Happy birthday, Sir Zelman

October 26, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, wished her predecessor Sir Zelman Cowen a very happy 90th birthday in Melbourne yesterday.

Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen

Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen

Sir Zelman Cowen is only the second member of Australia’s Jewish community to have acquired the position of the Crown’s representative in Australia.

600 people attended the birthday celebration in the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation following a tour of the adjacent Australian Jewish Museum by the current Governor-General. Special focus was made on the Zelman Cowen Gallery of Australian Jewish History which is about to undergo a full refurbishment.

Sir Zelman Cowen did not address the gathering but his son Shimon, now an orthodox rabbi spoke on behalf of the family.

Sir Zelman, G-G Quentin Bryce, Helen Light and John Searle

Sir Zelman, G-G Quentin Bryce, Helen Light and John Searle

In her speech, Governor-General Quentin Bryce recalled fond memories of her days at the University of Queensland where she worked with Sir Zelman who was Dean of the College of Law at the time.

President of the Jewish Community Council of  Victoria, John Searle, said: “I would be here all day if I was to recount Sir Zelman’s many achievements in his professional and public life. We all recognise and acknowledge Sir Zelman and a great Australian and a proud Jew.”

Searle quoted from Sir Zelman Cowen’s memoirs ‘A Public Life’ recounting the story of a Chinese immigrant who named their son after the former Governor-General. He added that elements of prejudice and discrimination which may still exist in Australia today cannot prevent “men and women of talent such as Sir Zelman, from attaining the position in the land.”

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