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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 391


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (10:53): Following on from the very eloquent and moving words of my colleague the member for Hasluck, I rise today to also pay tribute to a remarkable Australian who led a remarkable life in his 92 years. Sir Zelman was a constituent of mine and an inspiration to so many. Thrust into public life after one of the most, if not the most, tumultuous times in Australian political history, Sir Zelman was a pillar of strength who brought a sense of stability and authority to the office of Governor-General. There would not be one person in this place who would not be intimately familiar with the events of November 1975. What is somewhat less well documented is the role that Sir Zelman played in his own quiet way in uniting and healing our nation when he was made Governor-General in the year of my birth, 1977.

He had a most distinguished career. Born to Jewish immigrant parents in 1919, Sir Zelman graduated as dux from Scotch College. He then went on to complete an arts-law degree from the University of Melbourne. At the tender age of 19, he was the youngest person ever to receive a tutorship at the University of Melbourne, where he tutored in political philosophy. After being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he deferred his overseas studies to serve in the Navy in Darwin and was stationed there during the Japanese attacks in 1942. At the completion of his service, Sir Zelman returned to study and he and his wife moved to Oxford to commence his scholarship. Sir Zelman continued his academic career as a lecturer and fellow of Oriel College. At the age of 30 he was offered the position of dean of the law school at the University of Melbourne. After his tenure at the University of Melbourne Sir Zelman went on to become vice-chancellor at the University of New England and the University of Queensland. Known for his sense of humour and kind nature, Sir Zelman was a wonderful example of human nature in its finest form. As we heard yesterday from my friend and colleague the member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, Sir Zelman's welcoming personality and generous nature made him a wonderful mentor.

Sir Zelman's commitment to his Jewish faith was paramount. It was something that he celebrated and it was this shared Jewishness that my friend Josh described as one of the foundations of their friendship.

In addition to Sir Zelman's public service, scholarly achievements and faith, at a personal level Sir Zelman shared a wonderful partnership with his wife, Lady Anna, to whom he was married for 66 years. He is survived by Lady Anna and his four children, Rabbi Dr. Shimon Cowen, Nick, Ben and his daughter, Kate. Our condolences go to them for their loss of a husband and father. Today, we pay tribute to the public service of Sir Zelman Cowen.