support from the traditions of the Australian Service Nurses, she has also found personal supports to help her deal with stress.

“Following my return from Afghanistan in 2008, I began a dedicated and personal practice of yoga and meditation, which in itself provided me with greater insight into my experience of stress.”

Sharon is now undertaking a Bachelor of Psychological Science, pursuing her passion for exploring the psychological effects of service on servicemen and women.

“I am particularly interested in stories of post traumatic growth,” she explains. “Learning about the unique path to survival that an individual travels to emerge from their experience of trauma is fascinating.”

A Member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, a Service Ambassador for Solider On and a Member of the Board of the Veterans’ Film Festival, Sharon has built on her personal experiences in the field to support the veteran community.

On top of all of this, Sharon is the author of One Woman’s War and Peace: a nurse’s journey in the Royal Australian Air Force.

In anticipation of September, Sharon tells us that she is “delighted” to be the Women of Spirit Awards keynote speaker.

“To have the opportunity to stand before a group of women who have faced and overcome significant adversity in their lives is an honour.”

In summary, Sharon is a Florence Nightingale made for our time and is certainly a woman of spirit. If you know a woman who, like Sharon, embodies resilience and a spirit of self-belief, click here to download a nomination pack.

Nominations close on 18 August, and the Women of Spirit Awards Gala takes place on 18 September.

Feature image courtesy Australian War Memorial.


Elizabeth Harris

Elizabeth Harris is currently studying Law and Arts at the ANU. She majors in Art History and has a minor in French. She has a hunger for fashion and food, and is a lover of the fabulous Canberra arts scene and many farmers’ markets. She has a deep interest in the intersection between the arts and law, and hopes to undergo further study in this area. Alternatively, she dreams of writing an art history thesis on the subject of memes. She can commonly be found enjoying a delicious cappuccino at any one of Canberra’s staple cafes, but particularly Tilley’s which she has frequented since she was four years old. When she grows up/old she wants to be just like Iris Apfel. More about the Author

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