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Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO

About the speaker

Professor Marie Bashir graduated from the University of Sydney in 1956 with the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. She then pursued a career in adolescent psychiatry and became an outstanding practitioner and teacher. Professor Bashir taught at the Universities of Sydney and NSW, increasingly working with children’s services, psychiatry and mental health services, and indigenous health programs.

Professor Bashir’s dissatisfaction with standard psychiatric treatment of depression led her to undertake postgraduate studies in psychiatry. In 1972 she was then asked to establish the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Service for the treatment of school-age children with mental health problems. By the mid-1980s, this service had progressed and Professor Bashir was keen to move on and extend innovative approaches to new groups that were not being adequately reached – indigenous Australians and refugee communities.

For her services to child and adolescent health, Professor Bashir was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988.

Her academic association with Sydney University was formally recognised in 1993, when the Sydney University Senate conferred upon her the title of Clinical Professor.

In 1994 she became Director of Mental Health Services at the Central Sydney Area Health Service working some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in our society. In 1995 she established the Aboriginal Mental Health Unit which provided regular clinics and counselling for young people with emotional and psychiatric problems.

In March 2001, Professor Bashir was appointed the first female governor of New South Wales and was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia. She has been one of the State’s most loved Governors, working tirelessly for charities and showing genuine interest in all areas of NSW until her retirement in 2014. In this role she has been an inspiration to everyone she meets, from children in schools, business leaders, visiting Heads of State to those affected by natural disaster and members of ethnic and indigenous communities.

Professor Bashir has a great interest in music and studied violin at the NSW Conservatorium of Music where she played in the student orchestra and in chamber music classes.

In 2006 she was invested by Her Majesty The Queen with the insignia of a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Professor Marie Bashir held the position of Chancellor of the University of Sydney between 2007 and 2012.

In 2008 Professor Bashir was appointed Honorary Commodore, Naval Warfare Training, Royal Australian Navy, and invested as an Honorary Fellow of the College of Nursing Australia. In 2009 the French Government honoured her with a Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de Légion d’Honneur and in 2012 she was invested with the Lebanese National Order of the Cedar, Grand Gordon Grade by the President of the Republic of Lebanon.

In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours, Professor Bashir was made a Dame of the Order of Australia (AD): "For 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”.

Professor Bashir has a long association with UTS, regularly attending and officiating at UTS celebrations and has continued to support many of the University’s Research and Teaching programmes.

Professor Bashir’s widespread involvement and interests have included juvenile justice, research on adolescent depression, health issues in developing countries, education for health professionals and telemedicine and new technologies for health service delivery. Professor Bashir has also received many awards for her community work.

It is a great honour for the University of Technology, Sydney to award Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University (honoris causa) in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the achievement of the University’s mission, as well as enhancing its reputation and standing at national and international level.


Professor Vicki Sara AO, Chancellor, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice Chancellor and President, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Bruce Milthorpe, Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney

Mr Bill Paterson, University Secretary and Director of Governance Support

Associate professor Joanne Gray, Chair of the Academic Board

Distinguished guests and friends

I thank you profoundly, for the great honour which the University of Technology Sydney has conferred upon me in the conferral of an honorary doctorate.

And at the outset may I congratulate most warmly the graduands of today, new graduates of those ever inspirational branches of science, pathways which continue to take the world, take humankind to ever greater heights of achievement, through the continuing development of health and bio technology, climate change research, nanotechnology, marine biology, infectious and parasitic diseases and more.

May I also at this point, affirm my deep respect for the traditional custodians of this place upon which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, their ancestors and descendants, indeed for all Australia’s Aboriginal people who nurtured this great continent for tens of thousands of years – 40,000 years in the southern area of this continent, and 60,000 years affirmed by carbon dating in the north.

The history of this university and the vision of its founding fathers must surely evoke a sense of gratitude in every individual who values independence of mind, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and a dedication to the advancement of humankind. As that great man of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela, reminded us “the most powerful weapon of all is education”.

