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Former student gives UQ $1m boost

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Bill Bowness rose from a working class background and overcame a childhood stutter to become a millionaire property devleoper. He has just made a $1 million donation to University of Queensland, where he studied. Photo: University of Queensland and Darren Howe PhotographyForty-six years ago, a kid from working class Coorparoo moved to Melbourne, freshly armed with a University of Queensland commerce degree, which he used to build a property empire.
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As a bright kid from a blue collar family afflicted by his father’s ill health, Bill Bowness’ long-held dreams of going to university appeared destined to remain just that when he graduated from Brisbane State High School in the 1960s and had no choice but to enter the workforce, taking a job at a bank.

“I didn’t have the fiscal capability to go to university, so I didn’t go until I went 21,” he said.

“I went to the University of Queensland at night for two years because I did have a few brains (and) picked up a Commonwealth scholarship.”

Nearly 50 years on the millionaire founder of Wilbow Group investment company said the time had come for him to pay it forward.

He has donated $1 million to the University of Queensland, partially to finance the Bowness Family Foundation Young Achievers Scholarships, which will identify year 10 students just like he once was, who have the ability but not the financial means to go on to university study.

The scholarship will provide each approved student with $6000 annually for four years.

“The University of Queensland was a life-changing experience for me and I have no doubt there are literally stacks of kids out there who have the intellectual capability and probably the desire to go to university but simply don’t have the fiscal capability, so that was the rationale,” Mr Bowness said.

Yet, remarkably, the scholarship is perhaps not the most generous aspect of Mr Bowness’ gift.

A large part of his donation will go towards establishing Australia’s first telerehabilitation clinic, which will enable economically disadvantaged children in regional and remote Queensland to access speech therapy services via state-of-the-art telehealth technology.

“I’ve had a stutter basically since I was born, it was far worse and I was probably in my late 30s or early 40s before I started to get on top of it,” he said.

“For kids and for adolescents, it is a tough gig, it can play havoc with your social life and with trying to find a job, when you can’t say your own name.

“It probably made me a bit more introspective. You don’t buy into things that you don’t think you can handle and it is just another barrier to fulfilling your total capabilities.

“You loathe public speaking and having to answer questions in class.

“I’ve always considered myself lucky in that I wasn’t dumb and also, that I could play sport reasonably well.

“Kids can be cruel but when you are not dumb and can beat them at cricket or football it can make you a little more circumspect.

“Unfortunately, not all kids are so lucky.”

In addition to the telerehabilitation clinic, the Bowness Family Foundation will create a PhD Scholarship in Speech Pathology and Telerehabilitation.

These days the kid from blue-collar Coorparoo calls the affluent inner-city Melbourne suburb of South Yarra home.

The Victorian city has been his home for the past 46 years but Mr Bowness has never forgotten where he came from and how he got there.

The property mogul said he had been thinking of making some kind of philanthropic donation since he sold the majority of his company in 2006.

Despite the nearly five decade absence, and the fact he now decidedly identifies Melbourne as home, there was never any question as to where his generous gift would be bestowed.

“The University of Queensland was a life-changing experience, I played a lot of sport and made some great friends,” he said.

“The Commonwealth scholarship worked tremendously well for me in that they paid your fees and gave you a capital sum for books and two pounds a week, which is four dollars a week in the current language.”

He knows better than most how many promising young academic lives may be cut down by any cruel and unexpected twist of fate.

“My father was a foreman and we had a comfortable blue collar lifestyle but all of that went straight down the toilet when he suffered severe strokes when I was about seven and my mother and my sister and I had to start working,” he said.

While Mr Bowness seems happy to be able to help those suffering from the same speech affliction as him, he undoubtedly exudes exceptional pride in overcoming his fiscal disadvantage so successfully and in being able to help others in similar circumstances now fulfil their own ambitions.

“In the short term, with the scholarships we will be kept plugged into how people are doing and that’s very, very important to us,” he said.

“It’s a matter of knowing the funds are being applied and used and both the University of Queensland and the students are accountable.

“It isn’t just a matter of writing a cheque and saying thank you very much and bye-bye.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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