Barrie Bardsley 1960 -1985 writes:

  1. Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?
    I joined in January 1960 and resigned in August 1985 to go to the VCAH. Major issues included:
    * emphasis on increased production gradually mutating to improved management and use of labour, land and financial resources
    * further development of a concept of extension as a two-way model – here Victoria and Western Australia led the way – ultimately led to the development of the Resource Model at a workshop at Strathfieldsaye convened by Peter Hyland
    * economic issues including the effect of joining the Common Market and decline in many commodity prices led to some problems in the role of extension staff – some Departmental programs (like Milk, Beef or What?) meant that EOs had to decide whether to peddle the approved line or work in the farmers' best interests. This became a much bigger issue later and in my mind changed the approach from educational to achieving compliance with policy
    * the emphasis on staff development, which I believe led the State Public Service. There was support for postgraduate training, and interstate and international travel opportunities
  2. What was the Department like when you joined? Who were the key people, both in the Department and in your career development?
    * the Department was a very welcoming organisation, focused on production and later better resource management
    * the Department for the most part had excellent relationships with industry and its leaders
    * at the time I joined, branches were virtual fiefdoms and there was no real effort to bring together research, extension and regulation, or to develop inter-disciplinary programs
    * the organisation was full of people with expertise in their industries, and these people were well known to producers
    * my key people included Andy Morrow and Claude Watson, John Avery as close to being a contemporary, and in particular Jack Hosking and Harry Edgoose who gave me a wonderful start in the Department and who have remained lifelong mentors and friends. There were many others to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, particularly Jock Potter and Don Williams at the University of Melbourne, and many co-workers. Over all, the leadership of David Wishart, Rod Kefford, Peter Hyland, Bill Young and Ian Norman were inspirational. I also have a high regard for Bob Luff in the field of agricultural education. I'm sure I've left some out, and will need to think about this a bit more
  3. What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?
    * see Q1 above – from an educational role to a more politically directed role
  4. What approach, ethos or philosophy did you aim to employ in your work and to foster in others?
    * I was clearly in the educational role camp. I aimed to provide farmers with the best information I could, but to make it clear that the final decisions were in their hands. This was a comfortable philosophy for a considerable time, but when supplanted by the requirement to “sell” particular programs, I became uncomfortable and eventually left
    * as Principal Extension Officer, and later Deputy Chief of Extension, I regarded staff development as a key issue in providing staff with the best background for their work
    * I believed then, and have applied this belief to subsequent employment, that teamwork is the essential ingredient to success. I include the respect for the role of ALL staff, scientists, support staff, admin staff and others as being crucial. At first I found this approach alien to some senior staff, whether scientists or administrators, but this did change over time, with strong support from the Directorate
  5. What did you see as different or unique about the Department, compared with your experiences with other organisations?
    * the emphasis on staff development led the field
    * I felt that the Department placed a higher value on relationships with its clientele, and respect for their points of view, than I detected elsewhere
    * until the time I left, the respect for the industry expertise of staff seemed clear. With the advent of the project approach and contract appointments, I felt that the opportunity to develop a role as a leader in the eyes of industry was much reduced
  6. What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced – and saw the Department as facing?
    * at the risk of being trite, funding is a perpetual problem – the provision of scientific equipment, appropriate levels of staffing and so on are always difficult or impossible to achieve. The uncertainty of funding from year to year made planning more difficult
    * dealing with economic change in industries, and with the roles of industry organisations, statutory Boards and so on, needed constant analysis at the Departmental level, and the information then needed to be provided to staff. In the days prior to even fax machines, this was difficult but it was to a large extent achieved.
    * I saw the Department facing many challenges relating to changes of government after the retirement of Gilbert Chandler. Activities became more centred on achieving Government objectives, and the rise of managerialism meant that senior staff had less understanding of, or interest in, staff and industry needs
    * my opportunities were many and deeply appreciated – they included postgraduate study at both Graduate Diploma and PhD levels supported by the Department; travel opportunities to the UK, Canada, the United States and New Zealand, as well as most other States; opportunities to take on roles in training and management as a Senior District Officer, Regional Officer, Principal Extension Officer and Deputy Chief of a Division. The things I learnt whilst taking on these jobs have proved to be transferable to roles in the VCAH and in management of a medical practice
  7. How did the political environment of the time affect your work?
    * I've probably said more than enough about this already!
  8. Who were the key industry leaders you regard as important in your era?
    * most of my contact was in dairying. Bill Pyle became a close friend before he established his leadership role in the dairy industry, and I greatly admire his work in achieving changes in the industry at some very difficult times.
  9. What major events shaped your career in the Department?
    * internally, management reviews seemed to come and go with little noticeable effect. However, regionalisation did provide opportunities to develop leadership and teams in district offices. Animal Health officers were more difficult to involve, but were often key participants in particular programs
    * increased emphasis on staff development in other States provided opportunities for travel and exchange of information – for example through Commonwealth sponsored Extension Conferences. The Menzies government's allocation of funds to extension through the Commonwealth Extension Services Grant provided a major boost, both financially and in acceptance of extension as a legitimate field
    * externally, major changes to dairying with the removal of the subsidy, and changes of government, affected the Department, and indirectly my career in that I ultimately left to go to the College system and the University.
  10. What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?
    * I believe the Department was pivotal in helping to achieve improvements in production and efficiency. Its role in research provided important inputs to industries – for example, Jack Hosking's work in pasture establishment opened up whole new areas for dairy production; Harry Edgoose was highly innovative in dairy extension and was a role model for younger staff throughout his caree;and Jack Green's work with dairy discussion groups helped to spread information across the State and inter-State. The Department's involvement in agricultural education, led by people such as Pym Cook, Tom Kneen and Bob Luff, was another key factor in agricultural development. Work at the Department's research stations was crucial in almost every industry during those years, and it's difficult to identify one industry, from cereals to dairying to tobacco, where the Department didn't play an important role. I believe that the Department helped adjustment through economically difficult times, and helped to foster an approach that would now be defined as green – a respect for the environment and the resources available to producers
    * The Department's work in agricultural education, through its (eventually) six campuses, provided not only education and training for new entrants to farming, but also for scientific support staff, and later in the highly innovative adult education provision developed at McMillan and Glenormiston in particular.
    * I find it difficult to identify failures – perhaps in later years industry lost some of its contact with Departmental staff, and some respect for its work
  11. Who were your role models, or who played an influential role, in your career?
    * see Q2 above. Apart from those mentioned, later Frank McClelland was one who played a major part in helping me to my PhD. Peter Salmon, as my supervisor, provided a constant intellectual challenge. People like Bob Jardine, Grant Mattingley and Lindsay Cozens were there for specialist support and morale building
    * if I have to name one person, I guess Dave Wishart would be it. He made a big difference to the Department – and to me personally. His abilities to delegate and encourage were second to none.
  12. Do you have a particular anecdote or experience about people or events you'd like to contribute?
    * Branch Conferences and Extension Workshops were a great source of both learning and team building. More than that, they were fun! Much of the after hours humour is unprintable, and certainly not Politically Correct, but at the time it really helped to develop a sense of teamwork.
    John Avery was famous at all such workshops. He was, and probably still is, one of the most disorganised buggers you could ever meet. The first time I worked with him in Benalla, I went to his flat and to say it was a shambles is an understatement. He gave me several jobs to do in getting ready for the workshop, and proceeded to spend a lot of his time packing and cleaning and lighting and relighting and occasionally smoking a pipe. He advocated the “pyramid and box” system of filing, which involved putting all incoming and outgoing papers in a pyramid on his desk till they fell off, then packing them into a box. Nevertheless, he had an incredible capacity to find the right bit of paper at the right time – we could be somewhere miles from his office, someone would mention a particular document, and he would delve into his briefcase amongst all the bits and pieces and amazingly come up with the goods!


Paul Baxter  1951 - 1981 (as told to Ras Lawson) :


Paul’s journey to a career with the Department of Agriculture was an unusual one. Born into a wealthy Jewish family who owned an up-market fashion shop in the Rhineland, his first job was as an apprentice furrier, owning a smart fur coat then being every woman’s dream. To escape the persecution being unleashed by Hitler, his mother was able to secure a place for him on one of the so called “Kindertransport” trains which rescued about 10,000 Jewish children from a certain and unpleasant death. While waiting in a refugee camp in England he was offered the chance to join 19 other Jewish boys to learn farming in Australia, a scheme organized by a group of prominent Australian Jewish business men. Half the boys, aged 14-16 years- were sent to work on farms in the Wangaratta district while those with no experience of farming were sent to Dookie Agric. College. Paul was in the latter group, never having been on a farm or indeed even seen a sheep or cow.

              Becoming naturalized in 1944 changed his status from Enemy Alien to dinkum Aussie and he joined the A.I.F  (11 Malaria Control Unit) and on discharge studied Agric. Science at Melbourne University. After a year with CSIRO at the Regional Pastoral Laboratory at Armidale he decided to return to Melbourne and joined the Department of Agriculture Horticultural Division then supervised by F M Read who was one of the first scientists to work on the salinity problem in the Murray basin.

              In Paul’s view the outlook and organization of the D of A at that time reflected a British Colonial Service attitude where the university educated experts lectured , and if required controlled- the lesser educated farmers. The D of A was compartmentalized into various divisions with little interaction , each division for instance had its own library.

              While there was a perception in the community that the public service was a refuge for the jobless and unambitious, its core philosophy was to provide service to the farming community, a job it did quite well. The employment of technical officers who did not have a university degree but often very good practical knowledge made the work more useful.

              Paul’s early work with the D of A included looking after long term fertilizer trials on apples, trials which went on for 8 – 12 years. These trials were on commercial orchards and therefore helped Paul  to relate to the farming community. One anecdote from that time : All fertilizer trials had a control plot with no fertilizer labeled NIL. One orchard supervisor , very knowledgeable in fruit growing but not in Latin remarked, on noticing the better colour of the unfertilized apples ‘ We need to get more of this NIL stuff to the trees.’

              Field trials were run from Melbourne so that frost protection trials at Horsham meant catching the Overland at 7 pm to light smoke pots on frosty nights as train travel was free for public servants on duty. In 1960 Paul won a prestigious Humboldt scholarship for post graduate research work at the University of Bonn on apple production methods and also spent a further 6 months studying water relationships in trees at the University of Freiburg in 1976.

              In those days the binomial statistical approach to all experimental work was paramount, nobody asked what were the long-term effects of these practices nor was there much consideration of the nutritional or health benefits of proposed changes. The use of animal fertilizers was considered old fashioned and organic farming a fad of the intellectually challenged.

              The Department of Agriculture had been founded with the aim of increasing food production in Victoria and to help Victorian farmers to improve their production. It had a prominent stand at the Royal Show and was held in high esteem by farmer and public alike.

This changed during the seventies and eighties when services had to be driven by economics and economic rationalism supplanted government paternalism. An example was the closure of the popular Garden Advisory Service which had helped to keep the D of A in the minds of country and city folk alike.

              To sum up, Paul felt happy to be working in an organization whose aim was to help farmers even when it became obvious that the farmers sometimes knew more than the “experts”. He found the fruitgrowers that he met the ‘salt of the earth”, hard working, honest and generous.

              Of the people he worked with and who influenced him during his career, the following stand out:

Colin Cole – a great leader and always a gentleman. Absolutely trustworthy.

Fergus Black – whose great strength was his practical knowledge of fruit and fruitgrowing, being the so of an orchardist. He developed trickle irrigation at the same time as the Israelis.

David Chalmers – who as a diplomate worked as a field officer with Paul before going to Melbourne University and become a specialist on tree physiology. He developed the

Tatura trellis style of fruit production used world wide for intensive fruit production



Laurie Braybrook   1945-1996  writes:



Greg Cahill 1969 - 2001 writes:



1965-68 Department of Agriculture cadet at Melbourne University

1969-71 Extension officer with DAO Branch at Maffra

1972 Post Grad. Diploma of Extension at Melbourne University

1973-75 Potato Advisory Officer, Ballarat

1975-83 Senior District Officer (then Extension Director) Colac

1983-93 Extension Director (then District Manager) Bendigo

1993-01 Manager, Regional Development Projects, Bendigo (specialising in new farm industries)

Major Issues

There were three major issues in my career.

The first was the amalgamation of all the separate Branches into regional structures which resulted in much greater teamwork and more effective programs. Instead of being dominated by HO based bureaucrats, districts and regions were able to design and carry out more locally based projects.

The second major issue was the various amalgamations the Department underwent with other Departments. Mostly they did not work as there was insufficient time and resources put into amalgamating the different groups with their different cultures. The worst example of this was in the late 1990’s when Agriculture and Conservation organisations were amalgamated. It was just starting to work in the late 1990’s when some  new Minister insisted on dividing them again as “he wanted his own Department” (I know this was after 1996 but it has been a major issue with all amalgamations, both within the Department itself and with other Departments).

The third major issue started in the 1990’s when the Department started recruiting middle and senior managers from outside Agriculture. They had little knowledge (and sometimes little interest) in agriculture. The organisation became a process driven department that cared little for positive results for their clients. (How many extensive and objective client surveys were carried out during this period? To my knowledge, there were none).

Key People

John Mullaly – the Department cadet supervisor

Malcolm Lee – my first boss and mentor

Ian Norman - another mentor in my early days

Bruce Muir - was a great help in my potato days and as a young SDO at Colac.

My Philosophy

I always had a philosophy of looking for new challenges and opportunities. I was a firm believer in having a major change in your career every 7-10 years. Fortunately, the Department was able to offer this to its staff and so I made these changes in my 37 years in the Department.   I could never understand how some people could be agronomists or Sheep and Wool officers all their careers and maintain their drive and enthusiasm.

Uniqueness of the Department

Following regionalisation of the Department in the early 70’s, the Department really developed a culture of teamwork that I never saw in other departments. It reduced the HO direct influence on the day to day activities and allowed local initiatives to be identified and developed. This all collapsed when the Department amalgamated with Energy and Minerals, Conservation and Natural Resources, etc in later years.

Major Events and Achievements

Extension Skills Training. In 1972, I undertook the postgraduate Diploma in Agricultural Extension course at Melbourne University. As part of the course, we had to do a research project. I chose to look at the training offered to cadets because, from my own experience, there was no formal training and it was done on an individual case-by-case method. I carried out a survey of recent cadets (after having to argue my case with Rod Kefford before I was given approval to go ahead with the project). The results showed a complete lack of planning and co-ordination in cadet training so I proposed a Phase1 and Phase2 Training Outline which was implemented in the Department.

A few years later, the Personnel Branch introduced formal training courses right across the whole Department and from 1992 onwards, I was the convenor of the Extension Skills Training Course committee.

New Agricultural Industries. In 1984, I was approached, as the District manager, by a consultant who had the task of rejuvenating the Carisbrook Small Farmers Field Days, to see if the Department would judge a competition to identify the State’s best hobby farmers. I said that the Department could not justify resources in running around the State, judging hobby farms, but I indicated that if the awards focused on new, innovative agricultural industries, then we could justify our involvement. At the time there was an increasing interest in these emerging industries and the Department was starting to get more and more enquiries about these new opportunities. The result was that the Carisbrook committee asked us to organise and run such a competition. So for the next 15 years, I organised and ran the Victorian Farm Entrepreneur Awards which we got our Minister to present every year (one year we had the Premier, Jeff Kennett, present the Awards).

This led me into a new phase of my career, which resulted in writing and publishing two books, through Agmedia, titled “Don’t Dream It – Do It.  Making money from new farm ideas” (1993) and “160 Alternative Farming Enterprises and Ideas" (1995).

This in turn led to the establishment of the Victorian Farm Diversification Centre in Bendigo, which was a Statewide and national information source on all the new farming enterprises. This resulted in my being awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1995 to undertake a 10 week study tour of the UK and the USA to study how new farm enterprises and ideas were identified and developed in those countries.

 Memorable Anecdotes and Experiences

Ash Wednesday Fires.  On that dreadful day, our Veterinary Officer at Colac, Michael Jeffers, came to me and said there was a fire at Deans Marsh and he was going down to check out the stock. I went with him and whilst we were there, on the outskirts of the town, the westerly change came through. We quickly decided to get out, which we did, and we drove out of town to a hill overlooking the town. The fire before this was a small blaze some 20-30 km away, heading south in a narrow front towards Lorne. The westerly change immediately fired up the whole area and we watched as the fire became a raging blaze with a 30km front which headed up towards Geelong, severely damaging Aireys Inlet and other towns and killing people (a fire tanker was destroyed near Deans Marsh killing a number of fire fighters). I will never forget the ferocity of the fire and how lucky we were to get out in time.

Avian Influenza Outbreak at Bendigo. Soon after being appointed as District Manager at Bendigo, we had the first big disease outbreak in the chicken industry and I was part of the Media team. We had never had such an event before (over 200,000 chickens had to be destroyed – if it happened today in the same place there would need to be over 2 million chickens destroyed) and we badly underestimated the resources needed to handle the situation.

