Our History

AGM at Campbell Town
Gathering at Dunalley
Gathering at Oatlands
Gathering at Hobart
Gathering at Nubeena
Gathering at George Town
Gathering at Beaconsfield
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Our History

In 2021, the VAOAT invited Dianne Coon and Margaret Dennis to reflect on the history of the VAOAT. Over the preceding 25 years, the VAOAT had continually strived to provide improved representation and support for Volunteer Ambulance Officers in Tasmania, to maximise patient care outcomes.


VAOAT Achievements 1996 – 2000

  • In March 1996, Colin Dell, Coordinator from Nubeena rang around the State to get volunteers to meet up and talk about their challenges. At that point in time there were Tas Ambulance Service (TAS) VAO’s, hospital ambulance officers -Scottsdale and Oatlands country hospitals and some St John Ambulance units. These units have all become AT units, retaining many of the original VAO’s. A large group of volunteers had initially met at Tarraleah on 30 March 1996.
  • In May 1996, the Association was founded, one week after the Port Arthur massacre. Although planning for the inaugural meeting had been underway for months, the massacre had given impetus and camaraderie to the meeting the following Sunday. Foundation President and Treasurer Colin and Robyn Dell had attended to cases at the Port Arthur site the week before.
  • First Response newsletter to all Volunteer Ambulance Officers was created. The first one was mailed to all members and stakeholders in August 1996, and has been produced quarterly, ever since, without fail. Foundation editor, Margaret Dennis continues to provide extraordinary service in this capacity.
  • Website established.
  • First ongoing Volunteer Educator for volunteers funded by Ambulance Tasmania (1999). By 2011 there were four Volunteer Educators.
  • VAOAT has representatives on Ambulance Tasmania committees, such as fleet, equipment, uniform and OH&S.
  • “More than a Band-Aid” project – a partnership between UTAS, VAOAT and TAS (now AT) defined strategies training, uniform, vehicles and support in recruiting and retaining volunteers that was funded by Emergency Management Australia. It was nation leading research, and continues to be quoted two decades later.
  • 1998, Policy Statement adopted by the VAOAT focused on representing VAOs, promoting the Association, encouraging a standard of excellence, supporting principles of equality and representing that all ambulance officers – both paramedic and volunteer be identified with the wording Ambulance.
  • Ambulance Tasmania strategic planning invites volunteer’s participation.
  • Input – in writing and in person – to Parliamentary Inquiry into Ambulance Services.
  • Development by TAS of a national, ongoing, accredited training course for volunteers, including standardised, protocol training packages.
  • VAOAT is the accepted & ongoing voice for volunteers by Ambulance Tasmania management and the Tasmanian Government.


VAOAT Achievements 2001 – 2006

  • Part of “Stand Up and Be Counted” national research on factors affecting Australian and & New Zealand ambulance volunteers. This was a flow-on from the More Than a Band-Aid project.
  • Direct representation on the Australia Emergency Management Volunteer Forum, which looked at issues common to all emergency service volunteers
    Driver training for all volunteers, was a volunteer initiative achieved with a grant through Tasmanian Community Funds and facilitated by VAOAT
  • A MegaCode Kelly manikin provided to each region, with funds from several volunteer units, VAOAT, and Tasmanian and Australian Government funding.
  • Recruitment booklets developed for use by local volunteer groups.
  • Ongoing improvements to vehicles and equipment, including automatic external defibrillators for all volunteer groups.
  • Improvements to Uniforms, second jumpsuits available; two piece suits are an alternative for female volunteers.
  • Standardised reimbursement process for out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Access to Computers & e-learning for all volunteer groups.
  • Two Training Seminars at Archers Manor – these preceded the Gatherings and were organised by the VAOAT, with some help from AT (formerly TAS). They were the first time that VAOs from all areas of the state were together in one room, and the sharing and networking were as valuable as the medical/ambulance information presented.


