Stella Cornelius – Australia

Linked with our presentations of The Sydney Peace Foundation, of the Conflict Resolution Network, and of the Australian Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “How many are needed to make a world of peace, justice, and human rights? Just one more, you! Strength comes from kindness and concern for future generations, not from waging war and military might.”

Stella Cornelius (left) – Australia.

On 4 September 2000 former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, presented Dr Stella Cornelius, founder of the Conflict Resolution Network, and Faith Bandler, campaigner for indigenous rights in Australia, with certificates for their dedication and achievements in conflict resolution and education. The Sydney Peace Foundation was proud to have such an honoured guest. (Read more on this link of the Sydney Peace Foundation).

She works for the Conflict Resolution Network (CRN); for the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA); and for the Australian Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Queensland.

Born in 1919, Australian Stella Cornelius has devoted a lifetime to peace, conflict resolution, and social justice issues. Her unique contribution to global peace has been to make access to conflict resolution training widely available. These skills are now used in workplaces, universities, schools, community organizations, and by individuals. For her lifelong community and peace work, Stella was awarded the Order of the British Empire (1979), Order of Australia (1987), and an honorary Doctor of Letters (1999). She is acknowledged as a Peace Messenger of the United Nations.

Peace has always been a passion for Stella Cornelius, who was born in 1919 in Sydney, Australia. She gained a strong sense of social responsibility from her parents and Russian grandfather. Growing up in the western Sydney suburb of Croydon, she had learnt from her mother that “there is something inside you that could always influence things for the better.” Her mother allowed her to do things if she believed they were right and she always felt part of the family’s decision-making process: this instilled a lot of confidence in young Stella. She saw her mother as a pillar of strength to the rural Murrumbidgee community where she spent her early childhood.

At 14, as the world plunged into the Great Depression of the 1930s, Stella had to quit school. It gave her the opportunity to learn her father’s trade. She acquired technical education and worked with her father in the fashion industry as a skilled pattern maker and designer. She also became devoted to the adult education movement. An only child, Stella had always felt an inner loneliness, and adolescence had been a particularly dreadful time for her. It was at this time that she realised that women were treated differently from men. Later, she became an outstanding employer of women, providing flexible work to them in her company.

Stella did war work in Sydney in World War II: “I helped in the establishment of a very effective factory, manufacturing hospital marquees and life-belts for the Defence Department”, she says in The Matriarchs (by Susan Mitchell). It was then that she met “a charming soldier, Max Cornelius”, her future husband. Max had escaped the atrocities of Hitler and arrived in Australia in 1938. He was a furrier and after the Second World War, together they established Cornelius Furs.

Stella’s insatiable appetite for learning took her to new fields of study – amidst looking after a young family, a business and doing community work, she studied management and accountancy.

The stories of oppression that she had heard from her husband and friends made her feel that “it was my responsibility to do something about it.” Stella always allows herself to be part of the anxiety, the sadness and the feeling of being overwhelmed by tragedy: “Letting myself get disheartened is my entry drive into being part of the human rights movement. When I see my vision is not meeting up with reality, I begin questioning myself about how things can be transformed into something better.” It was as a volunteer marriage counsellor that Stella learnt “a lot that was useful in peace programming”.
Her experience in the fashion world and her management skills also proved great assets in developing her peace work. Max supported her, but was not directly involved in her peace work. After his sudden death, she went into overdrive and dedicated herself completely to the cause of non-violent conflict resolution.

Stella had wonderful colleagues in the peace process, who were eloquent about the injustices, the tragedies, and the terribleness of war. “They were so clear that they did not want all of these things, but it was very difficult to get them to the positive side of it. They knew as I did that peace was much more than just the absence of war. What we needed to do was to build a peaceful community or what we now call the culture of peace,” Stella explains. But while there was plenty of goodwill and support for a peaceful world, there were few good skills available for achieving it. “We can not banish conflict: we must transcend conflict and change it into an opportunity for making things better than they ever were. It was with this thought in mind that I put all my focus into the devising and the teaching of conflict resolution skills.”

Stella’s vision was for a world without war or physical and verbal violence. She visualised a conflict-resolving community, one in which all conflicts would be resolved by working together globally, collaboratively, non-confrontationally, in an atmosphere of loving kindness: a community where justice prevails, inequity is eliminated, and people everywhere have access to the basics of clean air, water, enough food, shelter, education and leisure. She was always aware that she could not achieve all of this at once, so she set her goals on what she could achieve today, this week, and this month.

