Dookie Campus Historical Collection

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    Dookie Farm Diaries 1879
    The farm diaries kept by the manager of the experimental farm, John Lowe Thompson (1847 – 1900), are historically significant as they capture the detail of the early days of the farm and the College. Thompson arrived in Australia from Scotland on a cattle ship in 1870, at a time when the importance of agricultural education and research was becoming an increasing priority at government level. Settling in rural Victoria, Thompson quickly became known as an authority on fodder conservation and for his general farming skills and knowledge of livestock and animal husbandry. As a result, he was appointed as farm manager of the new Cashel (Dookie) Experimental Farm by the Department of Agriculture in 1878, and formally took up his position in 1879. A year later fifteen students were enrolled in the first farm school in Australia and in 1886 the Dookie Agricultural College was officially born. Thompson’s diaries record the very first days of the experimental farm in 1879 (B010), with the first entry describing the failure of the Minister of Agriculture to get off the train for his first visit, epitomising the official attitudes and hurdles Thompson would have to overcome to get Dookie off the ground. Thompson’s thoughts, livestock and crop reports, weather observations, relations with staff and students, and the progress of Dookie were recorded daily in dairies. Early entries from 1879 describe the difficulties Thompson experienced in establishing the farm, such as incompetent staff, calves being lost to ‘pleuro’, ewes dying from bowel inflammation and attempts to open up a spring on Mt Major due to water shortages. These were tough times, and as such Thompson’s records of these times are significant. He played an important role in the foundation of the experimental farm and one of Australia’s first agricultural colleges and his diaries represent a tangible link to the history of the College and epitomise the richness of the Collection. Thompson’s farm diaries from 1879, 1880, 86, 87, 89 and 90, are of historical significance due to their provenance and personal association, but also for their ability to provide a window into the past. Although we are missing diaries from 1881 – 1885, this is significant as it is during this time Thompson resigned. Dookie had been turned into an ‘Industrial School’, or training farm for boys, and fell on some of its darkest days. Nevertheless, the dairies that remain outline the importance of Thompson’s relationship with Dookie and his contributions to agricultural education and development in Australia. They also possess extensive interpretive potential, they provide us with a glimpse of what life was like at Dookie, they map the ordinary and the unusual events and reveal a great deal about a little-known episode in history. They contribute to our understanding of early agricultural practices and educational techniques, such as Thompson’s favoured ‘occular demonstration’ over book learning. They are also rare items in that they contain Thompson’s own handwriting and apart from 86, 87 and 90, are all in their original binding. By combining these diaries with photographs and other materials in the collection, the written word and images provide unique insights into everyday life during the first decades of Dookie, thus making them a significant primary resource. (C) Melanie Horder