Head Office Shift to Bendigo. The Minister for Agriculture at the time was Barry Rowe who, following the successful move of the NSW Department’s HO from Sydney to Orange, announced in Cabinet that he was going to do the same in Victoria.  It is said that this idea was ridiculed by all the other Ministers but it went ahead. The feedback from the people, especially rural residents was very positive, so positive in fact that Premier Kirner announced that not only was the Department of Agriculture going to move but the Government would look at shifting other Government agencies. The Coalition opposition, especially the Nationals, fully supported the move.

A consultant reported to the Minister on four possibilities – Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and the Latrobe valley. The consultant’s came recommendation was to stay in Melbourne.  The Minister is reported to have insisted that he come back with one of the alternatives. Bendigo was chosen with Ballarat getting a second prize – the Government Data Centre.

An office centre was rented and the shift began. Minister Rowe knew that for it to work, he and all the senior managers would have to lead the way which is what he directed the senior bureaucrats to do. So gradually there was a build up of HO staff in Bendigo, even though most of the HO staff was against it.

Not long afterwards Mr Rowe lost his position in Cabinet leadership and was replaced by Ian Baker. Although he indicated that he did not support the move to Bendigo, Minister Baker was bound by the decision of Cabinet. However, he personally was not going to shift from the centre of government business in Melbourne. This really took a lot of the impetus out of the shift but it continued to go ahead.

Soon afterwards, there was a State election and to most people’s surprise, Labour was defeated and the Coalition took over. Within a week, the new government changed its mind and stopped the move, leaving many HO staff “stranded” in Bendigo.

So much for political promises.


Rod Cantrill  1955 - 1993 writes:


I graduated from the School of Horticulture, Burnley Gardens in 1953 with the Certificate of Competency in Horticulture. The college at that time was part of the Agricultural Education Division.

The Principal at the time was Tom Kneen who must have seen some potential in me for he gave me employment as an assistant to the garden instructors and indoor lecturers, in particular with the very popular adult evening classes.


During the 1950s & ‘60s, the Department was expanding its activities into field extension (farmer education and field research) and appointing a number of diplomates to  Field Officer positions. In  December 1955,  I obtained  a position as Field Officer attached to the Instruction Branch of the Horticultural Division of the Department. Career progress was slow at first taking until about 1959/60  for me to become a permanent officer and a contributor to superannuation.   By about 1966  I had reached Senior Field Officer level within the professional division of the public service.   


Within the Horticultural Division, diplomates were well supported and my peers encouraged me to progress my career.  I had the opportunity to attend a number of internal extension schools and have a study tour to the NSW Dept of Agriculture Home Garden section.  This section provided gardening information to home gardeners, also to the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden and Centennial Park.   Also, the Department supported me to attend an Agriculture Extension course conducted by Dr. Bruce Crouch at Queensland University.


The Department had for many years supported country women through the Fruit Preserving Branch, of which I had a supervisory role, and the ornamental industries and home gardens. These services went way back before 1946 with publications such as “ Vegetables In The Home Garden” , “ Fruit Preserving” and garden notes in The Journal Of  Agriculture.


Much of the early part of my career was helping with staging of field days and shows and displays throughout Victoria, including the Royal Melbourne Show.  It was not unusual to work late in the preparation of the displays and on one occasion the last job was to paint the desk top and set up amplifying equipment for the pruning demonstrations to be held the next day. Unfortunately the paint was not dry and our first demonstrator was somewhat upset but then he managed to cut or perhaps prune the microphone cable much to the annoyance of Keith Klemm.  Keith cared for most of the equipment that we used at field-days, shows, etc.


My greatest interest was always in ornamental horticulture, home vegetable growing and mushroom  production. From September 1966 until about 1978,  I contributed the flower garden notes in The Journal of Agriculture. My first editor was Barry Taylor who must have a few headaches with my copy.  Rod Patterson became editor in 1967 and at first he was somewhat concerned about my writing abilities. On a number of occasions he apologised for having to rewrite my copy. I never found writing easy and Rod and others were always willing to help me. .


In 1976 (?) the Hon R. Hamer, then Premier of Victoria, coined the “Victoria -  The Garden State” concept, forming the Garden State Committee. One of the Committee’s first projects in 1977 was to create the Garden Advisory Service (GAS), which was located within the then Plant Research Institute (PRI) at Burnley Gardens. Up to that time, Burnley College, the PRI and my group at Wellington Parade (Head Office) had been fielding increasing numbers of request from home gardeners and the ornamental industries. At first the GAS was handling up to 200 to 250 calls a day. This caused chaos at the switch boards and the reception desk. Bob Price was our first OIC, followed by Andrew Guest and then myself from about 1986 (?). By the early 1990s demand for one- for-one information was reduced with the production of Agnotes and the Garden Guide and Garden Adviser books and the recording of  “Plant Line” and phone recorded messages. By 1992, the Department was changing direction, with most of the one-for-one advisory services cut and more emphasis placed on research. In late 1992, the GAS was closed and I took a voluntary departure package, finishing my career in the Department in February 1993.


From the early 1970s, I frequently did short film clips, produced by the Information Service for distribution to country TV stations , while the “Plant Line” was distributed weekly to our district centres  and local newspapers.   I took part in the studies and lectures on cut flower production at the Burnley College, and ran a number of  evening short course on vegetable growing for the home gardener. I also supervised the production of Agnotes, some from reprints of The Journal of Agriculture. These agnotes were republished as a book “Garden Guide”. which was subsequently reprinted as “Garden Advisor” by Agmedia in 1992 .


From 1970 to 1991, I gave a weekly talks on the  ABC Radio 3LO garden show. At first these were as a recorded ten minute talk then later as talk-back with other presenters.   Also, I did a   number of radio talk-backs with George Duncan from 3GL in Geelong.    


All in all, I enjoyed my career with the Department, spanning 37 years, and I have appreciated the support and encouragement given by my peers and the many friends that I have made along the way.



Bob Campbell 1967 - 1984 writes:


I commenced duty on 26 January 1967. I had graduated B.V.Sc. from the University of Queensland [courtesy a DAV bonded scholarship] in December ’66, from where I went TB testing cattle in Papua New Guinea for six weeks. The Australia-wide TB and Brucellosis eradication program was the major animal-health issue of the day. Victoria had recently eradicated Bovine Pleuro-pnumonia from Gippsland and Tasmania had embarked on an Hydatids eradication campaign.

In concert with these developments were increases in the formal liaison arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States [subsequently leading to increased interest in preparation for Exotic disease control e.g. Foot & Mouth Disease, ranging from Commonwealth Quarantine issues to contingency ‘outbreak’’ preparation]. Along with these developments, extension services from country offices of DAV were regionalized, Regional Animal Health laboratories were established at Bendigo, Benalla, Hamilton, and Bairnsdale, with a central laboratory at Attwood. The Departmental Head-Office Divisional structure was sub-divided, and the Animal Health Group [as it was then known] assumed control from the Health Department for State meat inspection services – including knackeries.

Major animal ‘disease’ issues of this time were a large Anthrax outbreak near Shepparton, a Fowl Plague [Avian Influenza] outbreak at Keysborough, and the meat-substitution enquiry. The BTB eradication program involved substantial use of private veterinary practitioners for Strain 19 vaccination.

From a Government ‘land use’ perspective, there was major interest in release of public land for Agriculture e.g. the Little Desert, resulting in the formation of the Land Conservation Council [with David Wishart playing a major role as the ‘honest broker’ in the spats between the various public land management organizations]. The Environment Protection Authority was also formed [taking many DAV staff] in this era.

The senior ranks of the Victorian Public Service were dominated by Catholics and returned service personnel, and after the relatively wet years 1945-1965, the 1967/8 drought sparked bushfires and the intense DAV aftermath role – that progressively increased through to Black Saturday 2009. There were numerous pay increases [leading to rampant inflation]. I recall I started life as a VO1 on less than $4000 p.a., purchasing our first house in Benalla for $12,000 on about $5,000 deposit @ 4% interest.

The Department Head Office changed from 3 Treasury Place to Wellington Parade toward the end of this time. Subsequently there was a change of Government to the substantially different Cain-Kirner system, where politics overtly became the main driver of our activity.

My main recollection of DAV was the ‘family’ atmosphere of the staff, and the professional approach that was taken to staff development and community governance. After 1984, when I had joined the new Department of Conservation, Forests & Lands], in my view both of these key components of public service were relegated to the back burner. Personally, whilst I was with DAV, I had staff training trips to

the US and UK and numerous in-service/in-depth training experiences emphasizing team work, competence – particularly in extension skills, and goal setting. I was also provided with the opportunity to obtain an M.B.A degree from Melbourne University [first year over two years part-time and second year full time]. Many of my colleagues were granted paid leave to acquire Masters Degrees and Ph.Ds. Nothing even close to this was possible for the substantial numbers of staff I managed during the seven years [1984-1991] I was at C F & L.

Key people from whom I received much opportunity, example, encouragement and advice were Daniel Flynn, Bryan Rushford, Frank Lovell, Bruce Kefford, David Wishart, Rodger Watson and Bill Young, together with Maurice Keppel of the Public Service Board. Joan Kirner was the most interesting Minister I worked with [and the most political in her management of the Department – CF&L].

From the outset, I was conscious that there was a ‘tension’ between the Vet and Ag graduates in the way that work was considered and conducted. The Animal Health work was never on holiday – even at key times like Christmas and Easter, we always had people on [unpaid] formal stand-by. No-one took leave without someone being delegated to pick up their emergency work. There was also in the veterinary field work a very strong relationship between the graduate vets and the diploma animal-health officers, agricultural officers and animal-health assistants that was not evident [to my mind] between the Ag. Graduates and their assisting officers.

The substantial Commonwealth money for the BTB program, and the staff, cars, operating funds and facilities that came with it, compounded the sense of ‘them and us’. It was not helped by the contempt that some senior Vet staff had for the ‘soft’ Ag jobs. Once David Wishart retired as Director General, and Dan Flynn and Bryan Rushford retired from Animal Health as the BTB program [and funds] wound down, I believe there was an active period of ‘pay-back’. I was not sorry to be head-hunted to join CF&L in 1984 and therefore escape this sense of injustice and decline that I was helpless to contain. My own staff were not nearly so generous in considering my departure, declaring me a ‘rat leaving the sinking ship’! However friendships remain firm and more numerous than those from the CF&L days.

It was always of interest to me that I only fully understood the breadth and potential of the jobs I had after I had left them. I recall my promotion from VO1 to VO2 shortly before I left Benalla to pursue a Head Office career, when I saw [for the first time] the VO2 position description. My immediate reaction was “is that what I was supposed to be doing? It would have been good to have known that four years ago”. It did mean however, I was then better able to ‘manage’ the DVOs in subsequent years. Insofar as management was concerned, I learned the art of strategy development from John Elliott,  [the infamous IXL and Carlton Football Club president] during my MBA final year. And from Joan Kirner I learned [as we converted the Landcare strategy to a reality] the use of homework, networking, charm, ego, a steely will and a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to achieve an objective. No wonder Joan was full of praise for Julia Gillard on achieving the Prime Ministership [a la JK’s Premiership after John Cain’s sudden demise]!

So the essence of success I pursued was firstly to know where you want to go, and equally importantly why you want to go there [for when the going inevitably gets tough, dedication to the ‘why’ becomes essential]. Next comes the focus and hard work, because when its all said and done, there’s a whole lot more said than done. Another thing I learned during my MBA - there are many OK ways to achieve an objective. In delegation, get agreement about the objective, the reasons for it and the feedback you require, and then let others get on with the job – their way. Next, providing the above steps are in train, be ruthless in pursuit of a timely result. However at all times provide support, understanding that new things are not easily achieved. Rarely, if and when the ‘chop’ is required, do it quickly and cleanly.

See above re the family atmosphere, the sense of purpose in achieving an objective, and the dedication to staff development. The other remarkable things were the variety of jobs within the research - regulation – extension continuum, the effective links between head office and the districts and research establishments, and the strength of communication within and between groups.

See above re the BTB program, regionalization, the development of the world-class veterinary service -  incorporating field, laboratory and meat inspection/knackery activity [all now mostly demolished]. A great opportunity for me was my participation in Bill Young’s ‘Accommodation Committee’, where twice a year, over a week, we would visit all Departmental establishments in a quarter of the State. The aim was to see what was happening, that Public Works were looking after our office requirements, to get the ‘gen’ on local feelings and knowledge, and provide news on what was on the go at Head Office.

I received amazing opportunities to do extension work, doing an ABC documentary on a mock FMD outbreak, doing radio shows with Dale Bromley [under the supervision of Colin Webb] and whilst at Benalla, lecturing to Dookie College students on Animal Health and participating in a regular Shepparton TV segment on contemporary agricultural issues.

I was also fortunate to be able to do grass tetany research at Rutherglen Research Station [regretfully never completed to M.V.Sc. stage because I was not released from duty to complete the statistical analysis].  I also produced three papers published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, and presented my findings at a national meeting of the Aust. Vet. Association.

I also undertook substantial work representing Victoria on Commonwealth/State liaison Committees, initially on Exotic disease planning, and subsequently when I became the Chief Veterinary Inspector, on Animal Health issues of a more general nature.


I was fortunate that most of the time I spent in Agriculture there was a supportive Liberal government. I recall seeking advice from Dan Flynn about how he managed the political environment. He said that, as required, he would consult with then Minister Gilbert Chandler, who would talk to Henry Bolte. The next step was Cabinet approval the following Monday! Things got tougher under Ian Smith [who, with his Ministerial assistant Elaine Stangl, loved to berate the DAV executive], but by then the BTB had approval at State and Commonwealth levels, and there was little room for anyone to move. Ian Smith was Minister when the then Liberal Government fell apart and John Cain’s Labor came to office.

What a shock most of us received when Eric Kent became Minister and we began to learn that no longer were Departmental priorities important. The guiding light was ALP agriculture policy [few knew what that was]. Budget cuts and reorganization [downsizing] were the order of the day. David Smith was in his element as the recently appointed [by Ian Smith] Director General.

That was the last time in my career [apart from the notable exception of creating Landcare] that I knew of any significant policy issue arising solely within a Department. From then on it was always a matter of prosecuting ALP policy – often developed by junior staff off site in consultation with ALP political heavyweights. From one who had known the heights, I can’t describe the numbing management effect of such a change, particularly when coupled with the covert ‘payback’ culture described previously.

The only person I remember clearly was Des Crowe of the VFF. Big M became an initiative of the Milk Board I recall. David Wishart flagged the approval on mixing margarine with butter to create ‘spread’. Crossbred bulls became legal, and the requirement for all stallions to be registered was repealed.

See above. Re 11 and 12, I have no further comment apart from the matters raised above.

Bob Campbell, June 2010



 Bob Carraill 1963 - 1987 writes:



I was actively recruited to the Department from my position as an Advisor in Animal Production at the Naracoorte office of the S.A. Department of Agriculture. My responsibilities there included beef cattle projects at Struan Research Centre and on the properties of cooperating producers. The collection and analysis of records of performance and their application in herd improvement were components of these projects.

Jeff Walker was then Beef Cattle Research Officer at the Animal Husbandry Research Centre, Werribee. He was familiar with my work and, anticipating his leaving for post-graduate study at the University of California, Jeff introduced me to beef cattle work underway and proposed in Victoria, including visiting some cooperating beef producers. He encouraged me to apply for a position funded by the new Beef Research Committee, which I did so successfully.

In making arrangements to transfer between Departments, I first met Dave Wishart and benefited from his advice and encouragement. His leadership continued to strongly influence my career.

Peter Ternes worked with me at Werribee; Gerry Vivian and John Fletcher at Glenormiston and David Hamilton was appointed to begin beef research at Rutherglen. Other than animal health services that was the extent of Departmental services specific to the beef industry.  Beef cattle research at the PRS Hamilton developed soon after.


Positions Held

From May 1963, Livestock Research Officer at the SS Cameron Research Laboratory, Werribee

1968- Principal Beef Industry Officer

1974 - Assistant Chief, Division of Animal Industry

1975 - Acting Chief, Division of Animal Industry

1976 - Chief,  Division of Animal Industries

1983 - Chief, Division of District Industry Services

1986 - Manager, Policy Development


I left the Department in June 1987 to take up the position of Policy Director with the Victorian Farmers Federation. This move reflected my continuing interest in policy development and advocacy but to do so directly on behalf of farmers with whom I had progressively lost direct contact while in the Department. It also reflected the persuasive powers of another person influential in my career namely Heather Mitchell, then VFF President.


Response to questions

By the time I was able to give my attention to preparing this contribution, I had access to contributions on the history website. Not surprisingly I share many of the observations recorded. I have allocated most words to question 9.


1. Major issues

    Against a background of continued expansion of broad acre agriculture through pasture improvement and use and increases in cultivated areas, enterprise substitution was a feature in response to changing relative enterprise returns. Examples of volatility in returns include the strong rise in beef prices for a decade before collapsing to very low levels in 1974; the collapse of the wool market in 1970 and imposition of quotas on the delivery of wheat at about the same time.  Also the dairy industry crisis of 1976 (the term crisis was given to many situations!). Issues for the Department included the nature and extent of any production and or market intervention and the delivery of relevant advice to farmers.


