The Australian Women's Weekly

At home with Quentin Bryce:


what’s next for the mum of five, granny to 11 and Aussie trailblaze­r

In an extraordin­ary interview, Dame Quentin Bryce, mum of five, grandma of 11 and one of our most powerful women, talks to Juliet

Rieden about life after being Australia’s Governor-General and her new quest.

Dee Dee. Where’s Dee Dee?” Lauren Bryce bellows as she storms into Grandma’s house, galloping through each room until she finally spies her target and launches herself into the arms of Dame Quentin Bryce. Lauren, an angelic seven-year-old dynamo – minus her two front teeth – and her little sister Ellen, four, are the first to arrive for The Weekly’s photo shoot.

Soon six more of the Bryce grandchild­ren arrive, including head of the clan, willowy Alexandra Browning, 17, and her twin sisters, Lucinda and Claudia, 13, the three offspring of Quentin and Michael’s eldest daughter, Revy, then Charlie, six, who musters a perfunctor­y kiss on Grandma’s cheek when cajoled – he’s the son of youngest Tom Bryce – and Teddy, four, and Isla, two, the babies of the throng, who are middle son

Rupert Bryce’s children. Lauren and Ellen are eldest son Jack’s daughters. Not here are Rupert Parkin, 15, Georgette Parkin, 14, and Clementine Shorten, seven, younger daughter Chloe Shorten’s trio, who live in Melbourne and are apparently put out they’re missing out on the fun.

You would think that it would be utter mayhem, with eight kids, grandparen­ts, mums, dads and a photograph­y, hair and make-up team, but with Grandpa, otherwise known as Bop Bop, organising – sorting drinks, plating snacks, washing up – it’s surprising­ly civilised and ordered.

Alexandra tells me that Quentin’s nickname “Dee Dee” derives from GG for “Groovy Granny” (which could also be for Governor-General) and somehow the G morphed into a D. As for “Bop Bop”, nobody knows. While they’re definitely a rambunctio­us mob, manners and a delightful politesse are part of the Bryce brood’s DNA, influenced, I suspect, from the top – GG herself.

Evidently, there’s a look Dee Dee shoots when she’s expressing displeasur­e. “We all say, ‘Did you see that? Dee Dee just gave me the look’,” Quentin’s daughter Revy Bryce-Browning explains with a chuckle, “Now my Alexandra’s got the look, too.”

It’s a moment of satirical family comedy, which also offers an insight into how Quentin Bryce manages to persuade powerful – more often than not men – to readdress their actions and policies. That look, I suspect, has moved mountains in her current work chairing Queensland’s Domestic and Family Violence Implementa­tion Council and Task Force (see page 33).

It’s no coincidenc­e that Alexandra is now a keen perpetrato­r of “the look”. Quentin’s close bond with her eldest granddaugh­ter is elemental. They share the same passionate interest in what’s wrong with the world, the same need to jump in and get involved. Alexandra already has a deep-seated social conscience, her mother tells me. “She was the only grandchild who was born pre-public life,” muses Revy. “She had a full three years’ connection [with Quentin].” Subsequent­ly, once in public life, it was Alexandra who saw her grandmothe­r in action. “She was always called ‘the date’. ‘Can I have the date? [Quentin would ask,] Can I have her tonight?’ She knew every Premier.”

Today’s photo shoot is pertinent because it’s a visual representa­tion of Quentin and Michael’s return, not just to Queensland, where they were both born and raised, but to the bosom of their family, living a stone’s throw from four of their five children.

Life after Yarralumla, after the challenges of public life and the Governor-Generalshi­p, in many ways has been all about family, the beating heart of Quentin’s world. “I left there very happily. I was ready to come home,” Quentin tells me, calmly.

Certainly, the move back to the familiar community of Indooroopi­lly, where the couple first raised their children, sits well with Michael.

“We missed out on all the new grandchild­ren growing up. So it’s nice to get back to them,” he explains.

The sociable 78-year-old oozes charm in an old-school gentlemanl­y fashion, but he’s also, daughter Revy tells me, a natural feminist, which I suspect is the foundation to a “truly happy marriage”, which he says “has been totally without any blemishes”.

On a practical level, Michael is the yin to Quentin’s yang, the measured, list-making planner to the take-thingsas-they-come-and-always-say-yes over-achiever.

