Reception for Her Excellency, Governor of NSW, Dame Marie Bashir

(6pm, Tuesday 26 August 2014, Reception Room)

Hello, everyone and welcome to Town Hall for our reception to honour and farewell Her Excellency, Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir as Governor of NSW.

Your Excellency, in early 2001 when Bob Carr announced you would be our State Governor, most of us felt a breeze of fresh air. An office that had historically been occupied by aristocrats and military men would at last be filled by a woman, and a woman who had already established a distinguished career in medicine.

Your appointment was universally welcomed by all sides of politics and the community. A Sydney Morning Herald editorial as "an inspired choice" and noted that you would be "a powerful advocate for the powerless".

That prediction proved to be spot on. The very day you took up your new role, you agreed to become Patron of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service. But in reality, that was confirming a relationship that existed for three decades.

Until the very early 1970s homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder. In 1973 the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry became the first professional body in the world to declare that it was not a mental illness. As Professor of Psychiatry at Sydney University, you not only accepted this, but positively embraced it.

You later became patron of CAMP NSW which evolved into the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service) and you were fully supportive of its efforts to help people struggling with their sexuality.

But this was entirely in keeping with your approach to your profession. Rather than lead a comfortable life treating the fashionable phobias of the wealthy, you dedicated your career to the most vulnerable in our community. You built a strong reputation in adolescent health for your work with troubled teenagers which provides consultative services for young people with emotional and psychiatric issues.

You also worked with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. You established the Aboriginal Mental Health Unit, in a partnership with the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern to provide regular clinics and counselling. You later took up a consultative role of senior psychiatrist to the Aboriginal Medical Service.

You work was not limited to Australia. As Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney, you were instrumental in developing collaborative teaching programs between colleagues in Vietnam, Thailand and Australia.

When you became Governor you took the opportunity to raise community awareness about our most vulnerable, and you continued your strong friendship with the GLBTI community. And that friendship was reciprocated with the warm welcome you would always receive at GLBTI events.

In 2005 you opened the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival with a speech that credited Mardi Gras with fostering "that sense of freedom which springs from the considerable diversity within our society - diversity of race, religion, culture and also sexual orientation"

And you warned:

"We must never take these things for granted because most of you would agree that across the world today an extraordinary winding back to many previously discarded attitudes is taking place, not only affecting gay and lesbian groups, but women's health and many aspects of social justice."

There have been many others. I was pleased to join you for the launch of the Pride History Group's 100 Voices last year, which celebrates the community's history and changes brought by its activism.

These changes are many, some quite surprising. In 1957, when you married Sir Nicholas, then one of Australia's leading Wallabies, could either of you have imagined that you would be hosting a reception for the Bingham Cup, or that Sir Nicholas would have been mixing with gay rugby players.

Excellency, you are warmly welcomed wherever you go in the community, but perhaps no more than at the Luncheon Club. And not just because you were willing to join in serving the meals. At the Luncheon Club's 13th anniversary you said:

"This is one of my favourite places in Sydney because it is about resilience, courage, helping one another and getting on with life. The atmosphere ought to be bottled and sold."

Your Excellency, your commitment to public service should be bottled and distributed far and wide.

We wish Sir Nicholas and you well in your retirement, but you will be always welcome by the GLBTI community, and I hope you will join us each year for the raising of the rainbow flag at Town Hall.