The first part of the MS 6736 collection comprises files, correspondence, speeches and articles relating to Zelman Cowen's work at the Universities of Melbourne, New England and Queensland. Congratulatory messages on the award of his knighthood in 1976 are included. The second and larger part relates to his term as Governor-General and includes congratulatory messages, personal correspondence, miscellaneous files, visitors books, daily programs, orders, speeches and drafts of speeches. There are also correspondence, engagements and addresses of Lady Cowen (253 boxes, 4 cartons, 2 fol. boxes, 1 phase box).
The Acc06.052 instalment comprises two binders labelled "Personal papers - Anna Cowen" containing a typescript of Lady Cowen's diary, 1977-1982, together with two binders labelled "Speeches by H.E. Lady Cowen, 1977-1982, Government House, Canberra" containing typescripts of Lady Cowen's speeches during this period, when Sir Zelman Cowen was Governor-General of Australia (2 cartons).
The Acc12.026 instalment comprises papers relates mainly to the latter part of Sir Zelman’s life and career. Included is correspondence, a large group (30 boxes) of engagement files (1990-2006); speeches, including a large group made while Governor-General; transcriptions of oral histories recorded by Sir Zelman; writings by Sir Zelman including articles and drafts of his memoir which had the working title "Beyond the Scope of Any dream’; appointment diaries (1982-1989); papers relating to Sir Zelman’s appointment as Provost of Oriel College, Oxford (1982-1990); a small group of papers relating to his early years including his time at school and university; and photographs. There are paper relating to several organisations with which Sir Zelman was involved including The Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation; Everald Compton International; Fairfax Newspapers; Order of Australia Association; Australian National Academy of Music; Migraine Foundation of Australia; Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society; and St Kilda Football Club. During his retirement, Sir Zelman was also active in Jewish community affairs in Melbourne. There is a small group of papers of Lady Cowen comprising speeches (1991-2006); diaries, including those kept while at Government House (1977-1982;) and files of daily programs including some relating to functions at Government House (1977-1982). There is a large group of Honorary Degrees, certificates, plaques and awards presented to Sir Zelman during the course of his career (159 boxes, 1 archives box, 27 folio items).
Constitutional lawyer, academic and Governor-General. Zelman Cowen was Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne from 1951-1966, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England, 1967-1969, and University of Queensland, 1970-1977. From 1977 to 1982 he served as Governor-General of Australia. He was Provost of Oriel College, Oxford University, 1982-1990. Following his return to Australia, Cowen served as chairman of the board of Fairfax newspapers and became patron of St Kilda Football Club.