“Michael was the anchor,” explains Quentin’s best friend, Wendy McCarthy, who, alongside her own work as one of our most prominent women’s rights campaigner­s, has been a second mum and grandmum to the Bryce children, stepping in when Quentin’s work called her away, which was quite a lot.

“Michael is very astute. He smoothed all the edges. Michael took on the role of chief enabler for Quentin to shine, which is a wonderfull­y generous thing for a partner to do,” Wendy says.

Marrying young

Quentin was 11 when she first met Michael, then 15.

She was his little sister’s friend and Quentin’s older sister Diane was in the same class as Michael at school. “She was an ankle biter for me then ... I was more interested in her sister,” says Michael, with a cheeky grin. “I’d go [to their house] when he was having parties. They used to play games like Spin the Bottle and we would spy on them. We were still little girls,” recalls Quentin.

Yet, when the two crossed paths at university, Michael then an architectu­re student with a snappy line in “blazers, tweed jackets and stylish suits” and Quentin a 19-yearold Arts graduate on her way to study law, it was a very different story.

“We were at the Broady, which is the Broadbeach Hotel near Surfers Paradise, and it’s New Year’s Eve,”

says Michael, grinning. “I can remember the glass [picture windows] and the sea is out there. Then this skinny girl with her hair sticking out because her hair goes frizzy when she gets in the surf, and it’s bleached and she’s tanned because she just tans like that ... she walks past. And that’s the moment when I thought, ‘I’m going to have that girl’.”

On the wall in the study is a glorious photo of Quentin at that time and Michael’s descriptio­n is spot on; she’s absolutely stunning, a picture of sun-kissed youth and vitality (Quentin is still a mad surfer). It’s no wonder he was so smitten.

For Quentin, the sparks took a little longer to ignite. Raised with three sisters and then attending an all-girls’ boarding school had ill-prepared her for dating. “We used to have the odd school dance at Moreton Bay [College], but boys were just a foreign race,” she says.

Her initial reaction to Michael was that, though not drop-dead handsome, he was “quite nice looking and there was some ease in the fact that there was a family connection,” she says. “He was five years older than me and seemed quite glamorous and sophistica­ted.”

Quentin agreed to go on a date. “We clicked,” says Michael. “From then, I couldn’t think of anything else. It just obsessed my life, wanting to see her, and I didn’t know whether she was going, ‘Oh, my God, he’s rung again!’”

My mother was “very protective”, says Quentin. “It was a huge thing for mothers in those years, when there was no sex education really. It was always the great anxiety that the girl didn’t get pregnant. Mum kept a pretty close eye on when we left and when we came home. And there were a lot of very cruel things for girls, too, who did become pregnant. Dangerous abortions.” Quentin says she did know of girls in that situation and recalls “some tragic consequenc­es”.

Michael can’t remember how he proposed, but Quentin recalls, “It was all a bit nerve-wracking when he was going to ask my father.”

“He was fine,” says Michael.

“It was the mother.”

“My mother was not very pleased,” Quentin concurs. “She thought I was too young, she was worried I wouldn’t finish my course. She wrote to him in later years about that. She really thanked him for being such a good son-in-law to her and it was sort of an apology for trying to persuade him that we shouldn’t get married.” Yet Michael has always felt there was more to it, that Naida Strachan didn’t think he was good enough for her smart daughter, for whom she had aspiration­s well beyond the traditiona­l housewife.

“I don’t think Mother wanted any of us to get married,” Quentin’s eldest sister, Diane Craddock, tells me. “I think she had difficulty relinquish­ing us to anybody who wasn’t just tickety-boo. She was a perfection­ist.”

Michael was undeterred and, ever the romantic, bought a fabulous engagement ring. “It was quite a large ruby and I had it made to my design,” he says. “I’d picked the stone, which was a Burmese pigeon blood ruby and then I had it set.” Michael recalls it was a knockout ring, but, alas, it never made it to the wedding. “I was working at the time in an architect’s practice in Fortitude Valley. Quentin came in and she’s sitting in the foyer, but all along she knows she’s just lost her engagement ring. Poor girl. Before she came to see me, she went to the toilet in the department store, but not being used to a ring, took it off, washed her hands, forgot the ring, went back – the ring was gone! We replaced it, but it wasn’t the same.” They had a traditiona­l wedding in Brisbane’s St John’s Cathedral, “with beautiful bells”, recalls Quentin, who at 21 was walked down the aisle by her proud father. “Her father was a real bush gentleman,” says Michael.

