31 January 2023

Long-time supporters recognised in Australia Day Honours

The outstanding dedication of Bob and Gayle Cowan to their local community of Mount Gambier has been recognised in this year’s Australia Day Honours. The Cowans have long been supporters of the University of South Australia; the auditorium on UniSA’s Mount Gambier campus bears their name and they were made University Fellows in 2022.

Chancellor Pauline Carr with Gayle and Bob Cowan on the occasion of their being made Fellows of the University of South Australia last year
Chancellor Pauline Carr with Gayle and Bob Cowan on the occasion of their being made Fellows of the University of South Australia last year

Robert (Bob) Cowan OAM FUniSA
Hetzel Group

Gayle Cowan OAM FUniSA
Hetzel Group

Bob and Gayle Cowan continue to champion the value of higher education through their work with the Cowan Grant Trust. The Trust was established in 1994 by Bob and his mother Marnie to perpetuate the family’s strong belief in providing equal access to education.

The opportunities the Trust provides include support for rural and regional students, students with a disability and initiatives that foster personal and career growth by incorporating international travel and adventure into their studies.

The Trust first donated to UniSA in 2005, and to date have assisted almost 300 students with grants totalling $700,000.

Coming from a humble background, Bob’s father, Bill Cowan, had to fund his own way through university and while he won a postgraduate scholarship in Arts and free passage to London University in the early 1930s, it was a difficult time financially. This first-hand experience led to his resolution to whenever possible assist disadvantaged students, a thought shared by his future wife Marnie.

Marnie and Bill, were strong believers in the benefit of education and encouraging students, including their three children, to make their own way rather than relying on gifts or a large inheritance. As such, when Marnie sold the family home after Bill’s death the money was used to establish a trust.

Bob and Gayle remain in leadership roles with the Trust and their three children are board members. Their commitment extends to improving the philanthropic sector in Australia overall with Bob lobbying governments and speaking extensively at industry functions.

The Cowan Trust provides various opportunities for students at UniSA including those who may have difficulty attending university in a traditional lecture or tutorial environment, or have their studies impacted due to poor health. Recipients include Associate Interior Designer Sarah Oliver. “Unable to drive, and reliant on public transport, meant two hour’s travelling for access to the software I needed for study. The Grant enabled me to buy what I needed to study at home,” says Sarah.

Bob and Gayle’s daughter Tiffanie was a member of the delivery crew of STS Young Endeavour, Britain’s gift to Australia to celebrate its bicentenary in 1988. Recognising this as a unique, character-building opportunity, the Cowan’s also provide the Young Endeavour Grant, a professional development opportunity aboard Australia’s national sail training ship. Jack Stuart (Master of Surveying) took part in 2016 and felt encouraged to “live life to its fullest and be proud of the things you do”

The Cowan International Placement Grant, enables students to undertake a professional experience placement overseas. Donna Douvartzidis (Bachelor of International Studies and Journalism) credits the Grant for providing an “on-the-ground, international, inter-cultural, life-changing experience”.

Both Bob and Gayle have been active in their community for many years, from joining local organisations to chairing committees and economic development boards. UniSA join the people of Mount Gambier in congratulating Bob and Gayle on this auspicious award.

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Australia Day Honours 2023

Congratulations to our UniSA alumni who received awards

Find out more