Natural disasters were a recurring feature.  Droughts (statewide 1967/68 and 1982/83 and frequently in East Gippsland); bushfires (western Victoria 1977 and 1983) and plagues of locusts and mice.  The Department progressively developed policy responses to these disasters in cooperation with other agencies. I personally recollect representing Victoria on the National Drought Consultative Committee 1983/87 and chairing the Inter Departmental Plague Locust Committee 1983/87 with associated responsibilities as a Commissioner of the Australian Plague Locust Commission.

A continuing issue was the impact on agriculture of declining terms of trade - the "cost/price squeeze". The Department had certain responsibilities in facilitating adjustment.  Commercial farms became fewer and larger while demands for services from non-commercial farmers became an issue.


In the animal industries, the issues included the use of objective measurement in production and marketing programs; an extension of responsibilities beyond the farm gate into transport and slaughter of animals and considerations of animal welfare relating to animals used in research and production.


Throughout the period the Department grappled with establishing an organisation that could integrate the delivery of its services effectively.


2. The Department and key people

    My earlier reference to Dave Wishart reflects his importance and his significant contribution to my own career development from first appointment to appointment as a Chief of Division.  Until seeing, as part of this history, Dave's recommendations following his 1949 study tour, I never realized he had recommended work on beef cattle performance recording, the project to which I was appointed.


Rodger Watson was very much a key person in animal production and a key person in my career development. Again, from first appointment to my succeeding him as Chief of Division.

Rodger was an animal scientist of world standing whose own work had been research in the sheep industry. He claimed no expert knowledge of either the beef industry or the function of extension but his rigorous approach to planning and reporting influenced all his colleagues. He was always encouraging in tackling issues including through the Australian Animal Production Committee (part of the Ministerial Council/Standing Committee on Agriculture structure) - see response to question 9.

Peter Hyland was also a key person in my career development because he had developed and led an industry branch (sheep) and to whom I later reported in his positions as Assistant Chief of Division and Assistant Director - General. It is not surprising many of my observations here match Peter's.


3. Departmental philosophy

    Was it DG David Smith who defined the Department as "knowledge based, client oriented"?  At first, clients were certainly seen as farmers and allied sectors of agriculture.

Though there were special features about agriculture that justified Departmental services, there was also an understanding of the underlying national needs to provide food and fibre for an expanding Australian population and to contribute to increased export income.

The economic importance of agriculture lessened over time and other needs relating to environmental and social considerations emerged.


A more overt political intervention in Departmental services and an emphasis on implementing government policy has been referred to by other contributors but was not greatly apparent to me at this time. I do recall though the difficulties faced when drawing up legislation to introduce egg quotas when the key officers involved were philosophically opposed to the approach.  I think Departmental officers contributed more substantially in earlier years to the policies taken by government to elections. Certainly I recall drafting policies for consideration by then Ministers.


4. Approach taken

    When establishing and developing the Beef Industry Branch (? about 20 positions when I left the Branch), the officers appointed went through further training and developed special individual interests and skills to quickly became 'expert' in their field. My approach was to encourage and facilitate this training and skills development while seeking to place their work in a wider industry and Departmental context.


Similarly as a Divisional Chief with wide spans of geographically dispersed responsibilities, the approach taken was to encourage, develop and support local leadership; advocate for the resources necessary and to be seen on site.

Another important component of the work was to contribute to the Department as a whole through various internal committees (e.g. Industry Research, Staff Development, Accommodation) and through representing the Department nationally (again see response to Question 9).


5. Comparisons

No comments


6. Challenges and opportunities

    Surely this time in the Department was a period of great opportunities. Increased funding from the State and through the Commonwealth Extension Services Grant, rural industry research funds and other sources enabled facilities to be expanded and staff to be recruited and trained.  Some of the challenges are recorded in the response to Question 1.


Naturally from time to time questions were asked, problems arose or policies questioned to which I was not able to respond adequately. In confronting these situations I found there was always someone in the knowledge based Department to whom I could turn for advice.

Over time a more systematic approach to policy development was put in place, often involving cooperation with other State agencies and often nationally.


7. Political environment

    Relevant observations are covered in responses to other questions.


8. Industry leaders

    Active contact with the leaders in the beef, and later other animal industries, was developed and maintained. Rather than nominate particular individuals the collective contributions of industry and local leaders to Departmental programs are acknowledged.

In particular I record contributions through more formal arrangements including:


Livestock Advisory Committee - Established by Minister Smith to facilitate resolution of livestock industry issues with industry representation from producer organisations, stock agents, saleyards operators, livestock processors and chaired independently by rural veterinarian, Bob Knight. Together with Dan Flynn I represented the Department and provided executive support to the Committee from 1975-1983


Victorian Broiler Industry Negotiation Committee - A statutory body to negotiate broiler chicken growing fees between growers and processors. Des Hore first chaired this high level Committee and I followed from 1976-1986.


Advisory Committees to Research Stations - particularly at Hamilton and Kyabram where leaders of the pastoral and dairy industries respectively, actively contributed.


9. Major events, projects and achievements


    Professional Associations - Soon after joining the Department, I took on the position of Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Society of Animal Production (encouraged to do so by Rodger Watson) and later chaired the Branch. This participation widened contacts with animal scientists in Victoria and through participation in the Society's Biennial conferences, nationally.


Rodger Watson was President of the World Association of Animal Production in 1968-73 and led the 3rd World Conference on Animal Production held in Melbourne in 1973. Some 600 animal scientists from more than 50 countries attended and the conference was a unique

opportunity to gain insights into world animal production. Many other officers of the Department were also delegates.


Similarly, I was a Committee member and President of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and subsequently Federal President of the Institute.


Active participation in professional associations has become less important but there is no doubt these roles contributed substantially to my effectiveness as an officer of the Department and to my career development. Again I acknowledge the support of senior management (Wishart, Watson, Kefford and Hyland) in encouraging my participation.


Study Tour -  A very significant event that shaped my career in the Department was a study

tour to England, USA and Canada in 1976. The sections of my tour report "change in the

animal industries" identified issues of continuing relevance to Departmental projects and


genetic improvement of livestock; marketing of livestock and meat; market information

services; intensive animal industries including animal welfare and environmental

 considerations; and the organisation of extension services

Many of the people who helped me during this study tour were scientists from those

countries who had themselves spent time working in the Department.


Post graduate study - post graduate study was actively encouraged across the Department's

functions.  In terms of the function of extension, as other contributors have noted, through

the post graduate diploma course at Melbourne University, Don Williams and Jock Potter

gave a whole new perspective  and rigor to the function. Also in completing the course

myself in 1967 I found lectures and discussions led by Alan Lloyd gave me an added

interest and understanding of agricultural policy.


Review conferences - Review conferences were important in determining developments

in industries and their implications for research and extension. Australian Beef Cattle

Review Conferences were held in Queensland in 1969 and in Victoria in 1981 when hosted

by the Department at Glenormiston Agricultural College. For our colleagues from

Queensland and other northern parts to come to Victoria to review the beef cattle

industry reflected not only changes in the industry but also the changes in the Victorian

Department and its credibility in the industry!


Review Conferences were also important in the development of the extension function.

Australian Agricultural Extension Conferences were held NSW (1962), Tasmania (1967) and

Victoria (1973).  Also, in 1970, the AIAS Victorian Branch and Farm Management

Section held a very successful Agricultural Extension Conference in Melbourne. The

Involvement of the Farm Management Section of the Institute is a reminder of the

development of the consulting profession during this period.


Examples of specific projects: I referred in response to Q2 to the encouragement of

Rodger Watson to contribute to national industry needs through the Animal Production

Committee.   As a member of APC'S Technical Sub-committee on Beef Cattle I prepared and

published a report on the potential for meat production of the national dairy herd.

Subsequently, Graham Everitt, Ruakura Research Station NZ visited and he and I spent time

in several states discussing how this potential might be exploited. Studies at Ellinbank

(Hallet) and at Hamilton (Morgan) later contributed.


 Not all now well established industry initiatives were introduced smoothly. I led reviews

of the National Carcass Classification Program in 1978 and of the National Beef Recording

Scheme in 1984.   Meat standards and the Breedplan  Program  are now part of industry.

Another project worthy of recording is the development of production systems to meet

changing market requirements, in particular for what is now known and reported as

'Jap Ox'.   Departmental beef officers cooperated with Thomas Borthwick and Sons in this

project.  Available knowledge was used to meet industry requirements and new

knowledge was developed in the course of the project.


An issue that led to the establishment of the Livestock Advisory Committee (see Q8) and

which was an ongoing issue was the rationalisation of saleyards. A part of this issue was

the proposed relocation of Newmarket Saleyards. I chaired an interdepartmental working

party which reported to the Minister in 1976. Harry White also represented the

Department. Our terms of reference were to advise on a process for relocation to land

at Derrimut which had been purchased by the government decades before. To many

sections of the livestock industry Newmarket was seen as 'the yardstick, barometer,

standard, price setter' and its closure would be a 'disaster'! The working party met its terms

of reference by setting out a process for relocation but advised against doing so. The

development of regional saleyards and of more direct methods of marketing livestock were

the factors considered. Recommendations for developing a vacated site for housing

were made. Newmarket Saleyards closed in 1987 and the site, other than some heritage

features, redeveloped for  medium density residential purposes.


10 Success and failures in Victorian agriculture- no additional comments


11. Influentials in career

To those mentioned earlier (Wishart, Watson, Hyland and Kefford) I add David Smith, Des

Hore and Michael Taylor to whom I had line responsibility at various times.  There were of

course  many others whose views and advice I sought and found helpful - I mention Harry

 Bishop, Bill Young, Lindsey Cozens and Ian Norman.


12. Particular anecdote - none but I do wish to respond to an important observation made

by Ras Lawson in his submission. Namely about providing advice and being responsible

for it. I make some reference to this in my response in Q 1. My own recollection of

departmental communications before the beef industry crash of 1974 is involving industry

marketing people to discuss market opportunities while the Department pointed out the

implications of a return to historical slaughter rates to increased beef supplies. Producers

were expected to make their own production decisions. A decision by the Japanese

government about beef imports was not foreseen.


This general issue of responsibility for advice has been raised in other submissions including

reference to Dieldren residues in livestock. I also recall the active consideration by the

Department and the agricultural science profession to the legal case of responsibility

for advice given in S.A. to establishing oestrogenic clover pastures.


Leo Coffey 1957 -1986  (1989-2000) writes:


I joined the Department of Agriculture as a Stock Inspector in October 1957 following an exam held earlier that year by the Livestock Division of the Department. I believe this one-off examination was held as the Department was having difficulty obtaining enough suitable officers through their usual sources of Diplomates from Dookie & Longerenong. The Department was apparently looking for people with experience and knowledge of livestock and the meat industry.


Six stock inspectors were appointed at about that time; about 1970 one (Frank Lovell) became Principal Animal Health Officer, and two of them became Regional Animal Health officers.


I took early retirement in 1986, but returned on several occasions from about 1980 until 2000. In each case this was at the request of Department to fill in at various districts throughout Gippsland due to staff shortages.  Sometimes this was when there was a vacancyt due to long service leave or illness, or otherwise when there were emergencies such as with Anthrax & OJD. (Ovine Johnes Disease)


My career span was 1957 to 1986; and part time from 1989 to 2000,


I joined the then Livestock Division of the Department of Agriculture in 1957, and underwent a training program in Melbourne at Head Office in Treasury Place, at Werribee and VRI, (Veterinary Research Institute) Parkville. I also spent some time training with experienced stock inspectors like Alf Heywood at Newmarket and Jack Lancaster at Sale. I also gained much valuable support from Government Veterinary Officers Dave McQueen & Noel Wellington.


The key people in the Livestock Division were Dr Bob Grayson, Chief Veterinary Inspector and Dr Dan Flynn, his deputy, the Senior Veterinary Officer.


My first district was Korumburra – Wonthaggi where I spent two years before transferring to Dandenong to replace Bob Watson who retired.  Dandenong was a very busy district with a major saleyard at Dandenong which had sales on four days of the week covering cattle, pigs & calves, poultry sheep & even horses.


As Oakleigh abattoirs was within my area I became very much involved there in the task of supervision of the slaughter of cattle condemned under the Cattle Compensation Act for diseases including TB (Tuberculosis), Malignant Tumours (MT) mainly of the eye, Johnes Disease JD, and Pleuro Pneumonia (CPP). This involved the slaughter of thousands of cattle, particularly during Victoria’s last outbreak of Pleuro in 1963: the outbreak finally finished about 9 months after starting in South Gippsland in August 1963.


When Dr Grayson retired, Dan Flynn became the Chief Veterinary Officer and Brian Rushford the SVO (Senior Veterinary Officer). These two men in particular played most important roles in changes of legislation which greatly enhanced the control and eradication of many major diseases in livestock both in Victoria and  I believe in Australia. Footrot in sheep, TB & Brucellosis in cattle were the prime examples of successful campaigns.


About 1968 the Stock Diseases Act was updated and this lead firstly to additional stock inspectors being appointed to work mainly in footrot control in Western Victoria. 


The next major change came with the commencement of the Brucellosis Eradication program in 1970.  For this the state was divided into five regions, being South East, Central, South West, North West, & North East. The former Livestock Division had already been divided into three Divisions, Veterinary Field Services, Public Health, and Laboratory Services, usually shortened to VFS, VPH & VLS.  I believe this was mainly due to financial arrangements governed by availability of State & Federal finances needed for successful conduct of the various major disease eradication programs.


Veterinary Laboratories were built at Attwood, Bairnsdale, Hamilton, Bendigo and Benalla; and as funds became available new staff were appointed : the first being a Director of the brucellosis campaign followed firstly by five Regional Animal Health officers then the support staff, the Animal Health Assistants & lay bleeders. This last group carried out the blood testing of all the breeding cattle in Victoria; as well as the testing of milk samples from all dairy farms supplying milk to milk factories. Along with these f five Regional Veterinary Officers were appointed. Due to great increase in volume of work more Veterinary and Animal Health Officers were also needed and were added as finance became available.


I believe that the ethos of the Department changed from what seemed a more district concerned attitude when I first joined to a much more important role as an imperative support for the marketing of our animal products both locally and overseas.  Combined with this was an increasing need to protect the human population from diseases carried by animals (Zoonoses), including TB, Brucellosis, Anthrax, Bird Flu, the Bat virus and others.

This I believe was shown with the BTEC program i.e. the National Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Program which ran from 1970-1997. Australia was declared free of Bovine Tuberculosis in Canberra on 5th November 1997.


The major difference between the Department and private enterprise was the dedication of staff and the long hours they worked to provide service for the department and rural services in our case mainly to livestock owners and support industries such as meat works, saleyards and dairy factories.


When I joined in 1957 many stock inspectors and dairy supervisors worked from home particularly in country areas and their wives were their unpaid and not recognized staff answering phones, passing messages etc.  There was no financial support such as overtime or bonuses as often applied in private enterprises. Even in my early days at a major centre like Dandenong there was no office, and I worked from home, maybe getting into head office in Treasury, Place Melbourne for an afternoon about every second week. Similar things applied throughout the state.


This belied very much the commonly held opinion of the public service that being that public servants were both under worked and overpaid.


The major challenges to the Department in early days was the paucity of financial support both from governments and industries which meant staff shortages hindered the ability of Department to advance necessary programs.  This changed dramatically, certainly in the Animal Health field, with the commencement of the Brucellosis eradication program in 1970.

The vaccination of heifers with strain 19 vaccine was phased out, and the identification of cattle from properties to sale yards and abattoirs was greatly improved from 1971 onwards firstly with a back tag system that was later replaced by tail tags.


Another major change in the Animal Health field was the transfer of the responsibility for local meat inspection from local councils and the Health Department to the Agriculture Department in 1973.  This required the training and appointment of additional state meat inspectors. This greatly raised the standard of meat inspection but also enhanced our ability to successfully trace diseases from cattle found to be infected at abattoirs and was of paramount importance in the case of Brucellosis and TB.


As pointed out earlier six stock inspectors were appointed in 1957, two left within two years and of the four remaining one (Frank Lovell), after some years working the Yarra Valley area and also atNewmarket saleyard was promoted to the position of Abattoirs Investigating Officer and then became the Principal Animal Health Officer about the time that regionalisation occurred. At this time two others from the original four became two of the first five Regional Animal Health Officers appointed in 1970.


The success of the eradication campaign for Bovine Brucellosis was a result of excellent team work of all the staff involved but particular reference should be made of the lay staff who were employed throughout the state to carry out the blood testing of all the breeding cattle on every farm in Victoria.


I believe it is dangerous to try and list role models as one is sure to overlook someone.

However among the many outstanding people I worked with two were Frank Lovell and Chris McCaughan,


There were many outstanding people I worked with in the Department over the years however to name them I would only risk leaving out someone who should be there.




David Elvery (Soil Conservation Authority) 1951 - 1989

I would like to contribute, especially about the vital SCA/D of Ag. linkages in committees, projects and in our extension efforts generally.

