The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer of Australia, Lady Anna Cowen AM, wife of Sir Zelman Cowen, and Karen Mahlab AM, Chair of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre.

To celebrate the life of one of Australia’s most significant leaders – and the namesake of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre – Victoria University brought together a diverse group of people in August to explore topics from the changing nature of law to the future of education.

Among those who gathered to remember Sir Zelman Cowen – and consider his lasting impact on the nation – were past and present Governors, prominent lawyers (many mentored by Sir Zelman), Australian Vice Chancellors and academics, the Treasurer of Australia, and several generations of the Cowen family.

The common theme was the stories they shared about the great statesman, and the excitement to see his work continue through organisations such as the Cowen Centre.

Exhibition explores impact on a nation

To highlight Sir Zelman’s living legacy, the Cowen Centre curated a touring exhibition on Sir Zelman’s life and achievements. The exhibition included artefacts, personal memorabilia and an interactive timeline of Sir Zelman’s life, as well as a series of time-capsule interviews with prominent Australians who knew Sir Zelman. The interviews also form the basis of the new short documentary produced by the Cowen Centre, Sir Zelman Cowen: A life of opportunity and success

The exhibition first toured Victoria University’s campuses before it was officially launched by the Governor, the Hon Linda Dessau AC, at the Jewish Museum on 13 August 2019.

Opening the exhibition the Governor said, “as this Exhibition shows very well, not only did Sir Zelman promise ‘a touch of healing’ - much needed after the trying Constitutional issues and their aftermath in 1975 - but he and Lady Cowen together delivered ‘in spades’”. The exhibition remains on display at the Law Library of Victoria at the Supreme Court until 31 October 2019.

Oration: legacy lives on in Australian leaders

The Treasurer of Australia, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, who was mentored by Sir Zelman Cowen, delivered the 2019 Sir Zelman Cowen Oration. In his speech he explored the age of disruption that Australia is living through and his personal connection with Sir Zelman and his family.

Sir Zelman’s grandson, who continues his work in the law as a doctoral student at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, said “the Oration showed the legacy of my grandfather living on through people who he thought could make a great difference to the country”.

Leaders explore future of education in Australia

Vice Chancellors from Australian universities closely associated with Sir Zelman participated in a unique symposium during the centenary celebrations. Formally opened by the Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, the Role of Universities in the 2020s Symposium explored how the tertiary sector is responding to changing labour market needs and a diverse student population.

Finding the common denominators

Combining Sir Zelman Cowen’s interest in cultural diversity and his interest in the law, the Cowen Centre hosted a series of events with Rabbi Professor Daniel Sinclair, Adjunct Professor at the Cowen Centre, Professor for Law at Fordham University in New York and internationally recognised expert in biomedical ethics.

The events included discussions at the Jewish Museum on the interaction between law and religion at major life milestones; birth and death. He also participated in a panel discussion on how the Beth Din Jewish legal system can better work and integrate with the Australian legal system.

Each of the Centenary events provided a unique insight into Sir Zelman's life as an educator, lawyer, public servant and orator and highlighted how his legacy continues to live on.

Contact us

Greta Williams
Legal Projects Officer
Sir Zelman Cowen Centre
Phone: 
+61 3 9919 9134