Cowen, Zelman

views updated


COWEN, ZELMAN (1919– ), Australian jurist and authority on constitutional law. Cowen, who was born in Melbourne, joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1941. After the war he was an adviser on constitutional problems to the British and U.S. military governments in Germany. From 1947 to 1950 he was a tutor at Oriel College, Oxford. In 1951 Cowen was appointed professor of public law at the University of Melbourne and was also dean of the faculty. In 1967 he became vice chancellor of the University of New England in New South Wales. Cowen's books on public law include Australia and the United States: Some Legal Comparisons (1954), Federal Jurisdiction in Australia (1959), and The British Commonwealth of Nations in a Changing World: Law, Politics and Prospects (1965). He also wrote a biography of Sir Isaac *Isaacs (1967) and numerous articles on constitutional problems. Cowen was president of the Adult Education Association of Australia. He was active in Jewish communal life. In 1970 he became the vice chancellor of the University of Brisbane. Cowen received a knighthood in 1976, and in November 1977 was appointed governor-general of Australia, the second Jew – Sir Isaac *Isaacs was the first – to occupy this position. Cowen took up this post at a critical time. In 1975 the previous governor-general, Sir John Kerr, had controversially dismissed the elected government of Gough Whitlam, although it continued to enjoy a majority in the Australian House of Representatives. The post of governor-general was thus under the spotlight. There is wide agreement that Cowen, who served as governor-general until 1982, did much to restore the post. Cowen subsequently lived in England for some years, where he was provost of Oriel College, Oxford from 1982 to 1990, and chairman of the British Press Council, before returning to Melbourne. He has received no fewer than 20 honorary degrees from universities around the world.

add. bibliography:

W.D. Rubinstein, Australia ii, 298–99.

[Isidor Solomon /

William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]