First I would like to say that I nearly joined the D of Ag. back in 1949 or 1950.  Because Geoffrey Leeper "tripped me up" in the Ag Chem. Lab. Exams, I needed a casual job whilst repeating Ag. Chem and doing a few Yr. 4 subjects.  I was interested in the newly established Irrigation Branch and approached Alan Morgan. When I asked him – "If I stayed in that branch after graduation, when would I be let loose to advise farmers" – his reply was "6-8years"!  So, after realising that the trip to and from Werribee RS would be too distant to mix this work with study, I changed my mind and took a casual job at Prof. S. Hills Geology School. So I nearly joined Ian Norman and Murray Martin, both of whom I admire greatly!

However following my final year (1951), 1 was appointed to the new and smaller Soil Conservation Authority (SCA)  in Feb 1952, subject to graduation. Then off for 2 years of "mentor training" in a range of Districts and appointment as DCO Bendigo in Feb 1954 – and a satisfying/challenging 37yr career, to retirement on 18/1/1989.

Better Farming Train  & the National Resource Development Train.

It was through an in-depth Post Grad. Historical Research study (mid 1990s) on these trains of the 1920s-30s, that I think I was added to your AgVic Reunion mailing list. I had made some info. available to Dr Lyn Peel for her AgVic history study and Bruce Muir thought that I should attend your gathering for her talk.

Pasture Improvement – N/Central Vic.

Since my SCA appointment as DCO Bendigo in Feb. 1954, I've always been interested in this important subject – so vital to soil conservation and catchment management. The attached reflective article in DPI's local News and Views explains this.

Also, I was a long-term member of Grassland Society of Vic. (w/t the Mac Troup hat!!) and with others arranged several GSV Field Days in the local region – vis Eppalock Catchment pastures – Ross Bros Mia Mia & Ted Kemp Heathcote, Doug Harrison Yarraberb, Twigg family Bears Lagoon and Don Vanrennen "Avoca Forest" Logan.

Goornong Discussion Group – community call for AgVic Regional Research/Admin. Centre for Bendigo!

As a "soil con" I was closely involved with this enthusiastic group – an excellent avenue for extension input. But it was SR&WS/AgVic promotions officer Ernest "Watershed" Jackson who had a much greater influence on this group.

Recently I have accepted the historical papers relating to this Group's efforts to establish a much needed research centre for this region – refer to attachments. It is hoped that the

Bendigo branch of the State Records Office will accept these papers as a record of an important community action.

In the end this action resulted in the establishment of AgVic's large regional office at Epsom, now a much larger DPI-DSE Centre.


Time Line Summary of  SCA/DofAg. Linkages - mainly for NICentral Region.


SCB - 1940s

Formation of SCB following severe drought(s) — DofAg reps appointed. Main emphasis on wind erosion control in the Mallee and catchment management.

SCA - 1950s

 Mainly farmer led pasture revolution — SCA support but much aided with AgVic Bruce Crouch's appointment to B/go in the late 1950s. AgVic included In many DACs. Mallee Crown Land blocks reclaimed- eg. Dalko, Tiega & Piangal West. Rex Newman's pasture research findings crucial for N/Central Vic.        Hanslow Cup competitions & field days throughout Vic.

SCA - 1960s

Eppalock Catchment Project — much AgVic/SCA co-operation. GSV regional meetings & field days. Group Conservation Areas — AgVic/SCA co-opn was essential.      DAC network expands.

SCA - 1970s

GCAs continue. GSV mtgs & field days. Puckapunyal Restoration Project unfolds — CSIRO & DofAg pasture advice essential. SCA's dryland salinity research team located at Bendigo and Centre for Land Protection Research closely follows. B/go AgVic & SCA reps work together on the LCC N/Central Vic Study Group inspections/discussions recommending the future of our Crown lands.

SCA - 1980s

Pucka project continues. 1982-83 drought — SCA & Dof Ag, a double harness act, with Harold Allen (SCA HQ) in charge of SCA drought mgt. Project Branchout — SCA & AgVic reps essential to the composite Mgt. Committee. NSCP co-ordinator D Elvery is joined by Tom Patton on the NSCP Steering Committee.

SCA – 1985

 Demise of SCA ( soon followed by DofAg!). Soil conservation interests transfer to the Catchment Protection Act — its functions handled by

CFL Regions & Land Protection Division and also Catchment Management Authority network.


Memories of SCA DofAG Linkages


Soil Conservation Board (SCB – 1940)

Community and reactive Victorian Government concern about Victoria's serious erosion and land degradation problems led to the establishment of the SCB in 1940. Appointments made were HG Strom (SR&WSC) and five other Govt. Appointments incl. HL (Les) Hore (Dof Ag) and Cr M Mulquiney of Charlton Shire. Ag. Scientist Eric Thomas (ex Dof Ag – Rutherglen RS) was an early SCB officer.

Soil Conservation Authority (SCA – 1950)

The SCA was formed under the comprehensive Soil Conservation and Land Utilisation Act (1950), with the appointment of three members – Mr GT(George) Thompson (ex SR&WSC) Chairman, EJ (Ned) Hogan (ex parliamentarian) D/Chairman, RG(Geoff) Downes (ex CSIRO Soil Scientist) Member. Other chairmen who followed were Dr RG Downes and Alex Mitchell.

In Pt3 of the Act, the Land Utilisation Advisory Council (LUAC) was constituted for the purpose of "preserving the water supply catchments of the State". Mr HA Mullett represented the Dof Ag. Other members were GT Thompson (SCA) LUAC Chairman, FG Gerraty FCV, JE Hunter Lands Dept. and LR East SR&WSC.

District Advisory Committees (DACs)

SCA Districts were soon established and DACs were an essential part of SCA's advisory, feed­back and legislative procedures. Checking on Annual Reports 1950-'85, 1 found that DofAg officers were represented on about 50% of the eleven DACs operating in 1950, to 17 DACs in 1984.

Mallee Region

This region is rather unique and Walpeup RS loomed large as a source of agricultural knowledge for farmers in this challenging area. Two SCA officers GA (Tony) Rae and JN (Jim) Rowan worked here before their appointment to SCB/SCA.

In the late 1940s to '50s Tony was posted to Ouyen by the SCB to help in the battle to control wind erosion on farms and to prevent damage to SR&WSC channels, railways and roads. He remained at Ouyen until 19 and gradually developed a wider extension role, advising farmers on soil conservation, farm planning etc. He also supervised important sand hill reclamation projects with farmers on an SCA share-farming arrangement, and they eventually freeholded these once abandoned Crown Land blocks.

The strong links with DofAg staff at Walpeup RS and through the DACs was of mutual benefit in those years. Harold Allen who followed Tony as DCO Ouyen recalls "Arthur Mann was especially supportive during his membership of the local DAC".

Ultimately SCA Districts were established at Mildura and Sea Lake/Swan Hill. Alistair Stirling, as DCO Northern Mallee at Mildura, did important work in designing water reticulation on Millewa farms, sometimes incorporating farm planning. This was done in association with SR&WSC installing the pipeline system to farms, replacing channels.

Campaspe District – N/Central Region

As DCO (1954-60) and later as Regional Soil Conservationist (1961-89) at Bendigo I was involved with a succession of project activities – Co-operative Projects, Group Conservation

Areas, Eppalock Catchment Project (300 sq mls) and the vast Puckapunyal Range Restoration Program. Throughout these activities SCA/DofAg co-operation was paramount. Bruce Crouch (from late 1950s) and later Bryan Curnow were frequently consulted and the Rex Newman/Max Fielder pasture research team and their research plots were vital for a successful extension effort. Puckapunyal was different – SCA was the prime contractor, with Peter Hutching (CSIRO Canberra) as official pasture advisor, with DofAg's Gerrard Mahony (AgVic Benalla) providing local experience to our project management committee. Hanslow Cup Soil Conservation Competitions/Field Days

Throughout the life of SCB and SCA and their staff members, these competitions were an annual event, where many SCB/SCA District and Regional officers were judges. This involved thorough farm inspections /discussions with farmer- entrants, helping us all develop a wider knowledge of farming practices and especially new innovations. The resultant field days also helped greatly in organizational and presentation skills. Often AgVic officers would be invited to speak on their specialist subjects at these days.

SCA Research Studies

I feel sure that SCA research staff ( especially at SCA's Bendigo based Centre for Land Protection Research CLPR) retained a close working relationship with their AgVic counterpart specialists.

Soil Studies Laboratory - Ian Leslie would have been in frequent contact with soil surveyors and State Chem Lab.

Land Studies Dr Geoff Downes, Frank Gibbons and his team, including Jim Rowan, Ken Rowe and Mal Lorimer et al – not sure of Dof Ag connections.

Plant Research Alex Mitchell and Shan Zallar & co. - not sure of connections.

Dryland Salinity Research  - Early interest by RG Downes and Alex Mitchell but real progress into studies of the extent and catchment mechanisms was made by the Bendigo based CLPR team led by Dr Jeff Jenkin and Phil Dyson in the 1970s-80s. I'm sure there would have been a close liaison with Phil Macumber and AgVic salinity specialists.

Cropland Research  - Bendigo based CLPR researchers John Cooke and Harm van Rees played an important role, especially with soils and plot/paddock runoff studies at Chariton.

National Soil Conservation Program

From 1984 SCA/CFL benefited greatly from Federal funding of this program. I was privileged to be appointed SCA's (later CFL's) Victorian NSCP Co-ordinator and was instrumental in arranging for AgVic to be included as a participant in this program and was delighted when Tom Patton DofAg Senior Agronomist was chosen to join the steering committee.

AgVic was associated with several “conservation cropping” projects, managed by SCA's Bryan O'Brien. One project involved purchasing specialised stubble cultivation and seeding machinery from Canada – this being demonstrated to farmers in cropping districts. Then followed an initiative where farmers were encouraged to adapt their own machines along the lines of the imported machines and yields/costs were compared with conventional machinery. SCA & DofAg officers who co-operated with these projects were Peter Ockenden, JohnAvery(N/EastVic), RobSonogan-JohnGriffiths (Mallee), PeterBerg-(Wimmera), Alistair Stirling/Fred Shea - ?, Ian Smith (Bendigo – N/Central Vic.) and Bill Clifford/Geoff Winsall, I Smith -(Charlton).

John Avery was later able to gain NSCP funding for a DofAg “Soil Care” project, which included a cluster of farmer discussion groups and conservation cropping demos/trials. He was aided by Peter Ockenden (SCA Wangaratta).

 “Soil Health” another AgVic NSC funded project, studying the possible impact of ag.chemicals on soils. I think Bruce Weston (State Chem. Labs.) was involved with this project.

AgVic also had complementary trials in the Mallee &  Wimmera working with farmers to trial blade ploughs and the John Shearer “Culti-drill”.

I have a vague memory of a “Vegetable Growing Soil Health”  project which won NSCP funding for AgVic's vegetable research farm at Frankston. I think Bruce Weston et al were studying the impact of ag. chemicals on soil.



(David has provided a number of  documents.  One, an Index from his research on the “Better Farming Train along with a photograph of the train crew (1927) and a letter by ACT Hewitt who helped staff the train is included at the Gallery)




Bill Fisher 1970 - present writes:


1. What was the time span of your career?  1970 to the present day.

2. What was the Department like when you joined and did that change?   It was very formal and hierarchical.   There is far less formality today.

2a. Who  were the key people, both in the Department and in your career development?  Key people at the time of my joining the department were David Wishart, Director-General, and the Chiefs of the Divisions.  Harry White, Lindsay Cozens and Rod Kefford were important in my career development.

3. Overall ethos of the Department:  The Department has always had an economic development ethos.  This was very strong in my early years of my career and still exists today. 

4. What approach, ethos or philosophy did you aim to employ in your work and to foster in others?

I have always found staff keen to improve policies and services.  Once this was established cooperation was forthcoming.   I have always sought to treat people with courtesy and respect and generally that was reciprocated.   

6. What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced?   In the early 1970s few economists were employed in the Department.   Policy development was not formally recognized as a professional area of activity until the establishment of the Rural Policy and Marketing Division in 1986. 

7. How did the political environment of the time affect your work?  Very little at my level.  The policies of major political have been broadly similar.  All policies have emphasised improved efficiency.

9. What major events, projects and achievements shaped your career in the Department?    The opportunity to undertake post graduate training in the mid 1970s provided me with new skills.   This has led to interesting and challenging work in many areas of agriculture from the 1980s onwards.

Policy review and change

From the mid 1970s there was a growing realization that not all agricultural policy was good policy.  The catalyst for this was the work of the Industries Assistance Commission, which commenced in 1974.  At about the same time an influential review of agricultural policy by Stuart Harris was released by the Whitlam Government.  The IAC commenced a program of regular, public reviews of all agricultural marketing and tariff arrangements.  The Department prepared submissions to these reviews and these were prepared by the Economics Branch and the Divisions of the Department.  These reviews and subsequent policy development led to a growing realisation that many marketing and tariff arrangements did not provide benefits to the commu8nity.   

The 1985-86 downturn

Nineteen eighty five was a tumultuous time in Victorian agriculture.  Several major industries were experiencing a price slump—wheat, coarse grains and dairy—so that many farmers faced poor prices and low returns.  At the same time a number of issues that had been simmering between the Victorian government and the farm sector were magnified by the economic slump.  For example, grain handling, storage and transport were highly regulated such that growers had to arrange for grain to be transported by rail. This was a high cost at a time of low prices.  Also, there had been successive budget cuts to the department and this was contentious.   The difficult economic situation led to agitation by the VFF for action by the Victorian Government.   The frustration led to a protest march in Collins Street, which was unheard of up until that time.  The protest and agitation by the VFF led to the Government agreeing to establish a study to examine complaints by the farm sector.  Professor Alan Lloyd from Melbourne University was chosen for the task.  I had the good fortune to be a member of Alan’s research staff along with John O’Connor (a former economist in the department) and Mike Read a consultant economist.   We received ready cooperation by departmental staff and people in Commonwealth, state departments and other organizations and this helped us to prepare a good report.    It was a great professional experience.  Alan’s report, known as the Rural Economics Study, was completed in July 1986. 

Head Office relocation (Bill Marks has helped to prepare this section)

In 1989 the then Minister for Agriculture, Barry Rowe, announced a relocation of the Department’s Head Office to a country location.  The NSW government had recently relocated Head Office of the Department of Agriculture to Orange and this influenced Victoria’s decision.  Needless to say the relocation was not popular amongst head office staff that had family and commitments in Melbourne.  Never the less planning proceeded and an external consultant, Rod Polkinghorne, was employed to provide advice on the merits of competing sites (Bendigo and other regional cities competed for selection), staff matters and other aspects.  His report which recommended relocation to Bendigo, included an economic analysis that showed the relocation to any country location would result in net costs to the community.  In other words, it made no sense to relocate head office.  This fact was used by Professor Alan Lloyd and the VFF to explain the costs involved and the loss of influence the sector would have in Spring Street. 

The VFF and the public sector union worked together to produce a statement opposing the relocation.  This statement helped the VFF, the union and staff to explain the situation to the Opposition and wider audiences.  The Opposition was skeptical about the move initially but eventually opposed the relocation.  Simultaneously, planning for the move to Bendigo was proceeding within the department under the guidance of Bill Marks. 

Despite an interim building (The ‘Mill’ in Hargreaves St.) being established to accommodate 100 staff within 6 months of the initial announcement in accordance with the government’s target, the number of staff who relocated from Melbourne to Bendigo fell well short of the target.  Consequently there was much travel up and down the Calder Highway to ensure that the Department had a noticeable presence in Bendigo.

It was found that a great deal of preparatory work was necessary to find a suitable site and to ensure that it was suitable.  The tender process to appoint a developer to construct the new head office on vacant VicRail land was completed well before the 1992 election.  However, the appointment process was delayed due to significant heavy metal contamination at the site (which of course is the case throughout Bendigo).

Despite the outgoing Kirner government committing to the construction of the project, the incoming Kennett government, recognising the dysfunction that would occur with a ‘head office’ away from centre of government, abandoned the project in December 1992.

Closure of regional veterinary laboratories (notes prepared by Bill Marks)

The decision in the early 1990’s of the Kennett government to close the four Regional Veterinary Laboratories was very significant as it questioned the rationale of the Department’s service delivery model. 

There was a view among some Departmental management that changes in technology and communication systems presented an opportunity to rationalise the service delivery model.  However, the decision to outsource the analytical component of the service and require the outsourced provider to maintain the four sites was a very problematic business model.

Australian Food Industry Science Centre (notes prepared by Bill Marks)

Following the outstanding work of Bill Brown and others in the early 1990s in securing a Federal grant for $18 million under the ‘Building Better Cities’ program to build a major food research facility at Werribee, the Government decided to establish AFISC as a semi-autonomous statutory body in 1995. 

Subsequently, DPI and CSIRO established a joint venture partnership to manage the site and, more recently, the entire site and the programs it delivers has been absorbed into the CSIRO structure.

Meat inspection

In 1989-90, I had the pleasure of working with Mike Kinsella.  Mike chaired a review of the Victorian Abattoir and Meat inspection Authority (VAMIA) which was then part of the Department.  Mike brought competence, enthusiasm and hard work to this role and this led to a good report, largely accepted by government.    The review recommended the establishment of a separate meat inspection authority now known as PrimeSafe. 

