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Sir Zelman Cowen, Governor-General After Kerr, Dies, 92

Sir Zelman Cowen, 1919-2011Sir Zelman Cowen, Australia’s 19th Governor-General, appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in 1977, has died, aged 92.

Sir Zelman died last night, on the 34th anniversary of his swearing-in as Governor-General.

He held the position from 1977 until July, 1982.

Appointed to succeed Sir John Kerr, the man who dismissed the Whitlam government in 1975, Sir Zelman is credited with restoring confidence in the position of Governor-General. “Confidence in the office needed to be restored,” said Malcolm Fraser.

Fraser was the only prime minister during Sir Zelman’s time as Governor-General.


Zelman Cowen contributed to Australia as a lawyer, an academic, administrator and governor-general.

He accepted the role of governor-general at a difficult time. Confidence in the office needed to be restored.

Sir Zelman Cowen knew the task ahead of him, he knew that it would take great dedication and great commitment. And in the office he won the respect of all Australians.

Wherever he went he demonstrated a quiet dignity and seriousness.

As the Romans would have put it, he had “dignitas” and “auctoritas”.

He was a man among men.

Australians are fortunate that we had in our ranks such a person.

Sir Zelman travelled widely throughout Australia. He spoke to thousands upon thousands of Australians.

He fulfilled the role brilliantly and Australians owe him a great debt for restoring the office in public estimation.

I would very happily have seen Sir Zelman continue in office for a further term, but he had been offered a most important post at Oxford and I can understand, with his legal and academic record, that that was a great attraction to him.

He was able to leave the office of governor-general with the task of healing and of restoration well accomplished, and therefore with a sense of great satisfaction.

When he returned to Australia after Oxford, he continued in a most active role and still fulfilled many public duties.

He worked throughout his entire life until Parkinson’s disease caught up with him.

He was a great Australian.

Australia is the richer for the contribution he made to this country.

He was always supported in all his activities most wonderfully by his wife, Anna. I offer my condolences to Lady Cowen and their four children.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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