VAOAT Achievements 2007 – 2014

  • Annual VAO ‘Gatherings’ commence, so volunteers can spend a funded weekend sharing experiences and learning from one another, and participate in the VAOAT AGM and General meeting. These have been held in all regions and remote parts of the state– including King Island – providing hundreds of volunteers with a weekend of fun, laughter, learning and networking.
  • First ambulance volunteer on the national Volunteer Leadership Program (Wayne Doran, 2007). This is run by the Australian Emergency Management Institute with emergency services volunteers applying to attend from all over Australia.
  • Keynote speech by Dianne Coon at Forum by Ambulance 2020, a grouping of the Australian College of Ambulance Professionals, Health and Community Services Union and the VAOAT.
  • Recruitment website to make it easier for prospective VAOs to access information and make contact with Ambulance Tasmania.
  • Recruitment DVD “Making a Difference”, VAOAT helped develop this resource and support volunteer participation in the filming. Organised the launch to media.
  • Two VAOAT volunteers (Cheryl Wilson and Pat Taylor) are part of a team delivering the Australian Emergency Management Institute’s Volunteer Leadership Program. This is a national program with emergency services volunteers applying to attend from all over Australia.
  • Assisted with the development of the novel “The Volunteer” written by Tasmanian resident Ro Evelyn, and organised and hosted the book’s launches. All financial proceeds are directed to the VAOAT. Although set in a fictional town, the book strives for accuracy in the depiction of the roles, activities and behaviours of rural/remote Volunteer Ambulance Officers.
  • Lobbying of Politicians to ensure the Ambulance Services Amendment Act 2013 passed in the final sitting of parliament in November 2013.
  • First signatories on a Joint Statement on Promoting a Positive Workplace Culture. Other signatories were Ambulance Tasmania and Health and Community Services Union (HACSU).
  • Celebrated 20th Anniversary of the VAOAT.


VAOAT Achievements 2015 – 2020

  • Gatherings at Campbell Town 2017, Scamander 2018, Beaconsfield 2019, (no Gathering in 2020 due to COVID-19.)
  • Continuing to represent volunteer ambulance officers on the Australian Emergency Management Volunteers Forum.
  • In large part due to our lobbying, the Coordinator Volunteer Strategy position was updated to Director level, as Director, Statewide Volunteer Services, and three regional Volunteer Support and Training Coordinators have been appointed, and been very active in recruiting and supporting volunteers.
    Developed regular meetings with Ambulance Tasmania senior management, including Director Statewide Services and Chief Executive.
  • The Board continues to meet quarterly, (electronically during COVID-19) and has paid particular attention to governance and strategic planning.
  • VAOAT is the accepted, ongoing, external voice for volunteers by Ambulance Tasmania management and the Tasmanian Government.
  • Providing a combined and united voice for all volunteer units, countering prior isolation or ‘squeak wheel’ issues.
  • Involvement in reviewing, negotiating and updating all Ambulance Tasmania policies and procedures which impact on volunteers (e.g. Volunteer Ambulance Officers Procedures Manual, Financial Policy, Statement of Duties, and many others).
  • Promoting opportunities for volunteers to attend Leadership courses and Conferences
  • Ongoing activities to increase profile of volunteers at state wide events / rural shows where volunteers demonstrate their skills.
  • Proactive in securing grants and gaining on-going sponsorships.
  • Development of Facebook group page as a communication tool.
  • Regular meetings between VAOAT Executive and Statewide Volunteer Services commence.


VAOAT Achievements 2021 –

  • Planning for Gathering in a COVID-safe manner at Ulverstone 2021 and Hobart 2022.
  • Celebration of 25th Anniversary of the Association.
  • Significant redevelopment of the VAOAT website.
  • Drafting commenced on revised Constitution.
  • Refreshing of Board Code of Conduct and new underpinning Code of Conduct Policy and position descriptions for all Board members.
  • Board announcement on Statement of Integrity & Equality.
  • Focus on developing VAOAT member training resources on website.
  • Development of VAOAT merchandise including streetwear.


On this Page

“In late May 1996, a group of Tasmanian Volunteer Ambulance Officers assembled in the small Central Highlands Hydro town of Tarraleah.