Drought policy

In 1989, drought policy came to the fore with an ABC Four Corners program publicizing wide spread rorting of transport subsidies provided by the Queensland Government but funded by the Commonwealth through the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements (NDRA).  This led to an immediate response by Senator Peter Walsh, the Commonwealth Minister for Finance.  Senator Walsh, who had been a long standing critic of commonwealth-State drought policy, immediately excised drought assistance from the NDRA.  The Commonwealth then initiated a policy review with the states, industry and conservation organisations.  The results of the review were used by officials to develop a National Drought Policy which was agreed by all governments in 1992.  The aim was to encourage the farm sector to view and manage drought like other natural events, with government support only in exceptional events.   The Commonwealth and the States agreed to phase out subsidies on inputs (transport, fodder, water) in exchange for interest subsidies being activated under a national system of drought declaration known as Exceptional Circumstances. 

Victoria abolished transport, fodder and stock water subsidies in the lead up period to the 1994 drought.  However, unhappiness by senior staff and the Minister, Bill McGrath, with the new arrangements meant that Victoria and Western Australia pressed for a review and this was agreed to by Ministerial Council in August 1994.  I had the pleasure of working with Ras Lawson on this review.  This review, which was completed in February 1997, confirmed the “self-reliance” policy approach and recommended that interest subsidies cease.  However, the Commonwealth did not accept this recommendation and decided to continue interest rate subsidies but phased down over time. 

10.  What do you regard as the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture and the public service?   

Successes in Victorian agriculture:  Steady productivity improvement due to good science, reforms to policies and other efficiency-enhancing changes across the community.  Productivity growth in agriculture has exceeded growth in other sectors of the economy.  

Successes in the public service: The formal recognition of policy services in DPI and other departments; and a more flexible and responsive service that exists today. 

In DPI policy was formally recognized with the creation of a policy division from the mid 1980s, headed at inception by Mike Taylor.  Under Mike’s leadership the Department led the development of rural policy in many areas and this continues to be the case today.   Of course the policy agenda has changed over time.   Natural resource issues have become more prominent over time.  Prominent issues today include: water management in the Murray Darling Basin, water management in northern Victoria, climate change policy, animal welfare, productivity improvement, and genetically modified plants and animals. 

11. Who were your role models, or who played a major influential role in your career?    Key people were Harry White and Lindsay Cozens.  Both were leaders of the Economics Branch.   Des Hore and Michael Taylor provided very professional management at the top of the Department.  Both worked hard to ensure independence from political interference in management.   

Rod Kefford took a keen interest in staff development and was influential through support for post graduate training across the department.    Rod was also a strong supporter of the Economics Branch and the training of economists.  He was influential in establishing a departmental cadetship scheme for economists in the early 1970s. 


Carl Franke 1971 -1984 from notes sent to the authors :

Carl joined the Department in February 1971, and was an Extension Officer for the Melbourne District - a very challenging district, with a wide range of climate, soils and industries, as well as many small holdings. Carl has provided examples of appreciative letters from clients he dealt with, and clearly he made an important contribution to his district.

Carl retired in February 1984 in order to help his son Kahn and daughter-in-law Julie (both Burnley graduates) to establish what turned out to be a successful wholesale native plant nursery, "Wyeena Nursery", on Carl's property at Smith's Gully.

Carl provided comments on the questions raised in our request for contributions. The following paragraphs are in his own words.

            1. 1. I found the Department as I anticipated - a group of people dedicated to the improvement of agriculture and its importance to society.

            2. 2. (Important people who influenced my career included) George Duncan, Senior District Officer, Port Phillip District, and Ian Norman, Chief of Division of Extension. Also great assistance was received from members of the Pasture Branch Max Fielder, Jack Hosking and Joe Cade. Bruce Campbell and the State Laboratory staff underpinned the service and made it possible to do the job with confidence. Also Syd Erlich - and in fact staff from all branches were very helpful and very much appreciated.
  1. 2. (Did the ethos of the Department change?) At my level there appeared to be no change.
  1. 3. (What ethos did you aim to employ?) To satisfactorily fulfil the requests of clients and other staff.
  1. 4. (What was unique about the Department?) Being previously self-employed (except for a four-year stint with the PNG Department of Agriculture, cannot make any comparison.
  1. 5. (Key challenges and opportunities?) Having a limited role in the organisation my main concern was fairly individual, as in 3 above.
  1. 6. (How did the political environment of the time affect your work?) Not at all - except perhaps that both the Department and Government policy to deal with the increasing number of requests for information on farming, particularly hobby farming, led to my employment.
  1. 7 (Key industry leaders?) In my area of work, industry leaders played little or no role.
  1. 8. (Major events shaping your career?) Carl provided examples of the types of events he was involved with, including agricultural shows and career advice, in addition to the many farm visits and inquiries he dealt with. Carl goes on to say that these events and projects "hopefully provided satisfaction to all those requesting information and advice." From the number of appreciative letters Carl received, there can be little doubt that this was the case.
  1. 9 (Main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture?) I'm afraid I can't recall any situation which could be claimed as a failure in Victorian agriculture. The government of the time makes the policy on drought, flood, fire relief, locust control, quarantine etc with advice from the Department and industry leaders, and the Department responds as required. As far as I know, adequately. Generally the government is censured for not doing enough to mitigate the situation.
  1. 10. (Anecdotes and experiences?) Each month George Duncan asked us - me and fellow officer Bill Mole - to hand in a monthly report on the Port Phillip Region. Invariably George found some small fault or omission in the situation report.
    So on one occasion I rang George pretending to be a reporter from The Age and obtained a situation report. This was typed up and presented to George who - sucking on his pipe - said "you boys seem to have got it right this time" and we replied that it should be, as we got it from the horse's mouth. "Smart alecs", was George's comment.
    I also recall a return trip from Glenormiston with Barrie Bardsley and Hamish Russell - I having had an adverse reaction to penicillin after a tractor accident - sitting in the back seat silently translating your bureaucratic conversation into plain English or simple English. "Yes, Minister" comes to mind.
    George Duncan was responsible for coordinating and staffing the Department's exhibits at the Royal Agricultural Show. Over the years we went from the old Government building to temporary quarters, then to the new Government building and later to only the Agnote Caravan with Eddie Telgenkamp. Eddie did a terrific job attending agricultural shows throughout the state.



John Griffiths  1968 - 1997

Former Manager of the Mallee Research Station Walpeup

We had few broad scale control options when plagues had developed. Strychnine treated grain was the only approved rodenticide for general use, although anticoagulants were available for managing mouse numbers near buildings and homes. There were many complexities in using both types of agents and at the outbreak of the major plague in 1992/3, there were no alternatives to strychnine treated grain for mouse control in the broad scale. The community wanted to control mice by using aerial baiting, the health and environmental authorities and groups in the State and Federally where appalled at the idea. It was a major challenge which through the expertise of Anne Astin and some innovative thinking by the Directorate of the Department, we managed to get broad scale experimental aerial baiting with strychnine treated grain approved.  The experimental results proved that aerial baiting could occur with minimal risk to livestock or the population and would be highly effective in the broadacre. Zinc phosphide treated grain is now used for mouse control, and the material is available to farmers as required. My role as Chairman of the Victorian Mouse Plague Committee for a number of years until well into 1993 was terminated by Minister McGrath, because the agropoliticians in the Wimmera believed we were not responding quickly enough to their demands. Neither he nor they had little idea of the resistance to broad scale poisoning which was prevalent in Canberra and in the non-farming community. Ministers who are too close to the industry for which they hold portfolios, are never easy to advise.








Gary Hallam  1970 - present writes:

I write in particular to mention some characters I worked with and met in my early days in the Department.

I joined the Department as an Animal Health Officer (AHO - “Stock Inspector”) in head office Melbourne, training alongside Aussie Bull, Ray Flood, Frank Lovell, Jim Maguire, Max Caithness, Allan Ross, Chris Gahan and others. Dan Flynn and Brian Rushford were at the helm.

After a short time I was transferred to Wodonga to assist with research into Bovine Brucellosis under the guidance of Bernie Cox (AHO) and Ken Coghill (District Vet). Not far away at Tallangatta John Morgan (AHO) was in the twilight of a long and distinguished career. These three characters were instrumental in shaping my career.

Bernie Cox had been the “Stock Inspector” at Wodonga for many years and was very influential and well connected in the community. His authority and skills were rarely questioned and highly respected by all whom with he dealt – above all he was a real gentleman.  His character epitomized the benefits of knowing your customer and gaining their respect.

I still remember the first animal post-mortem I performed under Bernie’s guidance; it was a very large Hereford bull that had died suddenly of unknown causes. Bernie handed me a large knife and said “tell me what he died of”. I think I would have drowned in offal if he had not come to my rescue.

Ken Coghill was a relatively young Veterinarian who had been assigned to Wodonga to investigate the prevalence of Brucellosis in the Kiewa Valley dairy herds. This involved taking individual blood samples from every cow during milking. Needless to say there were many early starts and excessively shitty cow sheds during this program. I believe our activities helped formulate the strategies used in the Bovine Brucellosis Eradication Plan.

I was one of few staff fortunate enough to work alongside John Morgan. John was based in Tallangatta, worked mostly alone, and could truly be described as a “legend” in his field. He was famous for being seen carrying around a small wooden box full of tissue pieces that he had collected from a diseased animal. This was a legacy of his days working with Pleuropneumonia which was initially diagnosed in the Upper Murray region. John had the policy of - if in doubt shoot it! He was one of the first Victorian Stock Inspectors.

After some two years at Wodonga I moved to Leongatha to support Richard Jackson (AHO) who was overworked chasing cows with cancerous eyes and Johne’s disease. I was also there to assist Dave McQueen (District Vet) at Warragul carry out research into a vaccine for Bovine Johne’s Disease which was causing significant production loss in the dairy herds.

 I remember these people as unique characters during my early days in the Department.


Jacqy Hardy 1947 - 1988 writes:


(Personal history –JACQUELINE (JACQY) HARDY


I hope I have not made your difficult job any harder and trust you may be able to use some of this ‘other end’ perspective. I would like to say “Thank you” for the opportunity to put in my ‘sixpennorth’, perhaps, also on behalf of some other Third Divisoners not as fortunate as myself.

I wish you well with your project and hope to receive a copy in due course- I am willing to pay to help defray costs. I am happy to comply with the provisions in your final paragraphs.

Yours sincerely



Des Harris writes 1934 - 1978 writes:

From D.L.Harris (Des)  Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture

I have seen a draft of Ken Wheatland's answers to your questions and I most certainly concur with his comments in his excellent submission covering the period from 1969 when he transferred to the Department of Agriculture.

My comments therefore will relate to the earlier post war years and recall the names of some senior officers in that period. However, I must first advise that I commenced duty in the Department of Agriculture as a "Fifth Class Clerk" in July 1934 at the Produce Offices, 605 Flinders Street. I served 44 years in the Department including war service.

When I returned to the Department after the war, I worked in the Dairy Produce section of the Dairying Division and eventually in other sections of the Division until 1961 when I became Senior Clerk of the Agricultural Division. In 1965 I was promoted to Central Administration as Assistant Secretary and in 1974 to the position of Secretary. I retired in 1978.

Politically after 1945 there were many changes of Government until 1955 when Henry Bolte became Liberal Party Premier for 19 years, followed by R Hamer and L. Thompson until 1982 when the Labor Party under J. Cain was elected.

Under the Liberal Party regime the Minister of Agriculture for many years was Gilbert Chandler who on his retirement in 1973 was succeeded by Ian Smith.

Directors of Agriculture were H.A. Mullett, P. Ryan, F.M. Read, D.S. Wishart.

Secretaries of the Department prior to Bill Young (later Assistant Director), were Jack Day, Harold Neal and Les Taylor.

The Dairying Division under Superintendent of Dairying, Tom Jensen, supported by Senior Veterinary Milk Supply Officer, Harry Elder, Chief Metropolitan Dairy Supervisor, Dave Rutledge, Senior Dairy Inspector Bob McKenzie and Senior Clerk, Les Taylor administered the Milk and Dairy Supervision Act involving the supervision and annual licensing of dairy farms (sixpence a cow) and dairies. The recording card system for each farm and dairy was manual, as was the annual renewal of dairy farm permits for whole milk supply. Another card (punch) system employing many operators in that era was used for the herd test cow records. Also manual records were kept for butter and cheese factories.

Early post war a number of dairy scholarships were allocated to Massey College in New Zealand which provided the Department and eventually industry with professional graduates. Four scholarships were provided in the first year followed by two per year for a few years. Departmental graduates who come to mind were Ian Howey, Chas Bevan and Harry Edgoose.

In the 1950s, following the enactment of the Milk Pasteurization Act 1949 to provide for the issue of Milk Pasteurization Licences, the Proclamation of Milk Pasteurization Districts and the appointment of an advisory Milk Pasteurization Committee there was activity in the dairy industry as the managements of dairies strived to meet the required standard for a licence.

In the Agricultural Division post war the Superintendents were Jack Brake, Bill Miller, Walter McDonald, Les Hore. Senior Clerk was Bill Wallis who held the position for many years. Research Stations were very active and the administration of the Seeds Act and seed testing led to the building of the Seed Testing Station at Burnley.

Structurally the Department was administered by Senior Professional Officers in Central Administration and in the Divisions and Branches. These officers were supported by Professional Officers, Research Officers, Administrative Officers and Technical and General Officers, many engaged in inspectorial duties.

In the post war era there was an increased approach to the advisory services provided to all aspects of agriculture and a definite change in the emphasis of the inspector farm visit to include a more user friendly advisory content. Butter and Cheese factory inspectors who had travelled by country train for many years were required to use their cars and were paid appropriate travelling allowances.

I felt that the work relationships between the various classifications of officers were usually cooperative and friendly. I consider that most officers had a positive approach and outlook to their work and that the Department was generally held in high regard by the farming community..

As the Professional Officers were the policy makes many of the questions raised in the request for history information are perhaps best answered by those officers.


Russell Hodge 1957 -1981 writes:

Reminiscences of a former Livestock Research Officer (Russell Hodge 1957- 1991) 

   Short history

                       I joined the Department as a LRO at the Animal Husbandry Research Centre (AHRC), State Research Farm, Werribee in 1957. I began my first day inspecting facilities on horseback!

                      The AHRC was developed by Dave Wishart to undertake research into the AI of dairy cattle and the nutrition and management of dairy cows, pigs, poultry and sheep. He was an outstanding leader who was the driving force behind the development of livestock research in Victoria.

                       The AHRC was situated in a loft at the end of a hay and machinery shed. Access was gained by a steep flight of stairs which only became a problem at Xmas parties. Some staff became expert at cooling beer using dry ice ( a very precise skill ) and this may have contributed towards the difficulty some people experienced in descending the stairs.

                        During the late Fifties and early Sixties the Field days, for which the State Research Farm was famous, were still major events with many people attending. We, the new boys on the block, also participated and, at the end of proceedings, were entertained by Con Golding, Manager of the SRF. However, a rapid decline in attendance at the Field days led to their demise.

                       In 1960 the problem of the stairs was removed as we were all transferred to gleaming, pristine laboratories in the good ship SS Cameron.As we sailed on in favourable seas during the Sixties and Seventies many more staff were recruited and other major disciplines established- reproductive physiology, animal behaviour, computer modelling and animal genetics. In addition, the association and co-operative research with the Universities became much more common during this time.

                       At some time in the Seventies the SS Cameron underwent a refit and was renamed the Animal Research Institute(ARI)


                    I received a very good overview of the sheep industry from Peter Hyland, attended a Departmental Extension course and a Sheep and Wool School run by CSIRO. However, I was not attached to a research group and was given free rein to do more or less what I liked. This was a mistake as it allowed me to undertake projects which should never have been conducted. But I have no criticism of the Department from the mid sixties on. From this time post-graduate study was encouraged. In my case, permission was granted for me to take up a Meat Board scholarship and later to spend a year at the Grassland Research Institute in the UK.  This was tremendous support and I remain grateful.

   I believe a big improvement in training  was made in the seventies when it became mandatory for new recruits to undertake a research project under the supervision of a Research Scientist.

People and  Events


 These are a selection of events which I was either associated with or knew the people very well.  There were, of course, many other people and important achievements made at the Institute, but these will be described by others.  I remember (in rough chronological order) :

The tremendous contributions of Jack Arnott and John Banfield to the establisment of AI in dairy cattle.

The immigrant from Finland who was appointed as a Farm Hand to assist Geoff Pearce.  Klaus Englund became an outstanding Technical Officer whose skills in developing research equipment was called upon by all researchers in the Institute.           

The uproar that erupted  at an ASAP meeting when Mike Freer presented his results from Werribee which showed that there was no significant difference in milk production of cows rotationally grazed compared to those set-stocked.  No experiment  since has shown his results to be wrong.                                                                                                  

 Bob Jardine, who was the only Biometrician available for advice on experimental design and analysis- his contribution to us and the Department was immense. Many years later Kym Butler became our first resident Biometrician. He too became invaluable to the Ruminant Nutrition group.