A country childhood

Life was about to change forever, but, despite a sheltered childhood, Quentin was prepared. Naida was the strict matriarch of the Strachan household and a role model to her four daughters.

The family lived in Ilfracombe, a tiny Queensland bush town of 200, where Norman Strachan managed wool scour factories. As a former teacher, Naida home-schooled first Diane and then Quentin.

“I look back on it with enormous affection. For me, what I remember is the freedom and the space,” says Quentin. “My earliest memories are about books and listening to Kindergart­en Of The Air on the ABC.”

The sisters and children from the local families were all very close and community was everything. Diane was the bossy eldest, with a five-year gap between her and Quentin, and then Revelyn and Helene much closer in age. “Between my elder sister and me, my mother had a baby boy who died very early,” says Quentin.

Diane vividly remembers their baby brother dying and their mother’s silent grief. “It was very traumatic for my parents and awful for her [Naida].

She had very sad memories on and off through her life.”

Yet the loss was never talked about at home. “My mother was born in 1911, my father was born in 1899 and they were brought up as stoics. You never complained about anything,” says Quentin.

“I did ask her about it once, years later. I said, ‘How did you ever get over that?’ She said to me, ‘You get over it because you have to, but you never get over it. It’s like living on two planes.’”

Quentin is an old family name and she suspects may have been chosen by her mother while she was expecting, hoping for a boy.

While Naida was the “disciplina­rian”, Norman loved to spoil his daughters. “He was adored by all of us,” coos Quentin.

“We had singing sessions around the piano and we learned to dance with Daddy, our little feet on the top of his,” recalls Diane.

“Meals were formal. No meal was ever in a hurry. Eating was when a family came together and, of course, in the country, you would have ‘dinner in the middle of the day’ and my parents would listen to the ABC, to Country Hour and the amount of rainfall and the price of cattle, and we had to be quiet,” says Quentin.

“Mum belonged to a generation of women who could do anything. I didn’t have a dress out of a shop until I went to university. In those years, she would make beautiful full-length ball gowns.”

Naida’s strict sense of propriety later influenced her grandchild­ren, too, says Revy. “She was always going on about the knives and forks, and the setting of the table. No matter where she was living, in the country, in the dirt, there had to be the silver and the polishing of that darn table, and writing thank-you letters.

“But now I see it – it’s all about how you treat others.”

Quentin went to her first school at eight and quickly realised her mother had taught her well. “I loved boarding school, too,” she says. “Someone said to me the other day, ‘Who was your roommate at boarding school?’ I said, ‘26 other girls, in rows, like Madeline.’ We were in dormitorie­s that were called Suffragett­es, Paradise, Astronomer­s, Sunbeams. I was in Sunbeams and then I went up to Suffragett­es and over to Astronomer­s, where you opened up all these big windows so you could see the sky.”

Achieving was never an issue for Quentin and her mother had imbued her with the belief that she could and most definitely should fulfill her considerab­le potential. “At 16, I was quite studious and I just assumed – and I caught this assumption from my parents – that I would go to university. I think we were four lucky girls who had parents who were very committed to our having profession­s,” says Quentin.

More than this, she harboured a keen and rather lofty sense of personal duty to fix the world’s problems. “I remember being an altruistic young girl and thinking about changing the world. I won quite a significan­t essay prize and my essay was called – and this is such a high-minded title – How To Foster

Peace and Internatio­nal Understand­ing.”

Diane says that her sister was simply a chip off the Strachan block. “I think we were all brought up to work hard, be very caring of other people and respectful,” she says.

At Queensland University, Quentin was in her element. When, in 1965 – the year after her wedding – she was one of the first women accepted to the Queensland Bar, the stage seemed set for an extraordin­ary legal future.

Yet Quentin never actually practised law. Instead, she became pregnant and took her last exams plagued with morning sickness. She says the baby was planned – sort of – and she and Michael never saw family as an impediment to their ambitions.

“I just assumed that it would all happen,” she explains. “There were other women who had careers and children. When you’re 22 and having your first baby, you don’t sit down and think these things through.”

London in the ’60s

Jack was born in July 1966 and, in November, Michael and Quentin boarded a ship for England. “We

went to London with a four-monthold baby in our cabin,” says Michael, laughing. “We were in the thick of it there for two years – the Beatles, Carnaby Street – but we had kids and we had no money. Quentin was a stay-at-home mother and I was the one going to work.”

