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Arthur’s life of learning

Retirement Living Independence Positive Ageing Stories
  • IRT Seaview resident Arthur Cowley is the University of Wollongong’s oldest graduate
  • He first studied at university in his 50s
  • Arthur’s latest degree is in creative arts
  • He has a thirst for knowledge and is now studying at TAFE
19 March 2021
IRT Seaview resident Arthur Cowley pictured with his art, including a model bird he created, which was formed over a wire frame.
“I’d never studied art so I wanted to do something different.”
Arthur Cowley
IRT Seaview resident

Arthur Cowley has embraced the concept of lifelong learning and last year completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts, at the age of 89, making him the University of Wollongong’s oldest graduate.

The IRT Seaview resident completed his degree after three years of full-time study. He laughs when he says he decided to study full-time as part-time would mean finishing at age 93. “By then I might be pushing up the daisies.”

He started the degree after receiving a community scholarship from IRT in 2017 – which provided financial assistance to an immediate family member of an IRT Group employee or customer. “I’d never studied art so I wanted to do something different,” he says.

During his degree, Arthur studied three to four days a week, plus research time. “I lived on the computer,” he says. “The internet and I are old friends.”

Arthur has a thirst for knowledge, which was inspired by his time working as a psychologist in aged care. “I realised then it’s important to keep the ‘grey matter’ going. Your body will give up so it’s important to keep the mind going. I decided then I would embrace lifelong learning.”

Arthur's mosaic artwork.

So what was it like studying at university as an older person? He found one of the challenges was getting to campus, as he caught the bus, and getting around a large campus came with its challenges too.

Learning and studying hasn’t come easy to Arthur – he’s had to work at it – but he’s certainly committed. “I just had to work hard,” he says. “I’m not a natural intellect.”

The highlight of his degree was the professionalism of the university staff. “They always went the extra mile and I have found this in all my degrees. And it was always a pleasure to be around the technicians.”

Arthur started his working life as a fitter and machinist before applying for and receiving a teachers’ college scholarship. He was a teacher for almost 30 years – moving from primary school teaching to become a manual arts teacher.

Arthur was in his early 50s when he started his first degree – a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Education and Psychology at Macquarie University. This was followed by a Masters in Psychology and a PhD in Counselling. His thesis was on the psychology of humour and he confesses that he tells a good dad joke.

During his recent studies Arthur discovered he had a passion for sculpting with marble. “It’s most satisfying to work with and you have to develop a relationship with marble. It’s a bit like a marriage – it’s always a compromise,” he laughs. He ended up majoring in sculpting with marble. “I discovered it by accident in first year as we got to work with lots of different materials,” he explains.

So Arthur’s learning journey continues. He’s started an Advanced Diploma in Visual Art at TAFE and is pursuing his new-found interest of sculpting with marble.

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