Title bowls Dame Marie

Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, Governor of NSW, may be the newest recipient of the nation's highest civic award, but beneath the weighty honorifics, she is ''still the same girl''.

On Monday morning, the Prime Minister's office announced her appointment as Dame to the Order of Australia. It is the first damehood to be awarded on the Queen's birthday honours list, after Tony Abbott's controversial reinstatement of the honours class in March.

Dame Marie said the news came out of the blue, and was given to her by the Prime Minister, who made a point of visiting her before flying to Indonesia last week.

''One doesn't go through life, particularly working in a field such as medicine, thinking of such rewards,'' she said. ''I have to say, I was staggered.

''I didn't tell anyone. I told my children and my sister last night - I thought it would be very churlish to let them read it in the paper, so I rang them last night and, rather embarrassingly, had to confess.''

Dame Marie, Governor since 2001, a psychiatrist, former Chancellor of the University of Sydney, former senior consultant for the Aboriginal Medical Service and patron to more than 370 organisations, said her work and her friendships rose above titles, no matter how regal.

''It feels rather overwhelming and I have to say … that the joy is in having the privilege in working amongst the people, people who have been traumatised, young people I have worked with in mental health and seeing their lives turn around for the better.

''I'll still be Marie, there will be no titles when I go up to my friends at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern … I'll still be the same girl tomorrow and next year and I'll never cease to be grateful for working in the field that I have done, particularly in medicine and teaching students and doctors.''

The award, she said, was a recognition of ''being there amongst the people without any pretensions'' and an embodiment of that most Australian of characteristics: quietly helping one another out.

Whether in south-east Asia, the Torres Strait or Papua New Guinea, Australia was in a position to work with neighbours and make a difference, particularly through peaceful diplomacy, she said.

Dame Marie's 13-year tenancy at Government House will end in October, when Defence Force chief General David Hurley takes office.

''Her Excellency has brought warmth, compassion and grace to Australia's oldest public office,'' Mr Abbott said.

The real cause for celebration, Dame Marie said, was seeing indigenous and young people benefit from the ''great bounty of opportunities in our country'' - and experiencing the colourful forms respect could take. ''There's no place on earth where opportunity is so wide - and respect, which of course is the most important thing.

''I know that you're respected if you're called deadly!''

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