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Farewell Dame Marie

By Allan Pidgeon - posted Tuesday, 30 September 2014

NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir is about to retire after 13 ½ years of service in that role.

She has attracted widespread admiration for her "unadorned generosity of spirit" and has been described as "a Governor for everyone". The citation for her most recent honour acknowledged her "extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit in service to the administration, public life, and people of New South Wales, to medicine, particularly as an advocate for improved mental health outcomes for the young, marginalised and disadvantaged, to international relations, through the promotion of collaborative health programs, and as a leader in tertiary education."

In previous times, Dame Marie would have had a brief opportunity to shine in public life as the wife of the Lord Mayor of Sydney (her husband Sir Nicholas Shehadie occupied this post in the 1970s).


But instead of being known as Lady Shehadie, she chose to make an impact in her own right. Some insight into the breadth of these many personal accomplishments is given through her current formal title as "Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir, AD, CVO."

Such is the esteem in which she is held that her appointment in the Queen's Birthday Honours List this year as a Dame of the Order of Australia was seen as entirely natural and appropriate.

Perhaps also we are overcoming the surprise that accompanied the reintroduction in March this year of the award of Knight (AK) or Dame (AD) of the Order of Australia.

Chiefly this was because of a media report in late 2013, headlined "PM Tony Abbott rules out reinstating Knights and Dames in Oz". However on re-reading the interview, that is not what the Prime Minister actually said.

He commented that "It's true that some people have said to me: 'What about doing what New Zealand did?'…But I don't think it would be practical to just rebadge ACs. There was a rarity in their NZ equivalent which made it easier for them to do this".

Thus he ruled out following the 2009 precedent that allowed recipients of the highest award in the NZ honours system to be "redesignated" as Knight or Dame. (All but a dozen of the 85 Kiwis who were eligible took advantage of this opportunity.)


Mr Abbott would be aware that over 400 people have been appointed Companions of the Order of Australia (AC) since the honour was instituted, and this would explain why he said it wasn't realistic to "just basically convert ACs into knighthoods..."

However he obviously saw it as a different matter to reinstate the AK/AD honour, and although the timing of this announcement was triggered by the "changing of the guard" at Yarralumla it is worth looking at its previous history.

The Order of Australia was created by Letters Patent issued by HM The Queen in February 1975, and the first appointments were made for the Queen's Birthday in June 1975. Then in May 1976 the Letters Patent were amended to include the award of Knight or Dame of the Order of Australia, with appointments announced on the Queen's Birthday that year. Although as a matter of policy the Hawke Labor government (elected in March 1983) declined to make recommendations for knighthoods, it was not until March 1986 that the Letters Patent were amended to remove provision for this honour. Thus the most recent award of Knight of the Order of Australia prior to this year was actually made while Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, in the Queen's Birthday list of June 1983.

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About the Author

Allan Pidgeon is President of the Australian National Flag Association (Qld). He tweets as @allanpidgeon

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