“I was extremely fortunate as I had both country and city schools. I was born in Narrandera NSW to a father and mother who were in love all their life and who valued education enormously. My father Michael Bashir was from a medical family and he himself was part way through a medical degree at the American University of Beirut when he came out to visit Australia. He met, fell in love with, then married Victoria Melick and they came to live in the beautiful country town of Narrandera where my father established a drapery shop and ran the business.
“I was the eldest of four children and went to school at six years of age to Narrandera Public School. My mother was a dutiful daughter and would visit her ageing parents in Sydney and sometimes stay several weeks to care for them. I would go with her, and consequently attend Cleveland Street Public School. It was a wonderful school, and I ended up staying with my grandparents and aunt and spent third, fourth and fifth classes there, taught by the most inspirational teachers.
“I remember Miss Coghlan, who from time to time gave me a gift of a book. It was in 1941 that she gave me The Story of Siegfried, which was about the hero made famous in the Wagner operas. I still have that book and I recognise that this little book started a love and passion that now takes me to operatic performances around the world; that gift unconsciously influences me to this day.
“When I was in sixth class, Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour and as many children as possible went from Sydney to the country. So with my cousins, I went back to Narrandera to live. I wanted to go to a selective high school like my mother, who had a great love for literature, music, opera and in addition was a magnificent embroiderer! So I sat for the Primary Final Examination and was able to go to my mother’s old school, Sydney Girls’ High School. It was an exceptional school and produced some of the finest results, as it does now.
“At the time I was attending high school, tragedy was affecting the world. It was the time of Hitler’s rise to power. The state of Europe and the discriminatory and unmentionable treatment of the Jewish people resulted in a wave of people exiting Europe and arriving in Australia. So in 1943 there were many brilliant girls at our school, daughters of Jewish families, who had fled as far as they could from the turmoil and brutality in Europe.
“I was blessed to have these wonderful girls as my friends. They were informed and culturally rich, topping classes and thereby challenging me to think, discuss and debate issues when we went out socially. It was an extraordinary and bountiful time for me, talking with fellow students about Goethe, Schiller and Mozart during our lunch times.
“School was such a stimulating environment; there was no discrimination, I was Christian and many of my friends were Jewish, students were of different faiths, and I believe we were happy together. We made great friendships that have lasted to this day.
“Some of the teachers at our school were absolutely superb. I’ll never forget my French teacher, Miss Bessie Mitchell who was a former Old Girl. She was kind and inspirational; she expected nothing but the best that each of us could offer, and this succeeded in bringing out the very best in every one of us. I believe it made each student rise to the occasion and fulfill our potential and that meant the whole class achieved remarkable results.
“With this encouragement and expectation, we became life long learners; wherever we eventuated – in the city, the country, as professionals or business people. From my love of music I studied violin at The NSW Conservatorium of Music where I played in the student orchestra. I went to The University of Sydney and studied medicine. Some of my male cousins also studied medicine, my sister became a doctor, an immunologist, and one of my brothers a pharmacist.