 The artificial raising of pneumonia free piglets by Sandy North and his team.  A most difficult and exacting project which conferred great benefits to the industry.

The blank look on the faces of many Chinese visitors who we attempted to impress with our brilliant research.  But how excited and animated they became when Jack Parker or Robert Ward demonstrated the skills of their sheep dogs.                          

My involvement with the Victorian branch of the Australian Society of Animal Production was a very rewarding one for me throughout my career.                                  

  The appointment of Roger Watson.  His insistence on experimental rigor was a shock to many- myself included. His comment on my technique in one experiment was “Abysmal Russell, abysmal” He was right of course.  His contribution to the Institute and to the Department was enormous.

 Derek Tribe was an inspiration to me when I was a student and provided support and encouragement during my post graduate studies.                                                                                                                  

 Harry Bishop- I first heard of him as an innovative farmer in the Western district and later met him when he became the first OIC of the Pastoral Research Institute at Hamilton. I travelled with him to China in 1977. Our group endured many boring, political speeches but, one day, the lady engineer addressing us stopped in mid sentence and cried out ‘’ Harry’’.  Turned out they had worked together in 1948 when Harry was with the UN! Spin was forgotten and a joyful reunion began.            

 The drying up of Departmental funds for research and the subsequent struggle to obtain Industry support for operating funds and salaries.                                    

My introduction to the goat industry via Bruce McGregor-the first officer appointed to study meat and fibre production in goats.                                                 

 My visits to the Rutherglen Research Station to confer with John Reeves and David Hamilton. I learnt a lot and the red wine wasn’t bad either. 

Bob Carraill was a supportive leader during my stint as acting OIC of the ARI.

 My appointment to the Ruminant Subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Agriculture which was set up to determine the feeding standards of Australian livestock. It meant conferring with eminent scientists on a regular basis and was a great experience for me.                     

 The establishment of an Animal Ethics Committee. For the first time we had to try and justify any pain and suffering we inflicted on animals. A big reform.       

The group investigating the Live Sheep Trade (Andrew Kelly, Russell Hodge, Max Watson, Kym Butler, Chris Winfield) finding that a significant percentage of deaths was due to failure to eat. These findings support the call that sheep should not be exported live.                                                                                

The battle for the ARI. I vividly recall a visit by the Minister and his adviser (a former colleague).We were complimented on the excellence and relevance of our work. The next day we were informed that the ARI was to be closed down! A committee was formed and it was decided that we should – “fight in the laboratories, we will never surrender” More importantly, a public relations campaign was launched.                                                                                                                             

For the first time I found myself marching in the streets and showing the Melbourne press around the Institute, extolling its virtues. This led to a rather ominous letter from Head Office requesting an explanation of my actions before “ ---the close of business at 5pm”.  Others were also asked to clarify their position.

Well, we avoided summary dismissal and we won the battle – but not the war! The centre of gravity began, inexorably, to shift to Attwood.  It was time for me to go. I remain grateful that my contact with politicians was minimal throughout my career.



                     I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have spent my working life in the Department.The opportunities were immense, the natives were friendly and the good times greatly outweighed the bad.  Regrets? Not accepting Jack Parker’s invitation to attend a field day at the famous Walpeup!                                                                     


Des Hore 1956 - 1992 writes:

Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?

1956 to 1992

Control of major animal diseases

 What was the Department like when you joined? Who were the key people, both in the Department and in your career development?

Saturday morning duty / worn out cars / a structure which had served the State well but had not changed for decades.  People- too many to mention; at least 50 come to mind.

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

Professional in training and outlook backed by equally competent support staff. This continued throughout my departmental career.

What approach, ethos or philosophy did you aim to employ in your work and to foster in others?

Make a decision and do it now.

What did you see as different or unique about the Department, compared with your experiences with other organisations?

See point 3.

What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced – and saw the Department as facing?

Changing government priorities /increasing pressure on financial resources.

How did the political environment of the time affect your work?

Profoundly especially in 1992.

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

None stood out

What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?

See item 1. 

Improved access to international and interstate markets

Who were your role models, or who played an influential role, in your career?

Drake, Flynn, Wishart, Kefford, Young, Taylor,Hyland, Smith, Fisher,     Taylor, regional managers, ministers ( plus & minus ).

Do you have a particular anecdote or experience about people or events you'd like to contribute?

Best not printed.


Jack Hosking 1947 - 1985 writes:


 Answers stimulated by your questions 1 to 12 ( with a couple of gaps).




My career in the Vic. D.Ag. covered the years 1947 to 1985. It was a wonderful era to be involved in ag. science research and extension.


At the end of the 1939 to 1945 war, farmers were struggling with poor incomes and lack of materials of all sorts - fertilizers, machinery, building materials.

With appropriate advice on pasture improvement, particularly based on local demonstrations, great strides were made. This led to increased stock production and improved farm finances. An example of the latter in the 1950s was the rapid uptake of the newly developed Ferguson tractor with its 3 point linkage, replacing the horses previously widely used on dairy farms. Dairy farmers added a few more cows to their herd every year as pastures improved.


A major issue during the 1960s was the extent to which the stocking rate on grazing properties should be increased to make use of the improved pastures. A major drought during this decade caused reconsideration by some. As with so much of life, it depends on your attitude to risk.


Superphosphate was the major requirement for pasture improvement during all of this period. In the 1950s the discovery of the great value of such a small amount of molybdenum (equiv. to 50gm Mo/ha) resulted in considerable and cheap pasture improvement over the wide area, particularly in the Central Highlands and the West Gippsland hills. The need for potash fertilizer by some dairy farm pastures had been discovered in the 1930s and by the 1960s departmental research and extension had shown potassium deficiency was more widespread than just on dairy farms in southern Vic.


Much experimental work was undertaken from about 1945, to understand the important role of lime in establishing pastures on newly cleared land in South Gippsland and the Heytesbury area during the 1950s. During the 1960s the use of nitrogen fertilizers on pastures was studied and became widespread on dairy farms by the 1980s and particularly later. The cost and returns did not encourage its use on grazing properties. With the big increase in superphosphate prices in the mid 1970s, increased attention was given to determining optimum rates. There was a considerable effort put into the development and calibration of various P soil tests during the 70s and 80s. A computer model called Superate was developed by Ian Cameron and others during this period. Later soil testing research has improved on this.''


During the 1950s to 1980s there was a continual testing and promotion of new pasture varieties of the "old species" particularly resulting in more productive sub clovers, Phalaris and ryegrasses. Other features beside yield were being sought e.g. drought tolerance, disease resistance and less harm to animals. Other species were trialed but rarely became widely used.


In 1973 the Turf Research and Advisory Institute was established at Frankston, within the Pasture Branch, by Rex Newman and Max Fielder, in response to demand from the golf, bowls and racing industries.


I remember well, being welcomed to the Department by Pat Ryan, the Deputy Director. I was welcomed because new graduates were in short supply at the time (only 8 of us started the University second year, at Dookie College!). Mr. Ryan’s advice was that “you will never be rich but never be poor in the job”.

At that time the Agrostology Branch was in the Agriculture Division under Jack Brake. Soon after I joined, the first Senior Agrostologist, Leo Bartels, died. The group was then split into an Irrigation Branch under Alan Morgan and the Agrostology Branch under Bob Twentyman. The Branch then included the Seed Testing Station (under Margot Cowan ) and Seed Certification ( Jack Lomax ).

During the 1930s, mown pasture plots, with seeds and fertilizer, were established on private farms in the better rainfall areas. This was greatly encouraged by the Victorian Pasture Improvement League, established by the combined interest and finances of fertilizer companies (particularly Commonwealth Fertilizers), pasture seeds companies, (particularly Brunnings), and the Australian Dairy Produce Board, and others.

Much to the envy of the rest of the Department, the VPIL provided the Agrostology Branch with two tourer cars with trailers (for mowers etc.) to get around the country plots. However by the time I joined in 1947 the vehicles and the experienced staff had gone to wartime projects. Much of this plot assessment had become visual. We had a couple of army disposal Dodge utilities to do our work around the district (mainly south of the Divide and in the North East).

If you didn’t have access to a vehicle you did plot work travelling by train. I can remember taking a train to Bairnsdale (about 1948) then a hire car (we had a book of vouchers), out to the farm at Lindenow South. I probably carried only a measuring tape and the plot plan for the first visit, then I returned later when the plots had been cultivated by the farmer, and he was ready to sow. Phalaris establishment was the big thing then, sown in autumn or spring with or without perennial rye grass.

My first base was at the Pasture Research Station which was at Burnley Gardens. (Frank Drake did early work on perennial rye grasses and sub clovers here in the 1930s and subsequently became a very effective pasture adviser in his position as District Agriculture Officer at Bairnsdale in the 1940s and 1950s.)

My first boss at Burnley was Walter Andrew and my early mentor was Geoff Hexter. In 1951 I transferred to the Warragul District Office as a district agrostologist ─ only the third agrostologist to be based in a country town. The first was Rex Newman at Warrnambool about 1948 and then Geoff Hexter at Leongatha (for only a few years). Alan Doery was the District Agricultural Officer at Warragul and Dave McQueen the District Vet. Officer.

Allan Doery moved on a few years after I arrived in Warragul. He had put a lot of work into the early work of establishing the Dairy Research Station at Ellinbank. Harry Edgoose came soon after I did. By default I seemed to become the officer in charge at Warragul. In the 1950s and 1960s we had a series of “trainee” graduates each staying for 1 to 3 years. We developed a real team spirit in the office involving graduate staff, dairy supervisors (4), and stock and potato inspectors as well as the always reliable Dave McQueen who was a valued member for all of my 16 years in Warragul. We all aimed to help the farmers in our respective fields.

In 1968 I transferred to Melbourne as the 3rd.senior agrostologist replacing Bob Twentyman, when he retired. The Pasture Branch had developed into a multi-district based branch with commonly a graduate and a diplomate, working as a team from each country centre (about 10 centres), or from a research station (4 centres) e.g. Bob Lewis worked with me and Max Fielder worked with Rex Newman in the field work.


In the early days (1940s) departmental staff were told that research was their most important role. Farm visits for advisory purposes were discouraged. This didn’t suit me so I resigned, but soon rejoined when it became possible for me to live in the country centre (Warragul) and deal with farmers.

Early pasture research projects were all planned and carried out from Melbourne. Post War this was based at the Pasture Research Station at Burnley Gardens where much of the initial screening of pasture species and various strains of these was also carried out. Publications of the results of pasture research in the Victorian Journal of Agriculture was considered to be “ enough”.

In later times research papers by R. Newman, A. McGowan come to mind but lack of research papers arising from so much of our pasture research is regretted as it ap­pears to be basically lost in subsequent restructuring.

As staff became based in country centers , the plot work ( all on private farms ) be­came more locally planned unless a “statewide” study was needed ( as occurred with later soil test calibration studies ). The biometrician (Bob Jardine) was usually involved with planning and interpretation of the results.

The immediate application of plot findings by extension took priority at the time. The training of new extension staff by involvement in local trials was a particularly valuable experience for them. Many eventually left the Department to become successful private advisors.

The advisory role developed greatly in the 1950s to the extent that training courses were provided in extension practice. Farmers in Gippsland became so keen for pasture advice that I was unable to keep up with the demand, and at one stage I had 70 on my waiting list (and there was still plenty of plot work in hand).

Pasture extension in Gippsland was greatly helped by the gradual development of dairy farmer discussion groups (of 8 to 12 farmers). This was strongly promoted across the State by the Dairy Husbandry Branch ( Ken Silcock, Harry Edgoose, and Keith Flynn) and particularly under the stimulation of Jack Green (a dairy supervisor cum dairy extension officer).

Discussion groups were rare within the grazing industries, but in the pasture field graziers came to dominate in the Grassland Society of Victoria which was established in 1959 to help share pasture information between farmers, researchers and agricultural industry people,( and even now has a membership of 900).


My main aim was to encourage the development of information on pasture improvement and utilization, and to pass this on to farmers, in an understandable form. Enthusiasm and team work were encouraged.


Overall the Department appeared to be unique in its level and use of professional knowledge at senior management level.

However not all managers were good staff managers. There was also a remarkable freedom to get on with what we saw as our job. However this system did require self-starters and not everybody had that nature or ability.


A key challenge was the desire for more in-depth research into soil fertility and fertilizers , as Departmental resources in this field were very limited, particularly in early years. There was always a desire for more support staff for professional people. e.g. a graduate provided very expensive fencing of plots in my field years.


From my present position, I can see the greatest challenge has been to maintain management of the Department by professional ags. and vets.


Politics had little direct effect on our pasture work at the time.


In the 1940s and 1950s the names that come to mind were Commonwealth Fertilizers farm advisors Messrs Pasco and Alexander. Later ICI fertilizer people such as John Landy, Geoff Hexter and Arthur Stubbs were prominent.

In the pasture seed business during the same period we had a lot to do with Brunnings (Jock Purvis). Later we saw many seed companies develop with their own specialists. Of course there were many people who took an interest in the pasture utilization aspect ---in the dairy, beef and sheep industries. Mac Troup, a grazier from Tourello was so interested he became a prime mover in the establishment of the Grassland Society of Victoria in 1959, and a great supporter of the Department with the support of Bruce Muir at Ballarat.


The major events shaping my lifetime career began with working on dairy farms in Gippsland - at Willowgrove (near Trafalgar) and Narre Warren North - during school  holidays. I then wanted to be a farmer. Financially that was out of the question, so I studied to then work in Agriculture, and upon retirement I went farming for the next 23 years.

After university I started in the Department of Agriculture in 1947. I resigned after about 5 years of driving from district plot to district plot across the eastern half of Victoria, fertilizing and observing plots and submitting almost monthly reports which were filed! I gained great basic experience but the information wasn’t going anywhere useful.

I rejoined a few months later to do plot work and advisory work in Gippsland, based in Warragul. Prior to this I had been involved with trials in the newly developing South Gippsland  “plains country”. This was a large area of stunted shrub covered land which farmers knew wouldn’t grow grass using plain superphosphate. It could be bought for $10 to 20 per acre in the 1940s. Lime was the missing link. I continued plot work on lime use , and advisory work in this area.

I also set about identifying which fertilizers were required on the various soils across the region---with what I described as 2 by 5 factorial plots (usually P,K, lime, Mo, x (trace elements e.g. Cu+Zn) ) ---all with associated basic soil testing. Some of this was done with a group of farmers e.g. In the Toora hills.

In additionI developed a special interest in the use of potash in the Warragul area.( this ultimately led to me preparing a review of all pasture research on potash in Victoria, as I feared the records would be lost in subsequent restructuring. It was published in 1986, a year after I retired).

During my first 15 years I had little contact with non Pasture Branch workers. However I appreciated the contact with Agriculture Faculty members (particularly Professor Leeper), when they brought final year students on their annual tour to South Gippsland.

My first professional contact was at an Australian Grasslands conference in Warburton where I met many grassland workers for the first time.

In 1964-5 I had the good fortune to present a paper (on potash use) at the International Grasslands Conference in Brazil, visiting New Zealand and California on the way and then Washington, England (per courtesy of ICI to look at nitrogen use there) and Ireland. This was really stimulating.

In 1966 the Pasture Branch was transferred from the Agriculture Division to a new Animal Industries Division with the Beef and Sheep Branches to encourage further co-operation. The heads of this Division (David Wishart and Roger Watson) had a major influence on my further development.

In 1968 when Bob Twentyman retired I became the third (and final) Senior Agrostologist. At the same time I became President of the Grassland Society of Victoria.

The next major change in my role was in 1979 when, as part of major re-structuring of the Dept, the Pasture Branch was basically disbanded. The many district-based staff were placed under the control of their District Officers and a small group remained in Melbourne with me (Ian Cameron, Joe Cade, Ian Maling and Peter North-Combes). We aimed to review and try to co-ordinate pasture work and keep district staff informed of developments in pasture improvement and management. . Annual Departmental pasture specialists conferences (including district inspections) were a feature, both before and after restructuring.



The big success in Vic in agriculture has been the huge increase in pasture improvement (which started in Vic, years before other states) and the associated huge increase in animal production based on the improved pastures. The ultimate effect has been increased farmer prosperity, witness their houses, vehicles and standard of education of their families.

My big concern for agriculture at the present time is that the costs and returns graphs have met----and perhaps crossed over. This is a disaster for the future of agriculture as we knew it. “Lifestyle farming” is taking over much of the State. Almost all farms in my area (NE Vic) have (and require) an outside source of income now. A further basic problem is where the essential P and K fertilizers are going to come from in the future, to keep our agriculture going!


The early role models were from University days (1940s.) Prof. Samuel Wadham was such a tower of knowledge of Agriculture in Australia and, from his extensive contact with farmers in his early years in Australia, he knew how farmers thought. ( “They’ve got hours sitting on a tractor, thinking how they can get around government regulations ! “) His idea on lecturing about pasture research was to advise us to study Colin Donald’s report on his recent pasture research study ! I did and many times later too !

Professor Geoffrey Leeper was my other role model. Features for me were his attention to analysis of the facts, and his enthusiasm for Basic English (both invaluable for an extension officer.

