The announcement that businesswoman and women’s advocate Samantha Mostyn is to become Australia’s next governor-general is a further sign that Australian institutions continue to shake off the hidebound past and better reflect contemporary society.

Mostyn, who will be the 28th governor-general, is the second woman to fill the role. The appointment of Quentin Bryce in 2008 was the first acknowledgment that women brought experience and perspective that could reshape institutions for the better. The role might be largely symbolic, but Mostyn’s appointment is equally historic and meaningful because, as more and more women take leadership roles in public life, it reflects the mood of a maturing nation.

Mostyn has had a formidable career in executive positions, working across business, sport, climate change, the arts, policy and not-for-profits. She chaired the government’s Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, and was the first woman AFL Commissioner, where she not only spearheaded the creation of a women’s league but when an AFL official deeply offended an Aboriginal elder and the “Dreamtime at the G” game looked to be drifting towards the rocks, she saved the day, so well that no one saw her do it.

She is chair of Beyond Blue and former chair of the Climate Council. “Her leadership reflects our enduring Australian values of equality, fairness and responsibility to build a better future for the next generation,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

While much of Mostyn’s early career flowed from serving under powerful figures revered among the Australian left, including the highly respected judge Michael Kirby and Paul Keating during his prime ministership (representing him on the organising committee for the Sydney Olympics), her response to Albanese’s announcement she would succeed David Hurley on July 1 deftly touched on experiences that have shaped most Australians’ attitudes to queen, king and country.

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She spoke of growing up in an army family, whose father, a Duntroon-trained colonel, had served in Vietnam; she clearly and fondly recalled annually attending Anzac Day dawn services and Anzac Day marches and waiting in the crowds with her sisters outside Government House in Dunrossil Drive, Yarralumla, waiting to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

For six decades after federation, apart from an occasional local, most governors-general were British-born. But since the 1960s, appointees have been a ceaseless procession of blokes chiefly from the ranks of generals and judges, with the occasional retired politician or a churchman until 2008. That year Labor recommended a woman as a change of pace, before the Coalition returned to the retired generals.

While vice-regal appointments go to the heart of government, they have occasionally been symbolic recognition of changes that have occurred in Australian society, as evidenced by the choice of the first Australian-born governor-general Isaac Isaacs in 1931 and Bryce in 2008.

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