A grand farewell: Dame Marie Bashir on public, private life and the ‘extraordinary’ Australian spirit
MAP: Sydney 2000
New South Wales welcomed its first female Governor 13 years ago, when Dame Marie Bashir entered public office.
With more than 70 awards and various titles celebrating her distinguished career, Dame Marie may be retiring as Governor but promises her advocacy work and contribution to public life will continue.
In her final week in the role, Dame Marie has given a candid interview to the ABC, reflecting on her public and private lives and the grassroots stories that have inspired service to the Australian community.
The making of Dame Marie Bashir
It is her Murrumbidgee upbringing that Dame Marie credits for her ongoing interest and understanding of social issues.
“The most wonderful childhood being born in Narrandera, in the view of the canal and the plain to the great river,” she told 702 ABC Sydney.
“Growing up with Wiradjuri children, it was truly a wonderful beginning.
“We lived in a beautiful house – my brother and sister-in-law still live in that house – and it’s embedded very much in my heart, that childhood.”
It can’t help but influence you subliminally, it’s there during those formative years when you listen to stories that are heart-rending and they never leave your mind.
Dame Marie Bashir, New South Wales Governor
It was a family life supported by the strong bond of her parents, who remained “in love until the day they died”.
Her father, a medical student in Beirut, boarded a ship for Australia and met a young couple who would unknowingly introduce him to his wife.
“They [my parents] were married and lived happily ever after.”
It was a union Dame Marie considered to be an “idyllic” marriage and one that set a strong example for herself and her siblings.
“Listening to one another, encouraging one another in their individual pursuits,” she explained.
“A sort of independence and a great concern for other people.
“They were always touched by the plight of those in need.”
Growing up, Dame Marie said there was much family expectation for each child to make the most of their education and the opportunities it could offer.
“We were expected to study hard, do well at school,” she said.
“We were expected to learn music and learn from the lives of the great composers and understand humanity.
“They were intelligent conversations but not pretentious.
“It was the value of what education could do, not materially but to humanise you.”
The stories that have shaped the life of our first female Governor
Upon leaving country life for the city, Dame Marie found herself at Sydney Girls High and beginning what would be another influential chapter in her story.
“They were the war years, the years of the Second World War,” she said.
“The most brilliant in my class were the children of Jewish refugees from Europe.
“Listening to their tales quietly told of man’s inhumanity and how they just got out.”
There are a lot of patronages that I’ve been asked to continue with and to be quite honest, I have some concerns about the depression that some of our young veterans are bearing having fought overseas.
Dame Marie Bashir
Dame Marie credits every stage of her life as being filled with the opportunity to be inspired by the stories of others – from the local Wiradjuri people in Murrumbidgee to the works of great composers and school friends.
“It can’t help but influence you subliminally, it’s there during those formative years when you listen to stories that are heart-rending and they never leave your mind.”
It was a story she relayed to somebody during her medical years that would inspire a random act of kindness from one Sir Nicholas Shehadie.
It was this kindness that attracted Dame Marie to the man she would go on to marry.
“That was unusual because one of the few things I was never interested in was active sport,” she said.
“Here I happened to meet, accidentally, a gentleman who became the Australian rugby captain.”
“You might say ‘well, what did you have in common?’ Whilst I was at the children’s hospital in Camperdown, he came to take me out one afternoon.
“When I got into the car he said ‘what was your day like?’ and I burst into tears and I told him about this child who was desperately ill…and he was alone and lost and he had no toys and a few days later, there was the cot full of toys!”
A chorus of thanks as Dame Marie looks to the future
Retiring from public office on October 1, Dame Marie said she would remain focussed on advocating for various social issues – in particular, mental health.
“There are a lot of patronages that I’ve been asked to continue with and to be quite honest, I have some concerns about the depression that some of our young veterans are bearing having fought overseas,” she said.
“I’d like very much to quietly get in there as someone who can listen to the stories and relieve the burden.”
Calling in to 702 ABC Sydney, Jenny Dudley from the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales echoed the sentiments of various groups and individuals, paying tribute to the work and legacy of Dame Marie.
“I just wanted to say how wonderful it has been to know you, to have you with us,” she said.
“You have accepted every invitation we have put out to you to come to the show and also doing anything in your power to help us and to help country people in New South Wales.”
Caller Jane from Paddington re-told the story of the memorable day her daughter met the Governor at a local Sydney fruit shop.
“My daughter, now 23, met you in Glebe and you gave my daughter the most wonderful talk about how girls should be educated and to always think about that,” she said.
“She’s now in fifth-year law at Sydney University.”
A Vice-Regal Salute at Government House and farewell procession along Sydney’s Macquarie Street marked her Excellency’s final day in office.
Georgia Wilson and Lyndall Bell