She is dainty, bright-eyed and stylish, with quick, darting movements like a songbird. He is tall and coolly elegant with a measured grace and quiet strength. But His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales, and his wife Linda form a tight unit. One is almost tempted to think of them as a fighting force.

The former Chief of the Defence Force and his wife have been a formidable team ever since they met at a jazz club in Sydney in 1976. She knew straightaway by his short hair that he was Army and was a little guarded. But he won her attention with the corny pick-up line: “will you mind my cardigan while I go up to the bar to have a drink?”

“And my biggest regret in life is that I don’t have that cardigan!” says Mrs Hurley with a gentle laugh at her husband, sitting beside her in the ceremonial drawing room of Government House in Sydney.

“But I do claim that it is the most successful pick-up line ever used – 100 per cent. Used it once and got married, so that’s fair enough,” comments the Governor.

It’s been quite a journey for the couple who met only five times before deciding to marry then spent 38 years in the Defence Forces before taking on the unusual life of the Queen’s representative.

“I was just swept off my feet by this handsome Lieutenant,” she recalls.

At that stage, the young officer had been drawn away from his upbringing in the Church of England by the temptations of Army life. But he found his mind being refocused when he began preparing to marry Linda, a committed Presbyterian.

“I think I told you I couldn’t marry a man who didn’t believe in God,” she reminds him.

“Well, that was one reason – OK! It was a very powerful reason, actually,” he admits.

Forty years later, the Hurleys have reached the stage where they naturally adorn each other’s sentences or punctuate them with soft murmurs of assent.

“I hula-hoop every morning and I like to read the Bible or a devotional book while I’m doing that.” – Linda Hurley

As the first full-time residents of Government House since 1996 (when former Premier Bob Carr removed the Governor to a city office and opened Government House to the public), the Hurleys now live in a modern apartment crafted from the old Royal Suite upstairs, as part of extensive renovations to the 175-year-old house.

“This house now is our 26th home in 40 years of marriage,” says Hurley.

A couple of decades younger than the previous Governor, Marie Bashir, the Hurleys follow a hectic schedule of community work. And in these Vice-Regal roles, as in their spiritual lives, they are an inseparable partnership.

“My day normally starts at 5.30-6, and I’ll finish late at night,” he says, explaining why his Bible reading is not as regular as he would like. “I get a lot of support through Linda. It’s a team effort in that sense.

“Sometimes we pray together but not every day,” Mrs Hurley adds.

“There’s pastoral care in this job every day, almost every day.” – Linda Hurley

She prepares for the day ahead in a rather more unusual way. “I hula-hoop every morning and I like to read the Bible or a devotional book while I’m doing that,” she says.

“It’s very skilful,” he adds.

After retiring from teaching in 2011, when her husband was appointed Chief of Defence, Mrs Hurley decided to study pastoral care and volunteer at Canberra Hospital.

“That [course] was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my whole life – very challenging but very rewarding – and God had a plan,” she explains.

“So I then worked at the hospital as a volunteer, but as a professional trained pastoral carer, and then I was invited to go and work at the hospice and that was a shock … but it was the most rewarding; it was very, very special.”

While she still volunteers occasionally – incognito – at St Vincent’s Hospital, Mrs Hurley calls on her pastoral care training almost every day in her role as Governor’s wife.

“Just to be a listening ear and a comfort to them is really important.” – David Hurley

“I believe that the pastoral care course has … helped me to engage with people and I think it’s been really [useful]. Like, there’s pastoral care in this job every day, almost every day. There are a lot of people who share things with you,” she says.

Hurley adds: “The job takes us into so many lives and we interact with so many people and organisations which are really dealing with the difficult issues in society – from illnesses to social injustices, to discrimination, to disability and so forth – so you’re always nearly every day talking to people who have suffered, for whatever reason. Just to be a listening ear and a comfort to them is really important.”

Hurley is so attuned to people’s needs that he insists on giving them 90 minutes rather than the standard 60 – so they have enough time to overcome their nervousness at meeting the Governor and voice their real concerns.

“People are very apprehensive when they first meet the Governor or Governor’s wife because they are not quite sure how to react. Even saying ‘Your Excellency’ sometimes is more or less a mouthful – it’s not very Australian – so you’ve got to get past that and then be able to have a conversation or listen to what they’ve got to say,” he explains.

