Bashir, Marie Roslyn

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MB BS 1956 FRANZCP MD USyd honoris causa

Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir became the first female Governor of NSW in 2001.[1]

Upon graduation Marie spent two years in teaching hospital appointments at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown. She soon married Nicholas Shehadie, whom she had met while studying 5th year medicine at the University of Sydney, and started a family. For a brief period, Marie worked in a women’s health clinic before moving to the outskirts of Western Sydney to work in general practice, which seemed compatible with raising three small children. She then began working with women in Redfern, an important experience which exposed her to the silence in which many women suffer. She learnt a great deal from her patients, both at the Redfern clinic and in family medicine practice: primarily, the need to listen to patients beyond the extent of verbal expression.

Marie’s dissatisfaction with standard psychiatric treatment of depression led her to undertake postgraduate studies in psychiatry. After gaining specialist qualifications, she was asked to establish a new unit for the treatment of school-age young people with mental health problems. The result was the establishment of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Service as a department of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, with Bashir as Foundation Director. Of the Service, Marie says:

[It] was a critical need because those young people who were in need of hospitalisation were being placed in psychiatric wards with adult patients, a negative setting without youth related education and recreational programs. This was a genuine challenge and one which became another exceptionally enriching chapter in my life, teaching me much about the resilience and also the vulnerability of young people.

By the mid-1980s, the service had progressed and Marie was keen to extend innovative approaches to new groups that were not being adequately reached; indigenous Australians and the more recent refugee communities from Indochina and elsewhere, among others. Her decision to leave the service freed Bashir to return ‘to the trenches’ to familiarise herself with a new and challenging health field.

Marie was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988 for service to medicine, particularly in the field of adolescent mental health.[1] In 1994, she became Director of Mental Health Services at the Central Sydney Area Health Service working with some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in our society: an urban Aboriginal community, the homeless, isolated and sick aged citizens and the chronically mentally ill.

Children of families oppressed by poverty were gravitating to delinquent behaviour, attracting the attention of the Department of Community Services and incurring repeated incarcerations in the various juvenile detention centres. Her new role included being responsible for the upkeep of multiple sites throughout the area, and understanding financial and administrative management demands.

She says of this time:

I was serving as Chairman of the Council of the Women’s College, University of Sydney – my husband, who had been Lord Mayor of Sydney in the previous decade, had been recalled to serve as one of the three Commissioners to administer the city after the New South Wales Government was undertaking various changes. Thus, I was never exempt from a life in mainstream society, substantially different to my full-time professional role, where I often found myself in danger of identifying strongly with the distress and frustration of the patient population.

Around this time, the incoming NSW Government moved the juvenile justice services from the Department of Child and Family Services to the Department of Corrective Services. When professionals working in this field expressed concerns, the State Government established a Juvenile Justice Advisory Council and requested that Marie undertake the role of Chairman.

Reflecting on her career, Marie says:

Like many of my colleagues in diverse medical disciplines, I have derived the immense enrichment of my professional life that teaching and other academic obligations provide… Interaction with international colleagues in Great Britain and North America has been equally rewarding. Visits to China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam commencing in the 1970s and continuing to this day, opened up new vistas for me in international health, including the joy of working collaboratively with colleagues whose dedication and intellectual skills, though equal to our own, were denied our extensive material resources. Together with Australians in other areas of specialisation, a commitment to collaborative medical education projects in Vietnam has been outstandingly successful… In looking over my professional life since graduation…[a]t each stage there have been unpopular causes to address, challenges abounding, and wonderfully genuine and competent people with whom to work.

In 2001, Marie Bashir became the first female Governor of New South Wales and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2006, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir was made Commander of The Royal Victorian Order.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Bashir, Marie Roslyn. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.