The joy of giving: Laurie Cowled
From humble beginnings on a country New South Wales sheep property during the Depression era, Laurie Cowled embarked on an extraordinary adventure, making a lasting difference along the way. In those days, there were few opportunities in rural areas and education for girls was often considered unnecessary. While dreams of becoming an actor, ballerina or an artist went unfulfilled for Ms Cowled, she found success in the male-dominated banking industry. Her biography, ‘A Joyous Addiction’, written by Michael Taylor, tells the story of how, through the generosity of one woman, many others can be empowered by the benefits of education and training that may not otherwise have been available to them.
Ms Cowled said she started making significant donations to institutions such as universities, the Australian Ballet School and NIDA in 2005 after her husband died. “We’d always said the last one would leave money to charity and I was the last one. My passion was education and I wanted to do things for country girls,” she said.
Since 2011, Ms Cowled has funded prizes and study support bursaries at USC as well as her annual scholarship. She recently established a six-figure endowment to extend her annual USC scholarship that encourages regional and rural women to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Ms Cowled is also donating the proceeds of her biography to the USC Laurie Cowled Regional Scholarship Fund.
“I turned 91 the other day and this makes me feel astonishingly young and vibrant,” said Ms Cowled, who grew up on a farm outside Bethungra in New South Wales and first moved to the Sunshine Coast with her husband in 1984. “I get such a kick out of meeting and supporting these wonderful young women. They’re so enthusiastic and skilled in areas once thought to be male provinces. They make me feel that Australia has a great future,” she said.
Ms Cowled said she enjoyed staying in contact with students as they pursued their dreams. One was Sally Watson, who graduated with her USC Bachelor of Paramedic Science in 2018 and went straight into a coveted job with the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS). The 24-year-old now lives and works in Bundaberg.
“We like to keep in contact, send each other emails and postcards,” said Ms Watson, who grew up at Charters Towers and enrolled at USC Sunshine Coast, receiving the Laurie Cowled Regional Scholarship.
“It was daunting at first, moving from a smaller area and leaving behind family,” she said. “But when I received the scholarship, I could focus on studying without stressing financially.
“It was easier to purchase things like textbooks and a stethoscope, as well as cover some costs when I completed three on-road practicums in Townsville, Caboolture and Vanuatu," she said. Ms Watson is now a qualified advanced care paramedic with QAS Bundaberg.
In reflecting on her astonishing life and future ambitions Ms Cowled said, “I am setting up this endowment fund so the scholarship can go on forever. I hope other people see the terrific pleasure you can get out of giving even a small amount, particularly if you’re interested in educating the next generation.”