The meeting was emotionally charged. The previous weekend, the first three ambulances to attend the Port Arthur tragedy were operated by volunteers. In a state of grief and shock, and determined to support one another and their communities, the group sat down to business.

It was the inaugural meeting of the VAOAT”.

Laura Leworthy, VAOAT Member 15 July 2016

This short video is a showcase of Ambulance Tasmania’s Volunteer Ambulance Officers (VAOs). Video produced by Frontline Mind

The History of Volunteers in the Ambulance Services

Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land led the way of volunteers providing an ambulance service in Australia. Even before the first volunteer ambulance bearer party was recorded as being reviewed by the Queen at Windsor in 1881, the Volunteer Ambulance Corps (under the Volunteer Rifle Brigades) were recorded in the Mercury in July 1880 as receiving instructions in the use of bandages, stopping haemorrhages, treating accidents and gunshot wounds and using ambulance stretchers. There is a continual link from this time through to today, where volunteers have assisted providing the ambulance service in Tasmania. With references to volunteers or ambulances in other States until 1882, it appears that Tasmania may have led the way on both these fronts – providing an ambulance service and having volunteers.

The first mention of “ambulance” in the early Australia newspapers, related to field hospitals during the French Revolution and it wasn’t until around 1858, that ambulance also referenced the means for which the wounded soldiers were transported from the front line to the field hospital. From 1904, the field hospital was no longer referred to as an ambulance. Even as late as 1892, the Premier of Tasmania was called upon to send a nurse and ambulance tent to Strahan to manage cases of typhoid fever.

In 1880 there was an evolution of ambulances commencing from a hand drawn or horse drawn cart, a wagon, a railway car or a litter through to the motor ambulance. In 1904, experimentation was already occurring on motor ambulances. In 1914, both the City of Hobart and Launceston already had one.

From 1862, the Hobart Hospital had an “admirable ambulance (horse-drawn)” that could be borrowed, but it wasn’t until 1885 there is also a mention of a volunteer who drove the ambulance during a typhoid outbreak that occurred in Sandy Bay in 1887. This same volunteer, Frederick Woods, was presented with a silver watch to recognise his service of 3 years in 1888. In 1902, there still appeared mentions of Mr Woods as being the driver.

Many of the Tasmanian towns gained an ambulance by raising of public funds and the public attended Ambulance Lectures in townships to form ambulance brigades – primarily through St John Ambulance. In 1887, Launceston is the first town to have recorded forming an ambulance brigade, closely followed by Deloraine, Scottsdale and Ulverstone.

In 1906, Latrobe boasted itself as being the only town to have a properly trained ambulance society (Mercury, 30/04/1906) and innovation was at the forefront of constructing an ambulance for Zeehan with the initial ambulance built in Melbourne that ran along the 2ft gauge tramway and through a lever action those four wheels lifted and a pair of centre wheels were left to enable the ambulance to be pushed along the road to the Zeehan and Dundas Hospital by its volunteers (Examiner, 24/12/1908).

It is wonderful to know that volunteers have been involved in the ambulance service for almost 140 years.