Indeed this fine university’s direct legacy can be proudly attributed to a small group of individuals imbued with those most valuable characteristics, — independence of mind, a thirst for knowledge and commitment to the advancement of the environment with which they were familiar.

The Sydney Mechanics School of Arts was founded in 1833 – a mere 45 years after Governor Arthur Phillip, and the first group of convict immigrants arrived on the shores of Sydney cove.

It is recorded, that as the colony had prospered significantly in just over four decades, it became obvious that there was an urgent need for artisans, builders, architects, surveyors and related workers to meet the burgeoning need.

Thus, a number of individuals were recruited in Britain to meet this need. In anticipation of their advancement in knowledge and access to education of those early 19th century times, they used some of their time on shipboard to read and to study the manuals available at the time.

On arrival in Sydney, no doubt full of positive zeal, they were surprised, perhaps shocked, and certainly severely disappointed to note the absence of schools of technology, institutes, universities, or any opportunities for continuing or supporting education.

From this sense of deprivation and outrage, these stoic but creative individuals established the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, branches of which spread across this land to major country towns contributing significantly to the growth of modern Australia.

Travelling through such towns today one sees the handsome buildings created to respond to that expressed need.

From those modest but inspirational origins of the mechanics institutes, came the NSW Institute of Technology in the 1960’s, into which the incorporation also of a School of Design, and of Technical and Adult Teacher Education developed. These were the superb foundations of this university, a university which can proudly claim among its alumnae, many creative and illustrious Australians.

Significant numbers of University of Technology Sydney graduates have been, and will continue to be, international scholars, scholars from our Asia-Pacific region and beyond, scholars who will contribute to the continuing strength of peace, to mutual understanding and a lasting respect.

The citation presented by the Vice-Chancellor in support of the doctorate conferred on me today, evokes reflection on the journey I have travelled through childhood towards a professional pathway, bringing me into the lives of many individuals and groups to whom I am indebted and immensely grateful.

As our graduates today will appreciate in their own lifetime experience, the influence of such individuals is profound in shaping one’s identity, and in contributing to those values and attitudes which sustain us all through times both dark and bright. Our teachers certainly, but significant others as well.

The formative years of my childhood were spent in a beautiful rural town in New South Wales with a significant Aboriginal population. Through the trust of my childhood friends from that community, I had the privilege of learning at close quarters, the meaning of lives affected by marginalisation and powerlessness, but also of the human spirit's capacity for resilience with dignity, in the face of considerable disadvantage.

The stable and predictable years of an Australian childhood provided an important buffer for me when I later experienced the unexpected confrontation with man's capacity for mindless inhumanity, portrayed through my refugee school friends who, with their families, had survived Nazi Europe and settled in Australia.

Many years later, working as a doctor in the field of adolescent mental health, those images of anxious European/Australian children reverberated in me with the arrival of young refugees from Indochina, many of whom came into my care. Contact with the young people further demonstrated how insignificant are people’s differences when compared with our commonalities, our shared humanity.

In both groups, the pain and fear of many were replaced by diligence and enthusiasm, qualities which were rewarded with the accolades of academic achievement, service to country, artistic and commercial success, and the deeper satisfaction of having contributed significantly to the growth and cultural diversity of Australian life.

Increasingly, Australians speak proudly of their national identity, of their incomparable natural environment, and of a quality of life that for the majority is secure and bountiful. The national media regularly report on the surge in national wealth and its benefits to the Australian population.

Certainly, the productivity surge over recent decades has contributed significantly, supported by microeconomic reforms and optimistic innovation. But attention has also been drawn to the fact that “one of the driving forces of Australian prosperity over the last few decades has been the huge improvement in the educational attainment of young Australians, particularly young women”. This indeed is your generation, the most finely educated our nation has even had.