In more recent times in the Department, Dr. David Wishart and Dr. Roger Watson provided great guidance and inspiration. At a different level Ken Skene (Snr. ) (Chem. Labs ) was most helpful, in my soil testing work, over many years. There are also others, including farmers who have provided inspiration, but the above stand out in my mind at present.


I never failed to be excited by a good pasture response in plots or on farms. I was so moved by seeing a rare plot response to sulphur at Yark in the late 1940s, that I sent a telegram to the head of the Agrostology Branch advising of the discovery. When I returned to Head Office he greeted me with “what did you do that for?” Perhaps he was concerned about the  cost of the telegram, as we had to “watch the pennies “ in those days. On one occasion when I was working from the Pasture Research Station at Burnley Gardens (1940s) we received a request from our accountant to please return the sugar bag in which seeds had been supplied “as we had not ordered the bag” and it had a cost!

As I had only just got my drivers licence in 1947, I was not keen to drive but my departmental mentor at the time, Geoff Hexter was very patient and let me drive the easy bits. However, I wasn’t driving the day we were travelling in heavy rain from Korumburra to Neerim and our Dodge Ute decided to slide straight ahead on a curve. We rolled over the edge into a small creek landing on our wheels. I can’t recall how we got out of there, but Geoff was determined to get to Neerim to give his talk that night, and he did!

Incidentally we used such experiences to eventually get one of the first heaters ever installed in a Departmental car. The fogged windows were a great danger for workers in rainy Gippsland!

Country plot work had all sorts of hazards to contend with. On one early occasion in the Lindenow South area we had to cope with a district  swarming with  mosquitoes so we lit smokey fires of cow manure around the plot site to keep them away, while we pegged the plots and hand-spread fertilizers. This was not very high tech but we were desperate!

Other hazards I experienced were fertilizer plots topdressed by the farmer’s contractor, a haystack built on a long term plot ( a handy enclosure! ) and one plot ( but not adjoining plots ) used as a holding yard for a travelling mob of sheep. That does wonders for any plot!



Ian Howey 1985 - 1987 writes: 

Ian Howey

Span of career 1955-1987


My father was President of the Victorian Dairyfarmers' Association from 1942 until his death in 1952, and Chairman of the Australian Dairy Produce Board from 1948 to 1952. He was absolutely devoted to taking an objective approach to the issues with which he had to deal. Looking back, I feel sure that he subtly convinced me to apply for a Departmental scholarship to the BAgrSc (Dairy Technology) at Massey College, NZ.

Once employed by the Dairying Division of the Department, I was greatly impressed and influenced by the overwhelming majority of the  officers, who took an objective approach to serving both the industry and consumers. The overwhelming majority of officers (both field and clerical) of the Dairying Division were, and I would hope still are, highly mission-oriented with a ready acceptance that they have important responsibilities to both the industry and the consumers of dairy products. As this ethos was accepted by the overwhelming majority of the staff, I doubt whether it has changed significantly. But I suspect that the changes in recent years to employment conditions might be causing some degree of crisis of confidence to many officers.

Massey was established to provide residential courses in Agricultural Science, together with diploma courses in Horticulture, Agriculture, Dairyfarming, Sheep and Beef Farming and Dairy Manufacturing. In the late 1920s, Professor Riddett, Dean, got approval to introduce a new degree in Dairy Technology.

In all the graduate courses, students did their first year at one of the main universities then proceeded to Massey for the final three years, in the case of farming, or four years (for the first two terms each year) in the case of Dairy Technology.

Before becoming eligible to receive their degrees, students had to complete 12 months' practical experience in their field of study. Mostly, they completed this period during the university vacations.

The second Superintendent of Dairying (Mr TM Jensen) was one of the earlier Massey graduates to receive the BAgrSci (Dairy Technology) degree. He applied for appointment as Superintendent of Dairying in the Victorian Department of Agriculture when the first Superintendent retired in the early 1930s. The other main contender was Mr R Trembath, who was already employed in the Department and who had been the main departmental officer involved in the planning and construction of the School of Dairy Technology at Werribee. Both contenders were of much the same youngish age. In his application, Mr Jensen overstated his age. He was appointed. When he arrived in Victoria to commence duty, part of the formal appointment process was to submit a certified copy of his birth certificate. When asked why he had initially overstated his age, he said that he believed that this might help him to gain appointment.

In due course, Mr Trembath resigned from the Department and set up an industry body, Dairy Technology Services, which provides valuable services to the Victorian dairy manufacturing industry.

In the second half of the 1940s, after inquiring about the dairying components of the agricultural science courses in the Australian universities, and knowing about those in New Zealand, Mr Jensen recommended that the Department offer up to four scholarships a year for students who had completed the first year of BAgrSc in Australia to complete their courses in either Dairy Husbandry or Dairy Technology at Massey College. He arrived at this recommendation because his inquiries in Australia led him to conclude that their courses were designed for research rather than extension in farm management,and, as well, dairying did not get particular emphasis in the courses.

His recommendations were approved and the first awardees commenced their second year at Massey College in 1948.

The financial provisions of the scholarships were:

payment of air fares from Melbourne to New Zealand to go to Massey at the start and end of the course;

• during the course, payment of return air fares to Melbourne each year, regardless of whether or not the awardee returned to Victoria; and

• payment of all fees at Massey College. This included the cost of board in the students' hostel, even when the awardee stayed there for any part of College vacations. This would apply mainly to the short vacations between terms in a year, because in the long vacation virtually all awardees were engaged in fulfilling the requirement for 12 months practical experience on dairy farms or in dairy factories. Because the commercial experience included payment of wages, I think it unlikely that any of the scholars experienced severe financial problems.

The scholarship program continued until about 1970, when the then Deputy Director-General (who was a one-eyed Melbourne graduate devotee) convinced the Director General to discontinue the scholarships because he claimed that they were more costly than the cadetships to Australian universities. It was not until it was too late to intervene that I discovered that, in fact, the scholarships were somewhat cheaper than those to Australian universities. I can only conclude that the costs of fees and boarding at Massey College were sufficiently lower than the same costs at Australian universities to more than offset the cost of the return air fare that the awardees received each year.

For the first few years of the scholarship program, the majority of the awardees were returned ex-servicemen.

In 1948 and 1949, I had been at Trinity College at Melbourne University. At the time, almost half of the students there were ex-servicemen. After being at boarding school, I found it very educational and rewarding to suddenly become part of an essentially adult community.

I have no doubt that the ex-servicemen would have had much the same adult, down-to-earth approach that was established in the dairy farm management services.

During the 20 or so years of the graduate training program, most of those who did the dairy farming option were appointed as Dairy Husbandry Officers (DHO’s) to help dairy farmers improve their farm management skills. They were always led by a Senior Dairy Husbandry Officer who had also been trained at Massey.

There were three groups, with a total of about 20 officers, located in Northern Victoria, Gippsland and the Western District.

Once, when I visited the leading DHO at the Shepparton office, he explained to me that, in addition to farm visits, they held regular seminars in the Shepparton office. For these, they invited about half from those farmers who were in regular contact with them, and about half who were not. They considered that the advertised program needed to include one or two items that they knew were of concern to most farmers, but that the major emphasis was on items that they knew were of great importance to farm management.

With the discontinuation of the Massey training program, it became necessary to fill any vacancies with local graduates. There would be little doubt that almost all these graduates would be greatly influenced by their experienced colleagues.

Only about ten people did the Dairy Technology, and later the Food Technology, degree at Massey College/University. Their duties were research in dairy technology, lecturing in dairy manufacturing, extension work in dairy manufacturing, and the overall control of Dairy Supervision and the improvement of milk quality on dairy farms. Since a number resigned to work in commercial dairy manufacturing or similar fields, there were never more than about five in the Department at any time. Four, of whom I was one, worked in the Department until retirement.

I was probably somewhat lucky in the three promotions I gained. All of them included appeals to the Public Service Board for the final decision.

I commenced duty early in 1954 as a Milk Products Officer in the Milk Products Branch. In about 1958, the Senior Milk Products Officer resigned to take up an appointment in the commercial dairy manufacturing industry.

I was one of several applicants for the position. Looking back, I conclude that the Chief of the Division probably preferred me to be appointed but, being concerned that one or the other of the longer-serving applicants would secure the promotion on appeal to the Public Service Board (PSB), recommended that no appointment be made at that time.

Three of us appealed against the Board's decision to accept the Chief's recommendation. Being the least senior, my appeal was the last to be heard.

At the conclusion of my appeal, the Chairman said “We'll let you know which way the cat jumps.” Whilst I am not normally good at repartee, I instantly replied “Or whether it stays poised.”

I will never know whether that tipped the balance in my favour, but they upheld my appeal.

In 1983, the Principal of the School of Dairy Technology at Werribee retired at age 65, and his position was advertised. I was very interested in appointment to the position, because:

•  we were on the threshold of a very substantial increase (costing $1.3 million) in the facilities, a more than doubling of the staff and upgrading the two-year Certificate in Dairy Manufacturing to a three-year Diploma in Dairy Technology, and

The Division of Dairying had recently introduced the Methylene Blue Test for grading milk supplied by farmers. This was a much more effective test for grading milk than the senses grading that had applied to that time.

One of the research scientists had played a substantial role in preparing for the implementation of the new test. It was widely known that, in a disagreement with the Chief of the Division over some aspect of the implementation, he had told the Chief “You are not a scientist's bootlace!”

This officer was an important contender for the job of Principal, but the Chief was of a character which would never forgive or forget this insult. The result was that he recommended me for the promotion and two appellants failed to convince the PSB to overturn the appointment. A second case of fortuitous good luck for me.

Despite this incident, once planning for and implementation of the building extensions and increase in staffing got under way, we all worked together very hard and effectively to get the best outcome from what we knew would be a once-in-a-career opportunity.

During this period, I worked seven days a week and forfeited my annual leave in one year. Frank Read, the Director-General at the time, emphasised that I was the key link between the Department and the Public Works Department and Meldrum and Partners, the private architects they engaged to carry out the project. I did not let him down.

I also needed to maintain close liaison with the Accountant of the Department. I clearly remember once going to see him to ask for information on if and when the building would start. He told me that it would certainly be in a year or so, once another major Departmental project had been completed.

I then went immediately to the Chief's office and told him the news. I will never forget his reply - “You'll never get that project. I'll believe it when I see it.”

Some years later, after I had been appointed Chief of the Division of Dairying, my Deputy Chief recommended that the new dairy factory be named in honour of the former Chief. I didn't reply, nor did I implement his recommendation. But, during the period I obtained approval to have the new assembly hall named the “Frank Read Hall”.

I was also the initiator of the new buildings being named “The Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology”  (GCIDT) in recognition of the great respect for Sir Gilbert Chandler both from the whole Departmental staff and the Victorian agricultural industries.

In 1969, the Chief of the Division of Dairying was considering retirement at the age of about 63 years. Prior to making a decision, he asked the Director-General whether there was a salary increase in the offing for Chiefs of Divisions. If there had been and he deferred his retirement until after this, his superannuation would be proportionately increased. He was told there was not, so retired in about June.

The vacancy was then advertised in the Gazette. There were only two applicants, the Deputy Chief and a not-too-well qualified “gold digger” from another Division. On the recommendation of the Director-General, the PSB rejected both applications. The Deputy Chief's appeal was rejected by the Board.

The Board was then entitled to advertise the vacancy in the press. Under these conditions, Public Servants could still apply, but they would not have any right of appeal against non-appointment.

Instead, believing that other qualified applicants in the Division of Dairying might not have applied in response to the first advertising, the Board decided to advertise the vacancy simultaneously in the Gazette and the media.

This time, the Deputy Chief and the six graduate Branch Heads of the Division, together with the Chief Dairy Officer of the South Australian Department of Agriculture (CDO), applied.

The Director-General (DG) recommended that the CDO from South Australia be appointed. Most of we Branch Heads had had some professional involvement with this officer and were not overly impressed by his calibre. Immediately after the DG called us together to his office and told us of his recommendation, we all went to the Deputy Chief's office to discuss the situation. We all agreed to lodge an appeal to the Board against non-recommendation.

On the morning when the Board heard the appeals, what I think would be a somewhat unique situation occurred. Instead of us each going to the waiting room shortly before the scheduled times for our own appeals, we all reported in time for the first appeal. As each appellant came out from his appeal, he briefed the waiting colleagues about his appeal. We all remained in the waiting room until the last of our appeals was heard.

The CDO of South Australia was there in another waiting room.

Later that day, the Director General phoned me to tell me that the Board had decided to appoint me as the Chief of Dairying. He also wished me well in the position and asked me to put out of my mind the events that led to this ending, as he would also do. He lived up to his word and we had a very open and constructive relationship from then until he retired in the late 1970s.

Purely by coincidence, the “Great Dairy Industry Wrangle” commenced in 1969.   A few months before I left the GCIDT, the Administrative Director of the Victorian Dairyfarmers Association sent me a paper on this and asked for my comments.

The kernel of the paper was the beginning of an attempt by the dairy farmers in the other mainland States to get market protection from the significantly more efficient Victorian dairy industry. To a large extent, this favourable situation would have arisen as a result of the resourcefulness and foresight of Mr Jensen getting approval for the dairy farming and manufacturing program at Massey College from 1948 to 1970. By 1970, the first four graduates in Dairy Husbandry at Massey had completed 20 years service in the Victorian Department and there was a total of about 20 DHOs.

The first official action in the “Wrangle” was when a proposal was submitted to Australian Agricultural Council in about mid-1972. The features of the proposal were:

The scheme was clearly designed to insulate the other mainland States from competition from the more economically efficient dairy farmers in Victoria and Tasmania.

Upon receiving his papers for the coming meetings of Standing Committee on Agriculture (comprised of Departmental Heads) and  Australian Agricultural Council (comprised of Ministers), Dr Wishart, Director-General (DG), called Michael Taylor (who even then was a very skilled, competent and resourceful operator) and me to his office. He asked us to thoroughly examine and report to him on the proposal, and to maintain surveillance and reporting on this issue. We both collaborated very closely and faithfully met the DG's requirements.

From then until he retired in about 1979, Dr Wishart took Michael and/or me to every meeting of SCA/AAC at which the “Wrangle” was a significant agenda item. This was so that he would have someone to consult if he considered this to be necessary. The Senior Economics Officer of the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture once privately commented that Victoria always won the debate, but lost the vote.

During this period, and until the abolition of the Division of Dairying in 1983, I did at home most of the work in relation to the “Wrangle”. The “Wrangle” was still unresolved when Dr Wishart retired. It was not resolved until 1986, when the revised Kerin Plan provided an economically rational solution that did not include the allocation of quotas to individual dairy farmers or to States.

Until the Victorian Dairyfarmers Association and the Dairying Division of the Victorian Farmers Federation united in 1976 to form the UDV, the two organisations usually had significantly different views on many dairy industry issues.

During his time as Minister of Agriculture, Ian Smith said privately “I'll bang their heads together until they agree to unite.” In due course, Rod Kefford, the Deputy Director-General of Agriculture, was appointed as independent chairman of unity negotiations.

During this time, it occurred to me that, due to disunity in the dairy farming sector, especially at a time of low farm-gate prices for milk, both organisations might be suffering a net decline in membership. So I directed the 80 Dairy Supervisors, one of whose main duties was to help, or force, dairy farmers to use acceptable hygienic procedures in producing milk, to ask the first 20 farmers they visited about their membership. There would have to have been about 1,600 responses (about 15% of licensed dairy farmers) in this survey.

The results were collated and sent to Bob Jardine, the Biometrician, for analysis. He reported that the survey was statistically sound and showed that, over the previous three years, both organisations had lost a significant number of members.

Because I considered that this information would give the Deputy Director-General a useful insight, I sent him the results. His only response was to accuse me of jeopardising his status as independent chairman of the dairy farmer unity negotiations. (But, of course, I was not a Melbourne graduate in Agriculture).

From the 1970s, Wally Watts, a dairy farmer from near Tatura, frequently had discussions with neighbouring dairy farmers. Occasionally, he telephoned my office to discuss various issues with me. Because I was aware that dairyfarmers were under financial stress, as soon as I heard his name I asked him to hang up so that I could phone him back and we could talk without him worrying about the increasing cost of the call.

One of the things I told him in confidence was that, by convention, the President of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation was always also President of the Australian Dairy Industry Council, the top industry body.

The present officeholder was the very elderly head of the NSW dairyfarmers body. He was well on into his 80s, and possibly into his dotage. I suspected that the heads of the dairyfarmer bodies in the other mainland States were keeping him so as to be able to use the potential for his replacement as an incentive to get the President of the Victorian Dairyfarmers Association to betray the legitimate interests of his members. His farm was in much the same area as Watts'.

Once the amalgamation in Victoria had been sorted out in 1976, this President got a stooge to stand as a district representative on the new Central Council. When the stooge was trounced, the former President did not stand for election in an adjoining district.

Under the terms of the amalgamation, the President of the new UDV is elected through a vote of members. There were two candidates – Mr Bill Pyle, who had been an office-bearer in the Dairy Division of the VFU, and Mr Doug Miles, who had been a Central Councillor of the VDA. It seemed to me at the time that the “Wrangle” could easily develop into a “knock down/drag out” struggle with the other mainland States. If this occurred, I felt certain that Bill Pyle could handle such a situation much better than Doug Miles, whom I regarded as one of nature's perfect gentlemen.