Michael worked for an architects firm and Quentin looked after Jack, and made friends while pushing the pram in the local park and soaking up London life. She cut her hair into an elfin crop, bought a “bunny rabbit fur coat”, hoarded luncheon vouchers for slap-up meals on Saturdays and went to as many galleries and operas as she could. She also became pregnant with daughter Revy.

They reluctantl­y left London two years later, Michael says, because of both their parents, who wanted to see the grandchild­ren. Little could they have known that they would be meeting the Queen in Buckingham Palace some

30 years later, with Quentin as Her Majesty’s Governor of Queensland.

Five children

When they returned home,

Quentin continued her run of firsts, becoming the first woman to be appointed a faculty member of the Law School where she had studied. This was the perfect job, offering flexible working hours near to home and challengin­g work. The couple also had three more children.

So how did Quentin manage it all? She says it was the grandmothe­rs, who were “fantastic”, but there were times when it did get too much. “They were hard times for her. I didn’t know that then,” admits Michael. “She wasn’t well. She wondered what it was – chest things – I suppose trying to make a home and make ends meet, without much money.”

Looking back, Quentin says that, though she did feel overwhelme­d for a while, it was a lesson learned. “I learned about taking good care of myself,” she says. “I do remember being shrouded in doubt and anxiety about how would I ever get going again; how would I get up and recharge my batteries.

“Then Michael came in and said, ‘Come on, I’m taking you for a drive’, and I got into my dressing gown, into the car, looked up and thought, ‘The sky is still blue’. I feel evangelica­l about it now, about women having support and care, particular­ly in the time of a little family in formation.”

The couple went on to have a fourth and fifth child, and Quentin says she would have loved to have had a sixth, a little girl to even up the gender balance, but Michael put his foot down. “No way! We were lucky – we had boy, girl, boy, girl, boy. Then, the youngest one, Tom, got very sick and we nearly lost him,” says Michael.

“It was first diagnosed as leukaemia. He was so sick that he was in hospital and had to be looked after in a laminar flow cot, that is a bed that’s got plastic sides on it, so that no germs can get in.

“He was covered in bruises, if he just touched anything. In the end, we took him home to look after him because we expected he was going to die. Then, one day, there was a miracle. It actually wasn’t leukaemia – it was aplastic anaemia, a bone marrow deficiency.”

What glass ceiling?

Quentin’s climb from this point to the very top of the tree – to be the first female Governor-General – was extraordin­ary, but not surprising. En route, in 1978, while serving on then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s National Women’s Advisory Council, she met Wendy McCarthy and the two “just clicked”, developing “the closest friendship”.

“We were both very resourcefu­l and very resilient,” says Wendy. “Even then, we could see how you could do things in the community.” They were also both unapologet­ically bolshy. “We just weren’t going to cop it. We were the first really significan­t cohort of university­educated women, so we had the anchor and security of being able to think and express ourselves.”

Opportunit­ies came thick and fast and, generally, Quentin’s maxim was to never say no, using her close community to help pick up the slack raising the kids.

“They were children brought up in a village, who are pals today in their 50s,” says Quentin, proudly.

One of the most difficult decisions was when Quentin was offered the role of federal Sex Discrimina­tion Commission­er, based in Sydney, in 1988. After long discussion­s, she

decided to commute between Sydney and Brisbane, leaving Michael to look after the kids. It was the first time they had lived apart.

“It was a big move, a very big sacrifice, for her to move to Sydney. I think Dad was her rock,” says Revy.

Yet that decision is one Quentin still wrestles with. “I look back and think about things I didn’t do as a mother,” she says. “You never stop thinking about your children and your mothering and grandmothe­ring, things that you compromise­d on.”

Did her family complain? “No, I think, really, the complainin­g has been inside myself with the guilty working mother syndrome that bedevils women,” she says.

When then Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, offered Quentin the role of Governor in 2003, she had no such hesitation and said yes straightaw­ay. “Well, you bloody might have asked me!” Michael recalls saying – as a joke. “I was secretly proud,” he adds.

In the build-up to the announceme­nt, Quentin shared her secret with daughter Revy who, in turn, shared hers – that she was pregnant with twins. In the end, the two collided with farcical results.

“The twins were born on her inaugurati­on day,” explains Revy.

“It was hilarious because Mum had brand-new staff – her entourage – come to the hospital with security and everything, and I kissed all of them.

“Mum had a pretty tough time in that job and we would speak to each other every year, on ‘inaugurati­on twin day’, we would call it. I would say to her, ‘Congratula­tions, Mum’ – we’d send each other flowers – ‘Well done for getting through another year’, and she would say, ‘Well done for getting through another year of those twins’.”