At the same time, a healthier population is living longer and longer. [1]

There are other serious aspects relevant to our population and their quality of life, however, which must not be ignored. We should not deny the unacceptable health differences which still exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians who continue to face major problems in child health, the prevalence of diabetes, heart and kidney disease, although it is also heartening in recent times to see a continuing trend in improvement.

In almost a life time of practice in public sector medicine, for the most part, with the traumatised, the mentally ill, and the alienated, my awareness was understandably sensitised to a widening socio-economic inequality, affecting people whose voices must be heard.

Levels of homelessness and escalating depressive disorders, often affecting young people still, remain at unacceptably high levels. These are situations about which educated, informed, confident and compassionate Australians such as yourselves can do something, regardless of one’s specific professional background. Not only health and charity workers, but teachers, psychologists, nutritionists, sociologists and economists can both directly and indirectly impact on these rates of misery in a society as affluent, flexible and yet as structured as exists in Australia.

In our own society — and indeed around the world, — we are daily confronted and challenged by the despair and anger which can arise from poverty, from unremitting disadvantage, from inadequate access to health care, and denied educational opportunities, and whose consequences may include helplessness, hopelessness and broken communities.

Somewhat less visible, are the destructive effects on the environment, on the life-sustaining forests and the oceans of the world, and the ever increasing list of biological species, not only endangered, but lost forever.

These musings should not be interpreted as groundless or feelings of mere pessimism, but rather an opportunity to examine the role each of us can play to contribute to reversing this trend.

I have reason to hold absolute faith in the capacity of young Australians in this regard, based on my frequent encounters — both formal and informal — in my personal life, my professional field and during my time as Governor of New South Wales.

Whether from the farthest areas of our state or from the cities, most young Australians seem to share idealistic aspirations for a more equitable society, for genuine reconciliation with our indigenous Australians, for greater care of the environment. You speak also of our obligations to the region in which Australia must play a continuing positive, influential and constructive role. It is heartening to note even today, that Australia lost no time in declaring immediate and active support to the people of Nepal.

Australia’s role as the wise and empathic “neighbour”, is becoming increasingly visible, particularly here in the Asia-Pacific region as extraordinary, collaborative links are underway internationally in education, the arts, health service development, research, building construction and more. Many Australian young people – students and graduates – are contributing quietly but effectively to shared insights and collaboration in campuses and villages overseas – even in far away Peru.

A recent research project between a prestigious Chinese university and an Australian centre is underway to examine adolescent development and vulnerability, as huge societal changes occur. Another invited team is involved in the far North-West of Vietnam to collaborate in reducing the high infant and maternal mortality rate in that region. (and yet another group have been invited to the affluent United Arab Emirates to undertake the eradication of malaria there.) And through these important collaborations, the country of Myanmar – formerly known as Burma, has specifically requested and now recently involved Australians in their work to reduce the high death rate of mothers and new infants a program and in a comprehensive and effective health care program.

It is important that we sustain and nurture the idealistic energy of you - our young scholars, so that you will continue to contribute to a better world. You are our hope for the future.

I am sure that you will agree, that as a nation, we have a great tradition, for the most part, of fairness and decency. If we are to continue to contribute effectively to a better world, rather than surrender to materialism, to fear and complacency, we shall depend ever increasingly upon your generation and our universities to lead the way.

In conclusion, I want to extend my congratulations and admiration to all graduates today and to wish each of you, an ever enriching life of continuing enlightenment in the years ahead.

Chancellor, I am indeed honoured to become a member of the community of this university.

And I thank you all.

[1] Dowrick S. ‘Growth Prospects for Australia: Lessons from the Revolution and Counter Revolution in the Theory of Economic Growth’ - Paper presented at the Towards Opportunity and Prosperity Conference, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research, University of Melbourne, 4-5 April 2002 in Hard Heads, Soft Hearts, Page 11. Eds. Peter Dawkins and Paul Kelly.