When the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce met Dr Catherine Hamlin AC in March 2009, it sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship based on mutual respect and admiration. Leaders in their respective fields, these two Australian women have been inspirations to thousands over the years – and inspirations to one another. Their friendship has seen Quentin lend her voice in support of Catherine’s work and even write the foreword for the updated edition of Catherine’s autobiography, ‘The Hospital By the River,’ co-written with John Little.
Admirer from afar
In 2009, then-Governor General Quentin Bryce visited Addis Ababa to address the African Union. Quentin knew of Catherine’s work in Ethiopia and was keen to meet her and visit the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. In an interview with ABC RN Breakfast‘s Fran Kelly in 2016, Quentin discussed her long-held admiration for Catherine’s work eradicating obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. “I looked forward so much to meeting this wonderful women who I held in the highest esteem from afar… I think it’s true to say she is one of the most loved and admired women in our world,” revealed Quentin.
The initial meeting was a success, as the two women shared their experiences over the decades. In her foreword to ‘The Hospital By the River,’ Quentin recalls their first rendezvous: “I was enthralled by Catherine’s storytelling, her strong true partnership with Reg steeped in mutual respect, equality, shared vision, the finest values and intellectual rigour.”
Catherine acted as tour guide for Quentin, introducing the Governor General to the staff, volunteers and fistula patients, and taking her around the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. “We walked arm in arm in Catherine’s garden… there was so much to share as we talked about the road ahead,” reminisces Quentin in ‘The Hospital By the River.’
Inspiring women everywhere
Quentin’s trail-blazing status as one of the first women accepted to the Queensland bar, the former Queensland Director of the Human Right and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the first female Head of State in Australia, allowed her to raise awareness of the plight of fistula sufferers in Ethiopia.
In 2011, Catherine was among 50 prominent Australians invited by Quentin, to take lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Government House, Canberra. The two friends spent a few days together, sharing memorable conversations in the verdant gardens of Government House. They proceeded to travel to Perth together for a special event on women and leadership as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). A key theme of that year’s CHOGM was ‘women as agents of change’ – an apt description of both Catherine and Quentin.
Catherine and Quentin’s friendship has spanned continents and years, and inspired thousands of people in Australia, Ethiopia and beyond. Reflecting on her relationship with Catherine, Quentin remarked “I’ve been privileged to enjoy a friendship with her through letters and her visits to Australia.”
Catherine’s work to eradicate fistula in Ethiopia has inspired thousands, including Dame Quentin Bryce. Learn more about the incredible impact of Catherine’s journey in our 60for60 blog series.