VAOAT Honour Roll

Vice President
Life Membership
1996 Colin Dell
1996 Dianne Coon
1996 Margaret Dennis
1996 Robyn Dell
Mary Knowles
1997 Colin Dell
1997 Dianne Coon
1997 Margaret Dennis
1997 Robyn Dell
Colin Dell
1998 Colin Dell
1998 Leonie Stubbs
1998 Margaret Dennis
1998 Neville Peake
Robyn Dell
1999 Dianne Coon
1999 Mary Knowles
1999 Margaret Dennis
1999 Neville Peake
Margaret Dennis
2000 Dianne Coon
2000 Mary Knowles
2000 Margaret Dennis
2000 Neville Peake
Trevor Glover-Smith
2001 Mary Knowles
2001 Loraine Gardiner
2001 Margaret Dennis
2001 Neville Peake
John Prewer
2002 Mary Knowles
2002 E Pridmore /M Rundle
2002 Margaret Dennis
2002 Neville Peake
George Hudson
2003 Mary Knowles
2003 Cheryl Wilson
2003 Margaret Dennis
2003 Neville Peake
Dianne Coon
2004 Mary Knowles
2004 Wayne Doran
2004 Margaret Dennis
2004 Shirley Squires
Wayne Doran
2005 Mary Knowles
2005 Wayne Doran
2005 Margaret Dennis
2005 Shirley Squires
Cheryl Wilson
2006 Wayne Doran
2006 Cheryl Wilson
2006 Margaret Dennis
2006 Greg Kunkler
Lorraine Gardiner
2007 Wayne Doran
2007 Cheryl Wilson
2007 Dianne Coon
2007 Margaret Dennis
Jack Van Tatenhove
2008 Wayne Doran
2008 Cheryl Wilson
2008 Dianne Coon
2008 Margaret Dennis
2009 Pam Fanning
2009 Cheryl Wilson
2009 Dianne Coon
2009 Margaret Dennis
2010 Pam Fanning
2010 Cheryl Wilson
2010 Dianne Coon
2010 Lesley Green
2011 Pam Fanning
2011 Cheryl Wilson
2011 Dianne Coon
2011 Lesley Green
2012 Pam Fanning
2012 Pat Taylor
2012 Dianne Coon
2012 Lesley Green
2013 Pam Fanning
2013 Pat Taylor
2013 Dianne Coon
2013 Lesley Green
2014 Pam Fanning
2014 Wayne Doran
2014 Dianne Coon
2014 Lesley Green
2015 Pat Taylor
2015 Wayne Doran
2015 Dianne Coon
2015 L Green /J Van Tatenhove
2016 P Taylor / Wayne Doran
2016 Wayne Doran
2016 Dianne Coon
2016 Jack Van Tatenhove
2017 Leith McHarry
2017 W Doran / Jack Spinks
2017 Phil Dickinson
2017 Jack Van Tatenhove
2018 Leith McHarry
2018 Shane Forbes
2018 Wayne Doran
2018 Jack Van Tatenhove
2019 Jack Van Tatenhove
2019 Jane Green
2019 Helen Jenkinson
2019 Margaret Chilcott
2020 Pam Heiermann
2020 Jane Green
2020 Helen Jenkinson
2020 Margaret Chilcott
2021 Pam Heiermann
2021 Jane Green
2021 Helen Jenkinson
2021 Margaret Chilcott
2022 Pam Heiermann
2022 Jane Green
2022 Helen Jenkinson
2022 Margaret Chilcott
2023 Pam Heiermann
2023 Jane Green
2023 Vanessa Sinclair
2023 Margaret Chilcott

Ambulance Service Medal

The Ambulance Service Medal was instituted in 1999 to recognise those who have rendered distinguished service as a member of an Australian ambulance service.

The Ambulance Service Medal (ASM) recognises distinguished service as a member of an Australian ambulance service

2000 – Albert Morris (Glamorgan)
2000 – Ian Nielsen (Smithton)
2001 – Philip Pyke (Triabunna)
2001 – Ivy Rooks (Waratah)
2002 – Gary Alexander (Nubeena)
2004 – Dianne Coon (Strahan)
2005 – Neville Peake (St Marys)
2006 – Margaret Dennis (Avoca)
2007 – Robert Jordan (King Island)
2009 – Wayne Doran (Bothwell)
2010 – Cheryl Wilson (Sorell)
2010 – Brian Knowles (Strahan)
2011 – David Godfrey-Smith (Sorell)
2014 – Leigh Higgins (Bruny Island)
2014 – Jack Van Dalen (Tullah)
2016 – Pam Fanning (King Island)
2017 – Kaye Fox (Nubeena)
2020 – Lorraine Gardiner (Beaconsfield)
2021 – Pam Heiermann (Sorell)

Why not volunteer for the ambulance service in your local community ….

Ambulance Tasmania is always looking for new volunteers in rural communities. If you have some spare time and are looking for something interesting and rewarding to do, why not look into becoming an Ambulance Volunteer?

In Tasmania, all Emergency Services are continually looking for volunteers, click on the image above to get more information.