But the city became the setting for her life. Here, Quester has married, raised two children (both adopted – “I had worked in a place where nobody wanted the children that were born. It seemed obvious that … should be the first port of call,” she says), divorced, welcomed a greyhound to her home, and found a new life partner.
Her beachfront house is filled with comfortable couches, soaring canvasses painted by Indigenous artists and diminutive, organically-shaped ceramics. Every Saturday morning without fail she heads to the Central Market, a place she says, in its diversity, quality, and leisurely atmosphere, is a litmus test for Adelaide. “Whenever I have tried to attract talent to the University of Adelaide, I would always make sure… they could go to the Central Market on Saturday. And if they got what it was about, they always took the job.”
Adelaide has become her home, but now she is preparing to leave. At the University of Adelaide she has climbed the ladder and, sitting just below the top job, appears to have reached a ceiling. In August, Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne will welcome her to the role of vice chancellor. There, she will be the boss.
At Swinburne, Quester hopes to lead a university that is technology-focussed and niche. “There is the possibility of inventing the prototype of a future-facing university at Swinburne,” she says. “There are ten universities in Victoria and 40 in Australia. It is the innovative and the creative ones that will survive.”
Quester began searching for this job more than a year ago, but her exit from Adelaide is timely. Her former employer has fallen into crisis with University of Adelaide vice chancellor Peter Rathjen the subject of an extraordinary investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption. Even though Quester is on her way to lead Swinburne – a university that, like all in Australia, faces a multi-million dollar shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic – it is a good time to go.
“I got the job on February 23… and the world changed dramatically within the month. I was confronted with a $75 million deficit,” she says.
“One of the things we will do in relation to COVID-19… I am going to pare down everything that doesn’t speak to technology or science. Because, do we need to be the 10th university that teaches Chinese or Italian? No… we are the Swinburne university of technology, we are going to be working with industry and students on creating the technology of the future.”
But for Adelaide, this is a loss of a pragmatic, intelligent, and forward-thinking leader that will be felt keenly – by the students she involved in co-creation of projects like The Hub; by the colleagues who enjoyed her forthright contributions to a conservative institution; and by the early beach goers at Grange who have become accustomed to her running past as the light breaks on the horizon.