Stella set up the Conflict Resolution Network (CRN), thereby coining the name, and other peacebuilding initiatives in the 1970s. At the time, the most widely used Australian model for resolving conflict in international labour, business and workplace negotiations was a “win / lose” one. It was the volatile period of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, when as Stella says, “there was much suspicion about conflict resolution”, seen as a tactic used by the Communists and adversaries. Established organizations such as the Australian Red Cross did not support courses called “Peace and Conflict Studies” because such courses were perceived to be political and made them uncomfortable.

But the United Nations Association of Australia supported Stella’s vision and she initiated the Peace and Conflict Resolution Programme of the UNAA in 1973. She also started and convened the Conflict Resolution Network, Media Peace Awards, Bilateral Peace Treaties Proposal, Ministries for Peace Campaign, Work for All Who Need It Campaign (an initiative to eliminate involuntary unemployment) and Building Conflict-Resolving Government Program. As Stella says: “Initially, it was difficult to make people understand that conflict resolution was not only possible, but eminently do-able. It was the first time that conflict resolution was taken to the common man and woman on the streets. We invaded the psyche of the people, making the concept of non-violent resolution of conflict a commonplace term.”

With the founding of the Conflict Resolution Network, Stella helped Australia move from the usual “win / lose” model for mediation in conflict resolution to a “win / win” model instead. Today, there are established structures and a language for conflict resolution, accepted at all levels of society. Together with CRN’s co-director, Helena Cornelius, her colleague and daughter, Stella has succeeded in bringing conflict resolution from the select, professional and academic community to the people at large, in the language of the ordinary person, at low or no cost. The strategies of conflict resolution are now used with ease and in Stella’s own words, “Conflict resolution strategies have invaded the consciousness.” This is what makes the Conflict Resolution Network distinctive. This is Stella’s unique contribution to the process of peace worldwide.

Stella’s network reaches out to people and organisations around the world. The direct benefits are visible for the people of her own country, Australia. At the university level, CRN established the Centre for Conflict Resolution at Macquarie University, Sydney, in 1988. It has influenced tertiary education in Australia to the extent that today nearly every university in Australia has Conflict Resolution as a discipline. The technical education sector and schools in Australia now teach conflict resolution widely. Recently, in the state of New South Wales, emphasis was given to the issue of bullying in schools from Kindergarten to Year 12. In the past, such behaviour would have been dealt with through punishment or retaliation: now teachers teach other skills to approach this issue based on the strategies developed by Stella and the CRN. At the societal level, Stella’s model of conflict resolution has provided an alternative to traditional adversarial treatment of conflict and showed an alternative way to approach peace, justice and human rights. At the organisational level, these new strategies have been added into work systems benefiting the workforce. In the legal system too, there has been a growth in mediation that includes and formalises non-litigious approaches. And individuals have benefited with infinitely more control over their own lives through the educational arm of the Conflict Resolution Network.

Making peaceful conflict resolution a commonplace term and strategy has not been an easy task for Stella. Over the years, she has faced suspicion and dislike from some quarters in Australia. While acknowledging the freedom and opportunities Australia has offered her to work without barriers, Stella feels purpose and courage are still required to bring about necessary change. But the years have not diminished her insurmountable courage and never ending energy as she tirelessly continues to work for the cause of world peace. In 1985, she established the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament and remained its member until 1999. As the 1986 United Nations International Year of Peace Director for Australia, she assiduously worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) for three years in organising events and establishing programs across the country.

Stella was the recipient of a Senior Australian Achiever Award in September during 1999 United Nations International Year for Older Persons. She was the Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee on Human Rights Education until December 2003. Two of the many initiatives with which Stella is currently engaged are: the establishment of world-wide emergency response teams and the establishment of a “New Coalition of the Willing” for Iraq to address the human rights needs of the Iraqi people.

Stella Cornelius has showed the world that one woman with vision and passion can pioneer peacebuilding in her immediate and wider environment. She strongly feels the only strategy for creating a world without war is to create a world where we have international law, we address disarmament and we have a world without poverty where everyone has the basics and there is work for all who need it (the elimination of involuntary unemployment). To this end, Stella is currently working to place these conflict resolution strategies of advocacy, videos, manuals, books, posters, brochures and other publications free of charge on the Conflict Resolution Network website (, including the 500-page Twelve Skills Trainers Manual. (Read all on this page of 1000peacewomen).


The United Nations Association of Australia UNAA;

The Media Report;

Departement for Peace

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