For the students

1 Jan 2015

UQ alumnus Bill Bowness wants tomorrow’s students to have the best opportunities.

UQ alumnus Bill Bowness grew up living with a stutter, with his family also experiencing financial difficulties. Today, he is the Chairman of the investment company Wilbow Group, and is helping to establish both a scholarship program for young achievers, and Australia’s first Telerehabilitation Clinic.

Bowness said childhood experiences influenced his decision to make a $1 million gift to UQ. 

“Even if I had wanted to go to university immediately after I finished school, and unless I was prepared to work extremely hard at part-time jobs, I probably couldn’t have, as we didn’t have the money,” he said. 

“I have learned over the years that, like me, there are many kids who had the talent but never had the family support or fiscal backing to exploit and take advantage of their natural talent. As a family, we have a philosophy. It sounds formal, but if you have taken, you should give back.”

To assist people dealing with stuttering, as well as other communication and physical disorders, half of Bowness’s gift is being used to establish the Telerehabilitation Clinic in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. The clinic will be a state-of-the-art service for clients who may be isolated or unable to access traditional services, with four consultation studios.

“Until you suffer from a stutter, you have no idea what the consequences might be, and the Telerehabilitation Clinic will provide invaluable support by assisting people with a stutter and many other types of speech and physical disorders,” said Bowness. “I am extremely proud my gift will improve the lives of so many Australians in such a practical and meaningful way.”

The remaining $500,000 has been used to establish the Bowness Family Foundation Young Achievers Scholarships, in support of the Young Achievers Program. The program supports Year 10 students’ study aspirations, and selected students are supported and mentored through the final years of secondary schooling. 

Two scholarships will be funded per year for perpetuity. Once enrolled at UQ, the students will be awarded an annual scholarship of $6000 for up to four years. 

“To give kids who might not otherwise make it the opportunity to prosper is something that is special to me. The fact they have the courage to stick their hands up and seek assistance shows determination and self-resilience.”

Bowness was born and raised in the Brisbane suburb of Coorparoo, and went to work for National Bank (now NAB) after attending Brisbane State High School. 

The bank’s management suggested he study a commerce degree at UQ at night. 

“University was a life-changing experience for me. It showed me what I had and what I could be,” he reflected. 

Professionally, he decided not to head down a traditional banking path, and opted instead to shift to the National Bank’s head office in Melbourne in the early 1970s. 

“After 18 months, I joined an investment bank that primarily arranged finance for property development,” said Bowness. 

“The more I saw and learned, the more I realised property was more appealing for me than the pure finance side. A client approached me about joining them, and years later they sold out. I had lobbied my way into a small shareholding at the time, and this provided the start-up capital that enabled me to start my own business.”

That company was Wilbow Corporation Pty Ltd, formerly one of Australia’s largest privately-owned property development companies, and now an investment company with interests in Australia and the USA. Bowness has also been active in philanthropy through the Bowness Family Foundation, with his gift to UQ just part of a commitment to support cultural pursuits and disadvantaged young people.

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