Always driven by a desire to lead, Hurley says he put up his hand for any command appointments that came up in the Army. As a result, he found himself in some “sticky positions” in his various postings in Australia and overseas, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Malaysia and Somalia (for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross).

“You’ve got to have a core that helps you to be strong, sustain yourself and be successful.” – David Hurley

“I think one of the most difficult ones was obviously commanding my battalion group in operations in Somalia [in 1993] – that was a first for the ADF for 15 years. A lot of things had been forgotten, a lot of things had to be re-learnt, and so I really understood the old saying about the isolation of command or the loneliness of command … because there’s no one else – it’s all you,” he says.

“When you’re a leader, sometimes the pressure, the stress, can be so intense that it’s real, it’s physical – you can reach out, you can touch it –and you have to be strong enough not only to survive that situation but to lead successfully.”

For his wife back home in Australia, the Somalia deployment demanded a different kind of teamwork. In those pre-email and Skype days, it took five to six weeks before the first letters arrived in Australia.

“When David went to Somalia, I thought I was going really well. He’d been gone for about five weeks and I was saying prayers with our eldest daughter as she was getting into bed. She said ‘Mummy, you don’t seem happy any more,’” Mrs Hurley recalls.

“I thought I was fine so that was a real wake-up call [from] an eight-year-old. I had a determination that the home front was going to go well with the other wives – and it was a great community; the women we formed very close friendships. When he returned, I just kind of burst into tears with relief.”

 “It was important for them to go and see where their sons or husbands or brothers had lived.” – David Hurley

While always putting duty first, Hurley believes a leader needs a strong ego to take on responsibility for other people’s lives. But that ego needs to operate from a strong inner core.

“My leadership style – and I speak about this often when I speak to youngsters – is about servant leadership, so that’s the model,” he says.

“I’m very strong on you serve for your people – it’s not about yourself. I have a little saying that I use probably too much now: you need an ego to command in the military but you can’t lead or command for your ego. So you need an inner strength because leadership is difficult – it’s not all about the authority in a position, it’s the difficult choices you’ll have to make, the decisions to make, the lives you’ll affect … You’ll decide what life a person has, if they get promoted or not, what schools their kids go to, how their lifestyle is, do they have a holiday this year – all those simple things.

“And they can be difficult, so you’ve got to have a core that helps you to be strong, sustain yourself and be successful.”

Hurley needed to call on his strong core of faith during his time as Chief of the Defence Force, when he spearheaded cultural change after the protracted and messy Skype sex scandal at ADFA in 2011. Later, he pioneered the introduction of combat roles for women.

“They were big changes we had to make and there’s resistance to that … You know, if you change and there’s no resistance, then you’re not changing. It’s as simple as that.”

Hurley says his wife believes one of the best things he did was helping families of servicemen who lost their lives in Afghanistan navigate a way through their grief.

“Linda would say I only did two good things as CDF and one of those was to take a … significant number of the families back to Afghanistan for a day visit to our base at Tarin Kowt before we wound up the base,” he says.

“That was a really profound day for me, very emotional, as you can imagine. It was important for them to go and see where their sons or husbands or brothers had lived. We could point out on the landscape from inside the base where they may have been killed – you know, the geographical areas and so forth – and I think for many of them it was a real comfort.

“But when I got back to the UAE base that night I was the most, I think, emotionally drained I’ve ever been in my life. It was a really very important day but very draining.”

In their Vice-Regal roles, the Hurleys have no hesitation in wearing their faith on their sleeves, which has sometimes caused raised eyebrows.

“In this appointment, again, people know that we have a Christian faith and we reintroduced singing hymns at the Christmas function here at Government House – carols, sorry. There was some passive resistance, I think, not so much in the house, but people were a bit shocked, I suppose, because the tendency today is not to do that because it might upset people.”

One of their regrets is that their commitments to community organisations often fall on a Sunday, which means they miss their regular service at St Peter’s Presbyterian Church in North Sydney.

“They sing hymns, which is very important to me,” says Mrs Hurley, whose favourites include To God be the Glory, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing. She looks forward to the day when they can return to civilian life and a renewed commitment to church worship.

“I miss my church in Canberra because I used to sing in the choir there and I just hope it will all be the same when I go back. Because music in a service is really important to me,” she concludes.

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