Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Helen Rosalie (Ros) Bower (1923–1980)

by Andrea Hull

This article was published:

Helen Rosalie (Ros) Bower (1923-1980), community arts director, was born on 28 January 1923 at Coonabarabran, New South Wales, second daughter of English-born parents Edward Lionel Stephenson, farmer, and his wife Minnie, née Tidswell. Educated at home on her family's property, Eulin, and at Ravenswood Methodist Ladies' College, Gordon, Sydney, Ros attended the University of Sydney (B.A., 1947) where she won the Henry Lawson prize for poetry. She worked concurrently as a cadet reporter on the Sun newspaper. On 28 December 1946 she married a Melbourne barrister Wallace Frederick Warne at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney; they were to be divorced in 1956.

Moving to Melbourne, she performed journalistic services for the Australian Red Cross Society and in 1948 transferred to the Argus. In 1955 she was a freelance journalist in London before returning to Melbourne to join the Woman's Day. On 1 December 1956 in the office of the government statist, Queen Street, she married Herbert Michael Bower, a medical practitioner. For much of the period 1957-68 she produced HSV-7's television panel show, 'Tell the Truth', and was also employed as a scriptwriter. Her Women in Australian Society (1970)—published under her maiden name—documented patterns of women's employment, and contributed to debate on issues such as equal pay and equality of opportunity.

In 1969 the Australian Council for the Arts appointed Bower as a consultant. She drafted papers on education and the arts, on local government involvement, and on programmes to widen access and participation in artistic activities. In the early 1970s she helped to form the community arts and regional development committee of the Australia Council. In 1978 the committee became the community arts board. The new body was given the same policy and financial autonomy as the council's six other boards, and in May Bower became first director of the community arts board. Travelling each week to Sydney, she was responsible for providing support to arts centres, workshops and festivals, to specialist organizations, and to people in disadvantaged and remote regions. In September-October 1979 she visited Britain, France and Sweden to study approaches to community arts in those countries.

Bower was an attractive woman whose vitality and energy enhanced her presence. She was highly articulate, forthright in her views and incisive in her assessments. Her greatest attributes were her vision and her knowledge of how to convert ideas into tangible results. With a passionate faith in cultural democracy, she championed artists and others to help Australians to explore new ways of seeing themselves through the arts. She enjoyed a warm and intellectually rich private life. Ill health occasioned her retirement in December 1979. A volume of her poetry, Flower and Thorn, was published in 1980. Bower died of cancer on 19 May 1980 at South Yarra and was cremated; her husband and two sons—one from each of her marriages—survived her. The Australia Council's Ros Bower memorial award commemorates her.

Select Bibliography

  • Community Arts Board, Australia Council, Caper (Sydney), 10 May 1981
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1964
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1978
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 June 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrea Hull, 'Bower, Helen Rosalie (Ros) (1923–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Warne, Helen
  • Stephenson, Helen

28 January, 1923
Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia


19 May, 1980 (aged 57)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.