Australia Day Honour: Dr Caroline Bowen, AM

She consulted on The King’s Speech book and movie and has spent her lifetime drawing attention to the practice of speech pathology. Today Dr Caroline Bowen, 73, has been recognised for that work and appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours list.

A long-time resident of Wentworth Falls, Dr Bowen was “speechless” when she was made a life member of the Australian Speech Pathology Association by her peers in 2011 and said she was “equally proud” to be awarded the Member of the Order of Australia or AM.

“I’d like to think some of my peers had a hand in this too … but I don’t know who nominated me,” she told the Gazette.

It’s an honorary AM for her extraordinary service to the country. Born in New Zealand, she is still a citizen there, even though she moved to Australia as a toddler.

Her Australia Day gong for significant service to speech pathology and clinical linguistics as a therapist, academic, educator, author and mentor recognises work, including embracing new technologies, to bring the field to the world’s attention.

As an “early adopter” of technology Dr Bowen co-founded a popular Twitter account @WeSpeechies and has a blog and website devoted to the art. 

It was her website where Mark Logue, the grandson of Australian speech and language therapist Lionel Logue, found important research and pictures for the famous film and his own book The King’s Speech. The Oscar winning movie showed Logue help the soon-to-be sovereign, King George VI, control his stuttering after his unexpected ascension to the throne.

In her own childhood while living in a tiny town in the West Australian wheatbelt Dr Bowen was exposed to the trauma people suffered struggling to communicate.

Her parents fostered more than 14 children and two of them had serious problems speaking.

"One of those children we fostered had unintelligible speech, he was four and no-one could understand him. I didn’t know anything about speech pathology, but I got a bee in my bonnet, I wanted so much to help.

“And then later when I was 15 we had a boy the same age who had a severe stutter and that put the seal on it. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

She earned the sole Western Australian spot in a prestigious speech pathology university course in Melbourne and later made a meteoric rise in her first job at Hornsby Hospital when she ended up in charge of the unit after just nine months.

Dr Bowen said a network of professionals “and a real willingness to help with a second opinion” in the field had helped her and many others with the rarer and “knotty” communication and sound disorders.

Her great hope is that more people recognise that “communication is a human right” and “the very varied roles of speech pathologists in speech, language, voice, fluency, hearing, literacy, particular diseases like HIV and down syndrome”. 

She also stressed the need for more funding locally to help children with speech disorders, and her hope that more Indigenous Australians are financially supported to train in this field.

The grandmother has never been an advocate of celebrating on Australia Day, having seen segregation up close as a child. She will mark it again quietly with her husband Don.

“I’m proud to accept the award but it’s just a day that I’ve never partied. I was always a bit out of step with everyone else. I always thought we weren’t telling the full story of our foundation.”