Legacy makes day-to-day difference

By Alicia Patterson

From Hobart, Bendigo and Brisbane – these three JD students have come to the law from different paths, but have in common the Zelman Cowen Scholarship.

The Rt Hon Sir Zelman Cowen and Lady Cowen 

Named in honour of the Rt Hon. Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO QC (LLB 1940, LLM 1941) and his outstanding legacy to the Law School, the scholarships provide financial support to promising first year JD students. Launched last year, nine scholarships were awarded for 2012.

Alison Martyn was one of those awarded a scholarship in 2011. Originally from Hobart, she moved to Melbourne to complete a BA before taking on the JD. "I wanted to get out in the world," she said. "And, according to my mum I wanted to study law from when I was six years old."

"I remember first becoming interested in the law by researching my grandfather's story. He was a prisoner of war in WWII."

This research fuelled Alison's interest in human rights and immigration, and looking into the story of Sir Zelman – in particular his commitment to social justice and equality – similarly inspired her.

"This scholarship has made it a lot easier for me to focus on studying. My family isn't here in Melbourne, so the money takes some of the pressure off finding the money for living expenses."

2012 recipient, Megan Driscoll, expects to use the scholarship to assist her to remain in Melbourne; she moved from Bendigo to undertake a BA majoring in French and Spanish before taking on the JD.

"It was pretty exciting. I got my letter about the scholarship when I was on my way out to lunch with my great uncle and my grandfather. They were really proud," she said.

Megan originally expected to follow in her parents' medical footsteps, but an exchange trip to France changed that. "The different environment made me want to do something more international. Like being a diplomat or working for the United Nations." Since starting the JD, she has added 'barrister' to that list.

The legacy of Sir Zelman Cowen is etched particularly in the minds of Megan and fellow 2012 recipient Michael Fletcher. Sir Zelman died in December 2011, shortly before they found out they had been awarded scholarships.

For Michael, the money will offset the family's childcare costs for their 20-month-old daughter while he studies and his partner works. Originally from Brisbane, the family returned from the UK in August last year and made Melbourne home.

Michael studied at the Queensland Conservatorium, then spent 10 years as a sound engineer and producer and performing in a pop/rock band. From 2005 Michael worked at the University of Hull in Yorkshire in the Drama and Music Department which included involvement in the British Urban Collective and various other music- based outreach programs.

Studying the Constitution is a long way from playing in a band.

"It might sound strange, but the decision to study law was based on a fairly brief suggestion and my realisation that it made sense," he explained, adding that he is drawn to the intellectual challenge.

"It was really exciting to get the scholarship but there is also a strong sense of the baton being passed, that it's important not just to express gratitude but to take the ball and run with it," said Michael.

Image: The Rt Hon. Sir Zelman Cowen and Lady Cowen at a Law School scholarship event in 2011.
Source: Michael Silver

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 7, May 2012.