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The Governor and his wife with the fine-grain touch

David and Linda Hurley reflect on sharing their lives on a grand scale

His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of NSW, was taken aback when he got a phone call from Prime Minister Scott Morrison late last year.

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As was his lovely wife of 42 years. “What does he want?” Linda Hurley demanded to know when her husband told her the PM was coming to see them in the morning.

Their hesitancy was understandable. The former Chief of the Defence Force and his wife had set a cracking pace during their time at Government House in Sydney. They worked early till late, not only meeting royalty and presidents and performing ceremonial roles but openly sharing their lives with people from community groups which help people in need who, to them, are all VIPs.

After 38 years in the Defence Forces and 4½ years as the Queen’s team in NSW, the couple were looking forward to moving into semi-retirement or, as Mrs Hurley put it, “sailing into the sunset.”

The Governor was hoping to invest more time in his friends – feeling he had neglected them due to the demands of the job – while Mrs Hurley was relishing the idea of little freedoms such as being able to answer her own doorbell and open her own mail.

But it was not to be – yet.

“Shock,” is how Mrs Hurley, ever candid, describes her reaction to the news that her husband was being asked to be Governor-General – with the prospect of continuing the unusual life of the Queen’s representatives on an even grander scale.

“It was a real surprise. I obviously hadn’t taken [God] into account enough in my planning.” – Governor Hurley

“I did question God about that. I’m not quite sure why he put us here – and now the next place,” she tells Eternity as we sit in the stately drawing room of Government House, backed by a photograph of the Queen.

The Hurleys had graciously agreed to welcome a team from Eternity to Government House to reflect on their tenure there and talk on video about the transition to their new roles in the nation’s capital, which will begin on June 30.

“It was a real surprise,” admits the Governor. “I obviously hadn’t taken [God] into account enough in my planning.”

Being in their 60s, the couple hesitated – fully aware of the daunting pace at which they would be expected to move in the broader dimensions of a national role – but as faithful Christians, they decided to pray about it and then, after consulting their three adult children, accepted the challenge.

Ever welcoming to the public, the Governor and Mrs Hurley have given an open invitation to anyone to come and witness their Ceremonial Farewell at Government House on Wednesday May 1 from 1.45pm-2.20pm, as they are honoured with a flypast and 19-gun salute. (There’s also an open invite to the swearing in of the new Governor, Margaret Beazley, on Thursday.)

Mrs Hurley says she will miss Government House – their 26th home as a married couple – and has been taking lots of photos before moving out. They created a modern apartment upstairs as part of extensive renovations to the historic house. She will particularly miss the splendid view from their upstairs terrace, which spans the spectacles of Sydney Harbour including the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as well as the beautiful gardens tended by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

When I ask if we can film them upstairs in their private residence, they generously agree and give us a tour of all the refurbished rooms – including the bedroom where Prince Charles and Princess Diana slept – and special details few people ever see, such as the beautiful stained glass window in the toilet.

In a previous interview, Mrs Hurley had revealed that she keeps fit physically and spiritually by hula-hooping while reading the Bible every morning. When I ask if she will demonstrate this remarkable skill for us, she gamely agrees, demonstrating how she has taught herself to swirl the hula-hoop anti-clockwise as well as clockwise.

“I’ve tried to encourage people to sing for the intrinsic joy of singing.” – Linda Hurley

Like previous incumbents, the Hurleys viewed their role as a blank sheet of paper and put their special imprint on it. Governor Hurley says he has found the greatest rewards in mentoring young people in leadership, taking a special interest in the younger Aboriginal generation, and working out how to “value add to the community.”

Mrs Hurley has tried to pursue her passions, highlighting things that are special to her such as the environment and singing. “I’ve tried to encourage people to sing for the intrinsic joy of singing,” she says.  (She even wrote a musical for staff to perform as a farewell). She has also helped to research a book about previous governors’ wives, soon to be published, and worked with a NSW rose grower to breed a stunning variegated Governor’s Wife’s Rose.

