To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Sir Zelman Cowen, Victoria University held a series of events throughout 2019.

Read more about the events below.

Touring Exhibition : A Life of Opportunity and Success (15 May to 31 October 2019)

The touring exhibition A Life of Opportunity and Success showcased Sir Zelman’s journey from young law student to the Australian statesmen and public intellectual we remember him as today.

The exhibition included artefacts, personal memorabilia and an interactive timeline with photographs and films.

The exhibition first toured campuses of Victoria University from May to early August, before it was officially launched on 13 August 2019 by the Governor of Victoria, Her Excellency the Honorable Linda Dessau AC, at the Jewish Museum of Australia.

Dates and venues:

  • 15 May – 14 June: Victoria University, City Queen Campus, Law Library
  • 17 June – 19 July: Victoria University, Footscray Park Campus, Library
  • 22 July – 6 August:  MetroWest Gallery, Footscray
  • 8 August – 25 August: Jewish Museum of Australia
  • 13 August: Jewish Museum of Australia – Launch by Her Excellency the Honorable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria
  • 29 August – 31 August: Victoria University, City Flinders Campus, Level 12 (part of the Sir Zelman Cowen oration & symposium)
  • 2 September – 30 September: Victoria University, City Flinders Campus
  • 1 October – 31 October: The Supreme Court Library

The touring exhibition and multimedia presentations include some objects borrowed from VU Archives such as:

  • Bonnet and gown worn by Sir Zelman Cowen at conferral of Honorary Degree and subsequent conferral ceremonies and donated by Lady Anna Cowen in 2011 after Sir Zelman’s death. 
  • Oral history recordings and edited transcripts of interviews between Sir Zelman Cowen and Dr Donald Markwell - The Sir Zelman Cowen Project, 1996.
  • Printed flyer and transcript of speech: 1994 Beanland Lecture - ‘Reflections on an Australian Republic’, Sir Zelman Cowen.
  • Invitations, brochures, publications for Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Continuing Legal Education. 

Official exhibition launch by the Governor of Victoria, Her Excellency the Honorable Linda Dessau AC, at the Jewish Museum of Australia.

"Time capsule" documentary

Beyond his own career, Sir Zelman inspired many of Australia’s leaders. This short documentary produced by the Cowen Centre,  captures memories and reflections of notable Australians connected with Sir Zelman in his various roles as teacher, scholar, university leader and public intellectual.

The documentary was screened at all events in the Centenary program. Some of the interviews also form part of the touring exhibition.

Interviews include:

Sir Zelman Cowen: A Life of Opportunity and Success

Celebrating Sir Zelman Cowen's life and contribution to Australian legal education. Produced by the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University in the centenary of his birth.

Law and the Religious Lifecycle: Twilight Lecture Series

Rabbi Professor Daniel Sinclair presented two lectures on the 15 and 22 August August 2019 on the intersection between religion and the law. Presented in association with the Jewish Museum of Australia, these talks encouraged guests to consider how law and religion influence our life choices from birth to death.

All talks took place in the Jewish Museum’s Sir Zelman Cowen Gallery while the touring exhibition was housed there.

Lecture one: The Beginning of Life: Halakhic Obligations and Reproductive Rights

Summary: Reproductive rights in liberal 21st century democracies concerning surrogacy, egg donation and posthumous fertilization reflect both the fast pace of scientific developments and changing social attitudes. The talk dealt with the possibility of combining these changes with traditional Jewish law.

Lecture two: Decisions at the End of Life: Balancing Jewish Law and Democracy

Summary: Artificial life support, patient autonomy and the wishes of the family continue to pose challenges to the traditional halakhic position on the treatment of the terminally ill. The focus of this talk was on recent developments at the interface of Jewish and Israeli law in an attempt to synthesize both systems.

Rabbi Professor Daniel Sinclair, speaking at the first JMA lecture in 2019.

Panel Discussion: The Future of Religious Arbitration Tribunals in Australia

An expert panel session on the implications of Ulman v Live Group Pty Ltd [2018] NSWCA 338 for culturally appropriate dispute resolution in Australia was presented by the Sir Zelman Cowen  Centre on 19 August 2019.

The panel was facilitated by the Hon Marcia Neave AO, former Justice of the Victorian Court of Appeal, Chair of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and member of the Cowen Centre Advisory Board.


  • The Hon Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC: Arbitrator and former Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, Member of the Federal Government’s Religious Freedom Review (2018), and President, Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW
  • Rabbi Professor Daniel Sinclair: Visiting Professor of Law, Fordham University New York and Adjunct-Professor, Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University
  • Rabbi Marcus Solomon SC: Barrister, Honorary Senior Rabbi of Dianella Shule – Mizrachi Perth and Governor, Carmel School
  • The Hon Justice Mark Weinberg AO QC: reserve judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal and former judge of the Federal Court of Australia.



An expert panel discussed the 'Future of Religious Arbitration Tribunals in Australia'.

Sir Zelman Cowen Centenary Oration: The Hon Josh Frydenberg (29 August)

On Thursday 29 August, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Federal Member for Kooyong, Treasurer of Australia and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, delivered the Sir Zelman Cowen Centenary Oration on 'The Age of Disruption'.

In this Oration, the Treasurer discussed how digital disruption is changing the nature of Australia’s society and economy, and how it is forcing governments to re-think their approaches and responses to these new winds of change.

The oration built on earlier presentations for us by Professor Richard Susskind OBE in 2016, Professor Dame Hazel Genn DBE QC (Hon) in 2017, and Beth Noveck in 2018.

Read the Treasurer's full Oration.

The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP delivered the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre's Fourth Annual Oration. 

The Role of Universities in the 2020s Symposium (30 August)

In his speeches and writing, Sir Zelman often spoke about the important role universities play in the fabric of Australia's social, cultural and political future.

In the spirit of channeling Sir Zelman and his lasting legacy, VU, SZCC and the Mitchell Institute hosted senior academics and policymakers at “The Role of Universities in the 2020s” Symposium on 30 August 2019. 

See full details of the Role of Universities in the 2020s Symposium.

The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Commonwealth Minister for Education, delivering the opening address during the Symposium.