Mature age, remote study, mum of three – and now Murdoch’s first female Chancellor

Chancellor (860 × 480px)

This is my Murdoch journey: meet Gail McGowan, Murdoch University’s first female Chancellor who started out as a mature age student learning remotely, with three young children at home.

It’s the kind of story arc that would suit a movie. Growing up in a small country town. Mum to three young children. Mature age student a decade after finishing school. Learning remotely. First in the family to attend university.

This was the career launchpad for Murdoch University’s first female Chancellor, the nationally-recognised public sector and policy leader, Gail McGowan. Who is living proof that if the passion is there and opportunities are made available, you can achieve your goals regardless of your past or current circumstances.

“Even I have to stop from time to time and think ... that’s not bad for a farm girl from Darkan!” Gail said, reflecting on her career progression.

Today, Gail is Murdoch University’s eighth Chancellor, the first woman to hold this position in the University’s history, and a proud alumnus who has returned to the university where she got her start.

However, this is just one of Gail’s many accomplishments:

Current Chairperson of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, and Director of Foundation Housing; former Director General of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage for Western Australia; named Leader of the Year in State or Federal Government at the Institute of Public Administration (WA) Awards in 2021.

As a Wheatbelt-based mum of three who had finished school a decade earlier, she was fortunate to have access to Murdoch’s long-standing commitment to mature age uni pathways, and accessibility for remote learners. Even so, it wasn’t the easiest journey at times.


“My closest relationship was with the green cover sheet on my assignments, something that I waited anxiously at the post office seeking that vital feedback,” she said. “But behind those green sheets of paper were committed staff who were sensitive to the challenges of being off campus.”


In the past, distance was a huge barrier for higher education. Murdoch is proud to have challenged the accepted conventions of the time and provided a way for country students to have the career progression that wasn’t possible for their parents. In the early days, we championed remote learning and would send out cassette tapes and earth samples to students studying remotely – a very different time from the high-speed internet we have now!

"The Murdoch ethos of out of the box thinking and multi-disciplinary knowledge has really shaped my career and positioned me well to promote a whole of government mindset – something I find quite easy to do and I am sure it was the Murdoch edge that helped in that,” Gail said.

“I’m grateful for my ongoing involvement in Murdoch – an institution that has proud history of being at the leading edge of what it means to learn, work and think a bit differently, but nonetheless relevantly in a global environment.”

We believe university education and the opportunity to create your own story arc should be available to all, regardless of age, location, or educational experience. Explore our enrolment options for non-school leavers to get your journey started.

Posted on:

17 Jul 2023

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