“When I came to Government House there was nothing to suggest that a woman had ever lived here,” she explains. “And so I thought a rose might be a nice thing to have in memory of governors’ wives … So I’m very pleased that there’s some recognition of the work that the wives have done … because they all played their part.”

“They’re not famous but they have a story to tell and when they share it with you, they’re the stories you don’t forget.” – Linda Hurley

Unlike earlier governors, the Hurleys did not come across the sea – only up the A5 from Canberra – but they have left their marks in the level of community engagement they made their own.

“It’s our job to make people feel special and welcomed when they come here,” confides Mrs Hurley.

“And we meet so many amazing people. They’re not famous but they have a story to tell and when they share it with you, they’re the stories you don’t forget.”

She explains: “It’s lovely to meet famous people, but you don’t get a lot of time with famous people – you don’t get to know them. I mean, it’s lovely having 20 minutes with the Queen but it’s the people in the community – it’s all about people.”

Significantly, the Hurleys have made a point of visiting a different regional area of NSW every month and would like to keep that up tradition at a national level.

“How are we going to translate from this to the national level but have that opportunity to have that fine-grain touch at community level.” – Governor Hurley

“For us, it’s how do we translate how we’ve approached our duties here at a national level – six states and the territories. How do you craft a programme that allows you to have adequate time in those communities,” he says.

“You’d fool yourself if you thought you could cover Australia in five years, so what then becomes important is what drives you to particular areas or particular issues in the community. So we’re in the process now of putting our thinking hats on, how are we going to translate from this to the national level but have that opportunity to have that fine-grain touch at community level.”

One of the lessons the Governor has taken from the past 4½ years is to be “very mindful of what [God has] created and how it needs tending.”

“I think we’re at a very important stage of our history in relation to Aboriginal people in Australia.” – Governor Hurley

He said the role had only reinforced his belief that leadership can’t be about ego. It’s a message he stresses when talking to young people – the power of a servant leadership model – “because the issues we have in our society need that sort of sacrificial leadership to help us get through.”

While the Vice Regal role can be seen as an historical anomaly with its links to the Queen and white settlement, the Governor believes that’s only if it’s seen as a static role rather than an agent of change.

“It’s very dynamic role and each governor has grasped it in their own way and used it for the benefit of the community,” he says.

“I always say if I’m talking to Indigenous leaders that there are some actions that occurred around the Crown that we now wish hadn’t occurred, but this appointment is part of your future as well – use it wisely because it can make great changes.”

As part of his approach to helping bring about cultural change in Australia on Aboriginal issues, the Governor says he has worn out a pair of boxing gloves in his support of the Tribal Warrior boxing programme for Koori kids in Redfern.

And he intends to continue to take a special interest in helping the Indigenous community move forward in his national role.

“I think we’re at a very important stage of our history in relation to Aboriginal people in Australia,” he says.

“We’ve got a great young generation come through who have got some enormous potential and if we don’t break through with this generation, my worry would be that we set ourselves back a long way, and importantly we set them back.

“So this is one of the historical eras in this country’s history where we need to see change and we’ve got the youngsters there to do it and the role of the elders has been re-crafted and re-established again in the community – they lost that for a while – so all those sort of blocks are coming into the right place to work out what the next big step is.”

“We’re in a process of long-term cultural change in the Australian community and that’s got to be long and deep and invested in.” – David Hurley

While avoiding party politics, the Governor said he would like to see the federal government take a longer-term approach to Indigenous programmes.

“I think the approach we’ve taken over the last decade or two – and so that would include government of many persuasions – I think has been too short term, and that a lot of our interaction with Aboriginal communities is programme-driven on a one-to-two-year budget. It creates a lot of turbulence, it makes it difficult to build up trust with the organisations and communities.”

He adds: “In my mind, we’re in a process of long-term cultural change in the Australian community and that’s got to be long and deep and invested in and you just don’t do it in short little steps like that because we see it – we talk to people who are looking for a job within the next six months because the funding for a particular programme is going to finish … it’s very frustrating, I would think, and that’s not how you do cultural change, so I think for me that is one important aspect of how we drive to the future.”

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