Great Scot Archive
Issues from 1998
Issues from 1998


The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Science

Scotch's new Centre for Science will be named in honour of one of Scotch’s – and Australia’s – greatest sons.



Scotch has a vision to build a leading-edge centre for the teaching and advancement of the sciences, which will set a new standard in Australian education.

At its meeting in October the School Council determined to name the facility 'The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Science'. The building’s name was announced at the preliminary phase launch of the capital campaign on Tuesday 8 October, at which the School was honoured to welcome Lady Cowen. The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Science is a bold project that will influence the lives of many, near and far.

Sir Zelman Cowen was born at St Kilda on 7 October 1919. Awarded one of three Lionel Robinson Scholarships, Cowen – aged 16 – was equal Dux of Scotch College with three others in 1935. He secured the Exhibition as best Victorian student in Hebrew and European History.

Cowen won a Government Senior Scholarship (first place) and an entrance scholarship to Ormond College. Graduating BA (1939), LLB (1941) and LLM (1942) from Melbourne University, Cowen won the Supreme Court Prize as the best Law student, and won the 1941 Victorian Rhodes Scholarship. Cowen enlisted in the RAN in 1941, survived the 1942 Darwin raids, and served as an intelligence officer in Brisbane. He was demobilised as a lieutenant.

'As I look back over the years I am grateful for the experience of those years at Scotch.' 'Scotch certainly gave me a good, stimulating and rigorous education. It was there that I got some understanding of life and some equipment to face the future.'
Sir Zelman Cowen, Old Scotch Collegians’ Association Annual Dinner, 1978.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford (1947), Cowen spent four years as a Fellow of Oriel College, working as a legal consultant to the British Occupation Army in Germany, before becoming Dean of the Law Faculty at Melbourne University (1951-66). He became and remained an Emeritus Professor of Melbourne University from 1967. Vice-chancellor of the University of New England (1966-70), Cowen became a QC (1971), and vice-chancellor of the University of Queensland (1970-77).

Cowen’s decisive yet sensitive handling of university unrest and protests was a key factor in his appointment by Malcolm Fraser as Australia’s 19th governor-general in 1977. In the aftermath of the withdrawal of Gough Whitlam’s commission by Cowen’s predecessor, a man was needed who could heal the nation: Cowen was that man. Cowen brought to the office a quiet and humble dignity which restored public trust in the office and earned him public admiration. In 1982 he declined a further term in office to become provost of Oriel College (1982-90), during which he was chairman of the British Press Council (1983-88) and pro vice-chancellor of Oxford (1988-90). Knighted (1976), Cowen was created KStJ (1977), GCMG (1977), AK (1977), GCVO (1980), PC (1981).

Despite his high offices, Cowen was a man with a common touch, and a diversity of interests which ranged from being a patron of his beloved St Kilda Football Club, to being – from 1982 – a member of the board of governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (and Tel Aviv from 1984).

Cowen died at Toorak on 8 December 2011. He is survived by his widow, Lady Cowen, and their four children.

He was one of Scotch’s – and Australia’s – greatest sons. In 2013 he was included in the Old Scotch Collegians’ Association’s 100 Men of Influence, Men of Weight. Scotch College is proud to be able to honour his name and believes that it will inspire generations of future Scotch boys.


Sir Zelman Cowen ('35) AK GSMG GCVO PC

Updated: 12 January 2014