Cowen AK, GCMG, GCVO, Kt, PC, KStJ, GCOMRI, DCL
Born 7/10/1919 Melbourne. Patron-in-Chief VAJEX Australia until his death. Cowen was born in Melbourne in 1919 to a Jewish family named Cohen. The name was formally changed to Cowen when he was a young boy. He was educated at St Kilda Park State School, Scotch College and the University of Melbourne. He served in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War and then went as a Rhodes Scholar to New College, Oxford, where he completed a Bachelor of Civil Law degree and jointly won the Vinerian Scholarship. From 1947 to 1950 he was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and was also a consultant on legal matters to the British Military Government in Allied-occupied Germany. In 1951 Cowen returned to Australia and became Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Melbourne, a post he held until 1966 where he appointed, and worked with Francis Patrick Donovan. During these years he was frequently a visiting professor at American universities, including the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois and the University of Washington. He also advised the British Colonial Office on constitutional matters and advised the governments of Ghana and Hong Kong on legal issues. Among many other works, he published a biography of Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born and first Jewish Governor-General of Australia. Cowen was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, in 1966. The following year, he produced for ABC television the "Yes" case for the Australian referendum, 1967 (Aboriginals). From 1970 to 1977 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland in Brisbane. In 1977 Ray Crooke painted Portrait of Professor Emeritus Sir Zelman Cowen which is part of the University of Queensland collection. By this time he was regarded as one of the leading constitutional lawyers in the English-speaking world. He was Emeritus Professor of Law at Melbourne and the Tagore Professor of Law at the University of Calcutta. During his time in Queensland he handled disturbances at the university, resulting from protests against the Vietnam War, with diplomatic skill. When Sir John Kerr's turbulent period of office as Governor-General ended with his early resignation in 1977, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, offered Cowen the post. He was in some ways a perfect choice. He was a distinguished Australian with an international reputation, his knowledge of the Constitution and the law were beyond dispute, and his political views were unknown. The fact that Cowen was Jewish gave his appointment a multicultural aspect in keeping with contemporary Australian sentiment. He served four and a half years as Governor-General, from December 1977 to July 1982. From 1982 to 1990 Cowen was Provost of Oriel College, Oxford. After his retirement he returned to Australia and became active in Jewish community affairs in Melbourne. He also pursued a range of other interests, including serving for five years on the board of Fairfax Newspapers (three of them as Chairman) during a turbulent period for the company; and being patron of St Kilda Football Club. During the lead-up to the 1999 Australian republic referendum, he supported a moderate republican position. Cowen's first honour was a Knight Bachelor in 1976. When appointed Governor-General he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) and Knight of the Order of Australia (AK) in 1977, and sworn of the Privy Council in 1977. When Queen Elizabeth II visited Australia in 1980 she appointed Cowen a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO).