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Bruna Norrish

Bruna’s parents emigrated from Italy in 1959. She grew up in Dandenong, where she passed the army recruitment centre every day on her way home from school. She enlisted in 1988, aged 17. Trained as a clerk, Bruna rose to the rank of Sergeant and deployed to East Timor, in 1999 and 2003.

She is proud of the difference her service made.

I could see we were making an impact [on] the people of East Timor, and that was what made it so rewarding. Because when we first landed…there was nothing… But slowly…people were coming back from the mountains. …we could see them starting to rebuild their houses… By the time we left...the markets were thriving. 

Bruna knew little of the language, but made connections with the local people through attending Mass on Sundays when she could. 

On her first deployment they had no running water, everything had to be washed in buckets and hair washing was a major event. 

I remember flying back via Darwin. Looking forward to coming home, obviously, and I turned on the tap and I started crying, because I hadn't done that for six months.

Bruna missed the teamwork and camaraderie of the army, so she re-joined as a civilian employee.

…you're living, breathing, eating, working with the same group of people. It's really quite a unique experience. So I think that brings you closer together... People would say, ‘The army will become your family.’ I'd say, ‘I'm Italian, I've got my family back home.’ But they do. These people become your family.