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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 387

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (10:34): I would like to associate myself with the comments of the Prime Minister; the Leader of the Opposition; the members for Melbourne Ports, Kooyong and Riverina in particular; and other members who have spoken so eloquently here this morning and yesterday on the condolence motion for Sir Zelman Cowen. Like them I too am in awe of Sir Zelman and the life that he lived. As the member for Kooyong said, Sir Zelman was a true giant of a man in Australian history, with a history of achievement spanning the best part of a century.

His lists of achievements others have detailed. He was a leader in every field of endeavour to which he turned his hand. He was co-dux at Scotch College in Melbourne, a Rhodes scholar and a dux at Oxford's postgraduate law school. He was internationally renowned as a legal academic and vice-chancellor. He was chairman of Fairfax and chairman of the British Press Council. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth II. He was an avid St Kilda Football Club supporter and leader of the Australian Jewish community. He was a loving and devoted family man. He married Lady Anna, then Anna Wittner, after serving in the Second World War both in Darwin when it was bombed in 1942 and as a sublieutenant on the staff of the US General Douglas MacArthur.

Sir Zelman Cowen was born on 7 October 1919 and passed away, as we know, on 8 December 2011 at the good age of 92. His life spanned more than the best part of the 20th century. Sir Zelman Cowen bridged a gap in Australian government at a time when it most needed to be bridged. His predecessor, Sir John Kerr, had changed the political landscape forever in this country with the dismissal of the Whitlam government. A rift, I have got to acknowledge, had developed as the role of Governor-General did come under increasing scrutiny at the time. In bridging the gap Sir Zelman Cowen was credited with 'healing' the nation and in doing so he brought the role of Governor-General closer to the Australian people—so much so that the nation mourns his loss as a family mourns the loss of someone dear.

Noting Sir Zelman's Jewish background, I know that in Hebrew the word 'shiva' is literally translated as 'seven' but it is also known as an emotional and spiritual bridge that does heal the grief of family members in times of loss. 'Shiva' is seen as the bridge that helps them cross the void that is left in their life. Traditionally, given that 'shiva' means 'seven', it is a seven-day mourning period in Judaism. A week seems a little inadequate, given the magnitude of Sir Zelman's impact on our lives, our government, our people and our nation. We, as a nation, join Lady Anna and the family of Sir Zelman in mourning their loss but also celebrating a full life, fully lived.

If I may, I will end by borrowing from a well-known Jewish prayer, the El Malei Rachamim:

Fully compassionate God on high:

To Sir Zelman Cowen who has entered eternity

Grant clear and certain rest with You

In the lofty heights of the sacred and pure

Whose brightness shines like the very glow of heaven.

Source of mercy:

Forever enfold Zelman in the embrace of Your wings

Secure his soul in eternity

Adonai: He is Yours.

He will rest in peace.