Soon after her appointmen­t, Quentin and Michael went to Buckingham Palace to pay their respects to Quentin’s new boss, the Queen.

“That was one of those pinch-me moments, driving into the Palace,” says Quentin. “I looked down the hallway and I could see some corgis there. I said to the equerry, ‘Oh, there are the corgis.’ He said, ‘Don’t go near them!’ He told me that the Queen often had Band-Aids on her fingers from those corgis giving her a little nip. I have to say that – how old was I then? About 60, I think – and I could have been 16, I felt so nervous.”

The Queensland Governor’s role was the real game-changer for the Bryce family. From that moment on, they became public property and, as Quentin’s trajectory soared, Michael’s waned. “When she became state Governor, I had to give up my state government work, more than a third of my business,” he says.

Michael has made continual sacrifices for his wife and yet, when she was offered the ultimate accolade – when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asked her to be the next Governor-General in 2008 – and Quentin paused with serious misgivings, Michael urged her to do it. Why? “For the women of Australia,” he says, without missing a beat. “Absolutely. This was the moment of supreme sacrifice for the male species. I thought that, if she passed it up, a woman might never get it again.”

Quentin took the role and Kevin Rudd was lauded for hiring the first female Governor-General. Yet the harsh realities for Michael kicked in pretty fast. “We went to sit with Rudd in his office and have a cup of tea,” he says. “They said the Finance Director asked to have a word with me. I thought it was going to be about my tax, which I was running a bit behind with. But she said, ‘Now, of course, you’ll have to leave your practice.’ When? ‘We should be able to give you six weeks,’ she said.”

Yet the dice was already thrown. “When she arrived in Yarralumla, Quentin was full of zeal; I was like retired and had nothing to do. But I built up to be a patron of 40 organisati­ons in the end,” says Michael.

Quentin proved to be a landmark Governor-General, opening up Yarralumla to Australian­s from all walks of life. Yet her bold Boyer Lecture, delivered in November 2013, some months before the end of her tenure, famously underlined Quentin’s support for a republic. As she was a serving representa­tive of the Queen, it was hugely controvers­ial, but she still stands by her pronouncem­ent. “I do hope that in the future we do have our own head of state,” she says, firmly.

When she accepted a damehood for her work, Quentin faced more criticism. “I was there when that happened – in Parliament House with her sister,” says Wendy McCarthy. “And I saw the look of shock on many faces around me. But, if you have a vice-regal position and you are asked to accept an award, it was pretty hard to say no. I think she felt obligated. Would she like to be remembered, in the last week of a very successful vice-regal period, as the Governor-General who threw a bomb in the system and insulted the Queen? I don’t think so.”

“It was an inward and an outward struggle,” says Revy, who is very protective of her mum, “and this is hard because it took away the glory that it’s supposed to be.”

Having settled back in Queensland, you might think, at 74, Quentin would also be slowing down. Yet she is knee-deep in her next project, possibly the most challengin­g yet – to tackle domestic violence head on.

“In a way, one side of me says, I don’t want you to stop this because as soon as you do, you’ll collapse, you’ll be an old lady. But on the other hand, I do want you to slow down,” Michael explains as Quentin dashes away to dress for another event.

Revy, however, is thrilled that her mum is still in the thick of things. “She says, ‘I’ve got more to give, I’m not ready to be idle.’ We always see her as being young. We don’t ever see her as being retiree granny.”

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 ??  ?? FROM TOP: Naida Strachan with her daughters (from left) Revelyn, Helene, Diane and Quentin; as one of the first women accepted to the Queensland Bar; with her dad on her wedding day in 1964; in ’60s London.
FROM TOP: Naida Strachan with her daughters (from left) Revelyn, Helene, Diane and Quentin; as one of the first women accepted to the Queensland Bar; with her dad on her wedding day in 1964; in ’60s London.
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 ??  ?? Quentin at 19, the vision of sun-kissed vitality that Michael found irresistib­le.
Quentin at 19, the vision of sun-kissed vitality that Michael found irresistib­le.
 ??  ?? “Dee Dee” keeps a close eye as her grandchild­ren enjoy the swimming pool in the front yard of the Bryces’ home.
“Dee Dee” keeps a close eye as her grandchild­ren enjoy the swimming pool in the front yard of the Bryces’ home.
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