Meet South Australia's new Governor

Ms Francis Adamson sitting in her boardroom

Her Excellency the Honourable Frances Adamson AC

This month we sat down with our new Governor, Her Excellency the Honourable Frances Adamson AC. Repeatedly ranked as one of South Australia's most influential people before her appointment, Ms Adamson was a member of the Champions of Change Coalition and Australia’s most senior diplomat. A University of Adelaide economics graduate, international diplomat, political counsellor and mother of four, she has had an illustrious career and is refreshingly humble when talking about her journey to Government House.

As North Terrace’s newest resident, Her Excellency has an enviable work ethic. She has also made a series of smart choices throughout her career which have helped her be widely recognised for ground-breaking roles and taking on positions that had previously only been held by men. 

After school, Ms Adamson chose to study economics because it caught her imagination. Economics ended up taking her abroad for many years, allowing her to work in an industry that supported her as a female foreign diplomat and also, as a mother. “In the 1980s the study of economics was fundamental to the economic reform underway. So the Commonwealth public service was actively recruiting economists at the time and public service had just become an equal opportunity work environment,” she said.  

Her Excellency was actively involved in student life throughout her time at University. Passionate about rowing, in 1984 she was the first female captain of the University of Adelaide Boat Club. She credits her many hours in a four crew boat as teaching her valuable team work skills.

Frances Adamson outside Government House

Her Excellency standing outside Government House

After University, she received a telegram with a job offer to work in Foreign Affairs. From there she became a Foreign Diplomat trainee and left for a posting in Hong Kong. It was during this time she met her British diplomat husband Rod Bunten. Together they secured joint postings in Taiwan, the United Kingdom and China before returning home to Australia. During her time as a diplomat, Ms Adamson found she was treated as an equal and her gender was not a barrier to rising through the ranks.

“I’ve always found in diplomacy, you’re representing your country to another government. And those governments have always been fully respectful of me and my role. Gender typically doesn’t matter in diplomacy. Because your government has chosen you to represent them overseas and the receiving government doesn’t question that at all."

“I’ve had a wonderful career because ultimately it comes down to your ability to be an advocate for your country’s best interests and represent those interests. Those advocacy and representational skills are part of who I am now. And I’m very keen to use those skills to advance South Australia’s interests,“ Her Excellency said.

Ms Frances Adamson in her sitting

Her Excellency in the Morning Room at Government House

And how does someone become Governor of South Australia? “It’s not a role you apply for,” she smiles. “It’s a role you’re invited to take up. And if you look back through our history, Governors have often been chosen because of pressing issues at the time. Currently international relations are more important than ever.”

As she walks us through the incredible rooms of Government House, she points to the personal touches she has made to the Morning Room (a room that a Staff Member tells us the Queen enjoys having a cup of tea in when she visits). Adorned on the fireplace is a photo of Ms Adamson shaking hands with former President of the United States, Barack Obama, a reminder of the incredible experiences an international diplomacy career has afforded her. 

As we conclude the interview, it is clear why the University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj AC described Her Excellency, when she was appointed as the next Governor of South Australia, as “an exemplary leader in her field… an inspiration to us all”. And the University of Adelaide is justifiably proud of her many achievements.

Story by Kimberley Hoile
Photography by Andre Castellucci

Tagged in Governor, politics, alumni, alumni enews