First woman to speak at ACT dawn service to highlight role of women
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First woman to speak at ACT dawn service to highlight role of women

Susan Neuhaus wants to give a voice to the "often completely overlooked" servicewomen of the past century.

The distinguished ex-Army officer's more than 20-year career included service in Cambodia, Bougainville and Afghanistan across roles including staff officer, commander and clinician.

Retired colonel Susan Neuhaus will deliver the dawn service address this year.

Retired colonel Susan Neuhaus will deliver the dawn service address this year.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Since retiring ranked colonel in 2010, Dr Neuhaus has researched and written extensively on women in the Australian Defence Force, including the experiences of mothers on deployment, the female military surgeons of World War I and the health needs of servicewomen and female veterans.

In her speech in Canberra, she will explore the role of women in the Australian Defence Force, touching on her own experiences in the military and what Anzac Day means to her.

"You don’t often hear [women's] stories because it’s often the very stereotyped narrative of the male soldier in the slouch hat and the horse that we hear about," Dr Neuhaus said.

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"[I hope to] be able to give [women] a voice and have a new generation understand there’s a whole lot more complex story around Anzac, that there’s lots and lots of layers around it, not just this one story but how it’s affected all of us and how it’s created our society."

Dr Neuhaus said she was "really, really sad" to speak with people ahead of Anzac Day about what the dawn service meant to them, only for them to tell her they felt it wasn't their day because they had no direct connection with military history.

She said Australia should reexamine how it engaged with Anzac Day, taking note of the contributions of Indigenous and multinational Australians as well as women.

“I think that people need to understand it’s not just a singular narrative, that there is so much around that of what people have done - lots of people have done, not just 100 years ago but in all the years since," she said.

"I think we should all be proud of what they’ve done because that’s given us the country we’ve got today. We have the freedoms that we’ve got because of what they’ve done for us, and I think sometimes this is one day in a year where we ask people to stop and acknowledge that."

Dr Neuhaus, a highly-regarded senior surgeon, said it was an "incredibly emotional thing" to be invited to speak at the Australian War Memorial.

"I have been really humbled being asked to do this and the faith the director and the War Memorial and the RSL of the ACT have put in me to deliver," she said.

“It’s such an overwhelming honour to be able to do this but with that comes a responsibility as well."

Canberra's dawn service will be held at the Australian War Memorial from 5.30am to 6am.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Dr Neuhaus was the first woman to deliver the dawn service address. The Australian War Memorial has since advised it provided incorrect information.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.