Q&A Part 1
CARLY DOLAN sat down with Dame QUENTIN BRYCE in Launceston on Wednesday, ahead of the Clifford Craig Christmas conversations luncheon, where she spoke about her new book, ‘Dear Quentin’.
CARLY DOLAN: Tell me about your new book.
QUENTIN BRYCE: It’s a collection of letters from my term as governor-general. Letters that people from across Australia, and Australians overseas, have sent me, and my replies. I wrote about 50 letters or so every week and I decided to publish a collection of them to raise money for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.
I always think that if people took the time to write to me by hand, that’s what I’d do in return. I’ve been writing letters all my life. I’ve got thousands of them - some of them are very, very catalogued in the national archives and others are in cupboards, that, when I open the doors, all fall out. It was very hard making a selection.
CD:You mention you wrote about 50 letters a week. How many hours do you think you spent putting pen to paper during your governor-general years?
QB: I don’t know. When I was at Yarralumla or at Admiralty House, if I had a quiet weekend or a spare evening, I would write some letters. The letters that came to me were very important to me. They came from people from all walks of life, from little children, soldiers serving overseas, to people working in refugee camps, women in their communities.
CD:Can you remember one or two stand-out letters that always stayed with you?
QB: I remember all of them. There are very many that are special letters. One I think of was one of the first ones I received, when I settled into Yarralumla, from a farmer who wrote to say that he and his wife, Muriel, had sat down to watch an interview I did with Kerry O’Brien. He wrote very engagingly and became a frequent correspondent. He said to me in this first letter, when they sat down, one of them said to the other, ‘oh, I don’t think she’s really our type’, and he talks about every part of the interview, which was quite a long one, and at the end they decided I was okay. I think it was particularly that I came from the bush.
I can think of a little girl from Strathewen, who lost everything in the Victorian bushfires - her school friends, her family, her home, and she was in hospital for a very long time. She and I used to write to each other and she would come and stay with Michael and me and the wonderful thing is, this month, she’s graduating in aviation, and she’s got her pilot’s licence. It’s a very inspiring story. I think she’s the person with the most courage whom I’ve ever met.
CD:You mentioned growing up in the bush yourself. How has that shaped your life?
QB: Utterly. I think that our values are formed in our early years. I always look to childhood, to early years, when I’m reflecting on a person’s life. I think a country childhood stands you in great stead. I saw, I think, 60,000 or 70,000 grade 6s at Yarralumla - kids who’d come from all over Australia with their schools to visit the national capital and the wonderful national institutions in Canberra.
Education, employment and health are always the biggest issues for rural communities.Dame Quentin Bryce
CD:What do you think are some of the major issues at the moment facing rural communities in Australia?
QB: Many of them are having very tough times - through drought, through commodity prices. Education, employment and health are always the biggest issues for rural communities, and the struggle for many families to educate their children. That’s their highest priority, but I see many of the little towns that I’ve always loved across my life losing population and going through some really tough gullies in recent years.