The University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus is Victoria’s oldest and Australia’s second oldest agricultural college.
Dookie's association with the University of Melbourne began in 1910 when Bachelor of Agricultural Science students spent a year at Dookie as part of their degree studies.
The campus is part of the lands of the the Yorta Yorta but also to the near south the Tuangwurrung of the Kulin peoples. In 1836 Major Sir Thomas Mitchell was the first recorded non-Aboriginal to travel through the Dookie district and the huge Benalla Pastoral Run was registered in 1842 as a result of his glowing reports. The squatters' runs were broken up after the Land Acts of the 1860s, and the Dookie district was surveyed in the early 1870s. Dookie campus was one of four sites reserved in the Benalla district in 1875 for the purpose of an agricultural college and experimental farm. Dookie was chosen as the best site because it was sufficiently extensive for a college, contained the greatest variety of soil types and aspect with both hill and plain acreages, and climatically was representative of the whole of the northern farming districts of Victoria.
Clearing and fencing began in 1877 for what was known as the Cashel Experimental Farm. The first Farm Manager was British agricultural college graduate John Low Thompson, an imposing Scotsman with a distinguished agricultural career both at Home and in the Colony. He brought his new wife to a bark hut in the remote scrub where, with the assistance of contractors and the first two students, he carved out the Experimental Farm. Within a year he had established the nucleus of the farm's flocks and herds, as well as personally setting out experimental plots to a wide variety of cereals, grasses, vegetables, tares, pulses, flax and hemp. The following year these were joined by wheat varieties from the great Paris International Exhibition, and plantings of olives and fruit trees (plums, peaches, apples, pears, almonds, oranges, figs, pomegranates) as well as table grapes and wine grapes (Hermitage, Tokay, Madeira, Riesling, Verdelho, Pedro Ximinez and Cabernet varieties). Student learning was by 'ocular demonstration' (i.e. by seeing) gained whilst working on the farm five days a week. The original size of the farm was 1938 hectares and it has since been altered by various purchases and extensions to the present 2440 hectares.
Teaching at Dookie
Dookie Agricultural College commenced operation on 4th October 1886, and was managed by the Council of Agricultural Education following the implementation of the Agricultural Education Act 1884. The first course offered was of two years duration, and students need to be male, at least 14 years old, and have satisfactorily completed State School education. In 1911 the three-year Diploma of Agriculture was introduced, and in 1923 the entry requirements were lifted to a minimum age of 15 and passes required in specified Intermediate Certificate subjects. During this period Hugh Pye was a particularly distinguished Principal. Pye was initially science master and then Principal at Dookie Agricultural College for 22 years from 1895. While Principal, Hugh Pye gained worldwide recognition for his pioneering work in wheat-breeding and established Dookie as a research centre of national importance. Pye was also a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society of England, having been nominated by his friend and colleague, Baron von Mueller.
In 1945 control of the Victorian Agricultural Colleges moved to the newly created Division of Agricultural Education within the Department of Agriculture. From 1910 to 1922 and 1943 to 1963 the University of Melbourne sent its Bachelor of Agricultural Science students to Dookie for the second year of their degree. During this year the students gained practical farm experience and were involved in teaching the Dookie students academic and applied subjects.
Dookie was a centre of rural training for returned servicemen following both world wars. From 1918 to 1921 full-time courses were run to equip participants with farming skills for the Soldier Settlement Scheme, as well as short-courses to extend existing knowledge. In 1946 the Commonwealth Government established the Rural Training Centre for ex-servicemen at Dookie. The centre offered both the two-year Diploma and eight-week short courses until 1950 when its resources were taken over by the Victorian Government.
In 1966 the three year Diploma of Agricultural Science replaced the Diploma of Agriculture, and the entry requirements were lifted again, this time to 16 years of age and passes in five Leaving Certificate subjects and for the first time women were allowed in the course. In 1973 five female students commenced the Diploma, however the first female student at Dookie enrolled in 1947 and graduated in 1949. Now the gender balance in all courses at Dookie is approximately 50/50 male/female. In 1976 the Diploma of Applied Science (Agriculture) was introduced, and was joined in 1980 by the Diploma of Applied Science (Food Production Horticulture) and the Certificate in Farming.
Dookie Farm and Viticulture
The township of Dookie was established when the railway line was extended from Shepparton in 1879 and soon vineyards were developed on the rich red soils of Mount Major. The vineyards had disappeared by 1910 due to the vine pest Phylloxera and depression, and since then cereal crops have dominated the Dookie landscape. Viticulture is now making a comeback and the Dookie Hills wine region is gaining an international reputation. Dookie Campus played an important role during each period: pioneering wine grape varieties in the district since the 1870s, and contributing to vineyard and wine making techniques and research. The Winery, built in 1896, is still used in teaching and research.
Since its inception, the campus has been the site of research and experimental trials by students, academics, and industry.