So I decided to invite Doug to stay one night with us on his next visit to Melbourne. I had intended to tell him of my intuition, with the possible result that he might decide to withdraw from the election.

Not long before his visit, I became firmly convinced that I could possibly be wrong, that perhaps the collective feelings of the voters would produce the best result, and that in any case it would be wrong for me to interfere to the extent that I had had in mind. At the time, I knew that the Chairman of the Victorian Dairy Industry Authority had been involved in some degree of electioneering. I got this information through to the Minister, who was at that stage considering what he should do when the present Chairman's term had expired (the Chairman's term was not extended).

After dinner, Doug and I sat in our sunroom and had a general discussion of then current dairy industry issues. There is a sequel to this.

Some years after Bill Pyle was elected President of the UDV, I mentioned this incident and my intermittent discussions with Wally Watts. He then said “I wondered how I got the handful of votes in Northern Victoria that just got me over the line in the election for President.” It is likely that at some time I would have discussed with Wally the possibility of a knock down, drag out interstate war and the desirability of having the Victorian leader most capable of coping with such a situation.   But I very much doubt that I would have suggested a candidate to him.

In the late 1970s,  Dr Wishart had expanded the then Directorate (which comprised himself, his Deputy Director-General and the Administrative Director) to also include Assistant Directors for Animal Industries, Veterinary Services, Plant Industries and Plant Research – to give a total of seven. There were occasional joint meetings of the increased Directorate and the Chiefs of Divisions.

At one of these meetings, one ADG drew attention to the recent introduction of fixed-term contracts for higher echelons in the Victorian Public Service. He suggested that Chiefs of Divisions should volunteer to enter the new system. Once Chief at once replied that we might be prepared to consider this, provided that members of the Directorate volunteered to be first cab off the rank. That was the last we heard of this matter.

Following Dr Wishart's retirement and his replacement by an outside appointee, who was not very inspiring, the Industry Divisions were dissolved one by one, with the Division of Dairying being the last in 1983.

Presumably like the other Chiefs, I had Mickey Mouse responsibilities until I ended up in 1986 with my Deputy Chief (who had no staff) and a typist.

I only stayed on because:

The dairy industry ‘Wrangle’ was still proceeding, and it was still desirable to secure an economically rational solution.

  1. • I was still less than 60 years, and, if I retired, I risked simply getting the return of my superannuation contributions plus interest.
  2. • Fortuitously, the Government introduced voluntary retirement from the age of 55 years, so my escape hatch became wide open.
  3. • With the ‘Wrangle’ coming to an economically rational conclusion, I stayed on until retiring just after my 58th birthday in May 1987.

At the first Standing Committee on Agriculture/Australian Agricultural Council meetings after the new DG commenced duty, the ‘Wrangle’ was again on their agendas.

This time, the DDG (Animal Industries) advised the DG that he was able to advise on the animal industry items. He didn't bother to give Michael Taylor or me the opportunity to give him comments on the dairy marketing proposal that was an agenda item for the meeting.

When he returned from the meeting, he called Michael and me to his office and outlined the decision on dairy industry marketing that had been unanimously agreed at the SCA and AAC meetings. Michael immediately exclaimed "You got done!" This was because Victoria had agreed to a proposal by the other mainland States that would permanently entrench their protection from Victoria against market competition in liquid milk and manufactured dairy products This protection would have been accentuated by the last season of the three-year period for the determination of State quotas having been one where only Victoria had suffered an unusually dry year. Michael and I then met with Harry Edgoose to discuss the action we could and should take.

We agreed to contact Bill Pyle, the President of the recently formed United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV), to outline the decision to him, and to offer that one of we three would be agreeable to brief combined meetings of their local committees in Gippsland, Northern Victoria and the Western District.

Bill readily agreed and set up the meetings. We each addressed one of these meetings.

The outcome of these briefings was an official approach by the UDV to the Minister, who rescinded Victoria's agreement to the proposal that had originally been supported.

After the Wrangle finally resulted in an economically rational decision by the Commonwealth in 1986, a senior officer of their Department of Primary Industries told me that their legal advice was that any discriminatory dairy marketing arrangement could not be implemented without legislation by the Commonwealth and all the States!

The first version of the Kerin Plan for dairy marketing was rejected by the Senate in the Spring Session of 1985.

I then suggested to Mr Pyle of the UDV that he ask the Victorian Minister to set up a committee to examine and report on the Kerin Plan.

The Committee comprised my Deputy Chief (Harry Edgoose), Michael Taylor, me (as chairman) and two nominees each of the UDV and manufacturers. Our report praised the Kerin Plan, except for two aspects:

the opening prices to the dairy farmers each year were to be the average of the two previous seasons and the estimated price for the coming season; and

  1. • whole milk powder was not to be included (presumably due to political pressure from Nestlé, the biggest manufacturer).

In relation to 1., we drew attention to Mr Kerin having regularly criticised the dairy industry for not being responsive to market signals!

Because of the criticism of two features of the Kerin Plan, the Minister would not agree to our report being distributed to the industry. At first, I was gravely concerned at this abrogation of our terms of reference. But I quickly realised that the four industry representatives on our committee already had their copies of our report and could pass the word along.

In the Spring 1986 Session of Federal Parliament, Mr Kerin eliminated the two deficiencies in his plan, and the legislation was passed by both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. The committee on the Kerin Plan was the third time when, from limbo, I had clashed with the Victorian Minister. Of course, from limbo I could afford these luxuries.

Early in his term in office, the Minister sent a communication to every member of the Department, telling them that:

he was planning to thoroughly reorganise the Department; and

I received the circular and the options but, knowing that I was on the way out, didn't study them closely.

Shortly after that, one of my former staff, who had done the Diploma in Public Administration at RMIT, phoned me and pointed out that the so-called options were not genuine but only variations of a pre-determined option - matrix management. Under this, most people have line responsibilities to several line managers. This management structure had been introduced in several countries and had been found to fail

I then prepared an article "The re-organisation of DARA - from go to woe?" and submitted it to the editor of the internal staff magazine.(We should try to get a copy of this)

A week or so later, he phoned me saying that he wished to discuss the article with me. I immediately replied that, if publishing the article would cause him any problems, please throw it in the bin. He replied that he only wished to suggest some improvements to the form of expression.

In due course the amended version came out.

Then, a month or so later, the Editor took early retirement and implemented a decision he had already made to take up hobby farming.

Next, I read an article in the Weekly Times in which the Minister had told a reporter that the new top management structure of the Department would result in considerable savings in the cost of management. From the positions before and after the restructure and the gazetted public service salaries, I calculated the "before" and "after" salaries costs. The total "after" costs considerably exceeded the "before" costs.

So I telephoned the Weekly Times reporter and told him that I had quantified these costs and was prepared, on an anonymous basis, to give him these costs.

In the next issue of the Weekly Times, the before and after totals from an anonymous source were printed.

In the next issue, the reporter reported the Minister's denial of the accuracy of the information from the anonymous source, but he did not give the details on which the refutation was based. Presumably, the reporter wasn't given them by the Minister.

I was amazed at the number of colleagues who turned up at my Departmental farewell, and also at their generosity in presenting me with a six-place Royal Doulton dinner set, which is, and always will be, one of my most valued possessions.

Shortly after this, at their Annual Conference Dinner, the UDV awarded me Honorary Life Membership.

Both of these gestures dissipated my feelings of great despondency in seemingly having made a complete mess of my career.

In thinking about my farewell speech in the Department, I considered the option of including a beefing about the change in the structure of the Department. I rejected this as being inappropriate in a valedictory speech. 

But I did succumb to clearly and slowly giving the Central Registry file reference number of an article entitled "DARA and the Big Bad Barons" that I had written some years earlier.

I was astonished later in 1987 to be invited to accept the award of the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for public service. My first thought was to decline the offer because, like most public servants, I had only discharged my responsibilities to the best of my ability. Then the thought, or maybe the cop-out, came to me that possibly the people who made the recommendation would be in a more objective position to assess the matter. So I accepted the offer, but have never flaunted the award.

Some time later, one of my closest colleagues volunteered the information to ne that the recommendation for the award had been submitted by former colleagues in the Department (but not including any member of the Directorate), the UDV and representatives of the Victorian dairy manufacturers and liquid milk processors.

By the time I retired from the Department, this change was in its very early stage of implementation. I think that it is certain to now apply to all new appointments of Heads of Departments, and probably also to many management positions lower than this.

The Westminster System for the appointment of Heads of Departments was for these Heads to be appointed on a permanent basis by Cabinet the Minister for the Department. They were termed "Permanent Heads". A prime duty of a Head was to give the Minister fearlessly the advice that the Head considered would best serve the needs of the community.

The grounds upon which a Head could be dismissed included reaching the prescribed age for retirement; becoming medically unfit to continue effectively carrying out the prescribed duties; and committing a category of offence that rendered the Head unacceptable to properly discharge the prescribed duties.

I am not sure whether the Westminster System is still operative in the United Kingdom.

I have no detailed information on the American system but, at the least, it seems that the President has the power to appoint and dismiss at least the Departmental Secretaries in their public administration. Even this power would enable the President to have a say in appointments at lower levels.

In Victoria these days, the Ministers have the power that they have always had to appoint Heads of Departments.

In relation to conditions of employment, I know of one Head who was appointed on a two- or three-year contract. But the contract had an additional clause that empowered the Minister to terminate the contract on one month's notice, thereby terminating the employment.

In Victoria also, following the abolition of the independent Public Service Board, the Heads of Department were given the control of all appointments in their respective Departments. I think that it is more than likely that, in relation to positions in management, the appointments would be as fixed-term contracts with the Head (no longer the Permanent Head!), and are extendable by the Head. Possibly, there could also be a clause in the contract that enables it to be terminated at short notice.

In my 33 years in the Department, the overwhelming majority of officers I interacted with (including many outside the Division of Dairying) had as their most important aim giving the most effective service they could to people in the agricultural industry(ies) with which they were involved. Party political considerations were rarely, if ever, mentioned. It was a very comfortable atmosphere in which to work.

This atmosphere carried over to the associated administrative officers, who would have got a good appreciation of the contribution of their work in helping to achieve worthwhile objectives that they came to know about.

The politicising of the Department was in its early stages in 1987, when I retired. This politicising was carried out under a Labor Government. I remember hoping that the process would be reversed when the government changed. Immediately, the thought came to me "What Minister would not like to have the Head of his Department in his political pocket?"

Apparently, after the election of the Kennett Government, the politicising was converted into an art form.

So, I presume that, these days,  departments are run with at least as much emphasis on achieving a Government's political aims as on industry and community benefit.

It is high time that someone did the research that would be necessary to fully expose this charade to the general community.

Whilst I feel sure that there would be more, I can recall three instances where I would have been in a quandary in relation to issues where my actions might not have been compliant with the Minister's political objectives:

  1. One day, the Minister's Personal Assistant phoned me to draw attention to a vacancy for a Dairy Supervisor in the Minister's electorate. One of his constituents, who had passed the Dairy Supervisor's exam, had asked the Minister to get him appointed to the vacancy. I replied that I would discuss the matter with the most senior officers in the Dairy Supervision Branch and advise.
    My consultation with these officers led to me being informed that:
    * in addition to a written and practical examination, there was also an oral examination which was similar to a job interview and was used to assess whether the candidate would be suitable for appointment as a Dairy Supervisor. In this particular case, the person was considered not to be suitable; and
    * in any case, there were several longer-standing candidates who were considered very suitable for appointment.
    I therefore advised the Personal Assistant that it would be inappropriate for me to comply with the Minister's wishes.
  2. Because the Minister didn't want to be associated with a report on the Kerin Plan that could be taken as some criticism of the Commonwealth Minister, he would not agree to its distribution to the industry in accordance with the Terms of Reference. (The industry as a whole became informed of the report through its representatives on the committee).
  3. After the abolition of the Milk Board and the establishment of the Victorian Dairy Industry Authority, the Minister appointed the Chairman of the Inquiry, that led to this, as first Chairman of the VDIA. Towards the end of his first term in office, I was informed that he was interested in influencing the election for President of the UDV.   I passed this information to the Minister's office with a recommendation that they should take this into account in deciding whether or not to appoint the Chairman for a second term.
    I was very relieved when they appointed Dan Flynn, a very wise and effective officer, who had recently retired, to the position. With the “Wrangle” still unresolved at that time, the Victorian Minister set up the Victorian Dairy Industry Inquiry to report on marketing arrangements for liquid milk and manufactured dairy products in Victoria.
    The three members of the Board of Inquiry were Des Cooper, Chairman of Victorian Oats Marketing Authority, Don Merry, a retired banker, and Alan Griffin of the Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology.
    The Minister asked me to give the Board of Inquiry any advice and assistance they sought.
    One of my senior administrative officers, who was Secretary of the Victorian Dairy Produce Board, was appointed as Secretary to the Board of Inquiry. This Board asked me to work in close liaison with the lawyer (who was later appointed a QC) they appointed to conduct the examination of the witnesses they called. Except for a couple of days of hearings in West Gippsland, I sat through the whole of the Board's hearings in Melbourne. This was partly because I suspected that some of the witnesses called could be tricky customers and partly because of the potentially great importance of the Inquiry to the Victorian Dairy Industry.
    I was able to give the lawyer very good background briefings, including on a few important aspects that the Board did not want to raise.
    When a witness seemed to be giving misleading responses, if I considered it to be important enough, I was able to signal to the Secretary and give him a hand-written note to the Board members, with whom he sat.
    I will mention two important aspects that put some constraint on the responses of several witnesses:
    * from two of the VDA Central Councillors, I came to know that their President neither briefed them on important items on the agenda of "Equalisation" Board Meetings, nor reported to them later on important decisions that the Committee had made.
    I told the lawyer about this, adding that if it became necessary I felt certain that the two Central Councillors would give forthright evidence on this aspect.
    * the Casein Equalisation "Show Day Stampede" in casein sales.  On Show Day (a Thursday and a Public Holiday) in Melbourne in the year before appointment of the Inquiry, the Whitlam Government made a substantial reduction in the value of the $A against the $US. Sales of casein to the USA at this time would thus return considerably more $A than at the previously higher valuation. The Equalisation Committee should have immediately increased the export price in $A to take the increased post-devaluation sales into account, thereby recouping this revenue to the Pool. They did not do this till the following Tuesday.
    In the meantime, Colac Dairying Company, which had an American buyer at Colac, very quickly clinched a deal and retained the windfall gain. Murray-Goulburn did likewise and also attempted to lock in sales of product to be supplied over the following few months.
    Because the Inquiry Committee considered that Colac Dairy Company was one of the "goodies" in the industry, they did not intend to have this matter raised in the Committee's inquiry.
    I knew of this, but still fully briefed their Counsel on the matter. He not only blew the whistle, but also got a witness from one of the dairy exporting selling agents to confirm it and, while doing so, to coin the phrase "Show Day Stampede".
    The Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries, which also was having to grapple with various financial aspect of the Australian Dairy Industry told me that Sir John Crawford, Chairman of their inquiry, was delighted that the Victorian inquiry was doing for them much of the muck-raking that otherwise they would have to do.

The sales of milk for the liquid mild market in Victoria also came within the Victorian Inquiry's terms of reference.
At the time, most of the sales of market milk, at a much higher price than milk for manufacture, were allocated to holders of large contracts with the Milk Board. Nevertheless, a reasonably large number of other dairyfarmers had contracts for smallish daily sales (about 45 to 90 litres daily).
Based partly on the Inquiry's report on this aspect, the Minister came up with an almost unbelievably politically judicious solution. The action taken was:

the holders of milk contracts could retain these for up to ten years;

This meant that:

From Day 1, even dairyfarmers without contracts would get some share in sales of market milk.

    Many holders of small contracts could find it better economics to sell their contracts and take advantage of 1.
  1. • The holders of large contracts could retain these for up to ten years.
  2. • After ten years, all Victorian dairyfarmers would receive the market milk price each month for the State-wide percentage of milk that met the quality standards for market milk.

I feel sure that in the information I have provided, I have not dealt adequately with the Department's contribution to improving dairy farm management, and the degree of improvement that actually occurred. This is largely because for the last ten years of my service Harry Edgoose was Deputy Chief of the Division with an important responsibility for the Division's farm management related services. (Harry's contribution to this history would be important.)



Peter Hyland 1950 - 1986 writes:

Major Issues:

The 1950’s

The Department had a well established credible organisation dedicated to the service of Agricultural industries and their people. District services were mainly legislative, controlling production and pests and diseases in livestock and plant industries. Examples include Dairy supervisors, Stock Inspectors and Horticultural Inspectors. District Veterinary Officers were located in all major livestock producing areas. District Agricultural Officers were located in areas with significant agricultural production.

These people were the front line source of day-to-day contact with farmers.

There was also a group of very experienced industry experts for each major plant and animal industry. Hewitt, Downey, Bowman, Hall, and Sillcock were such experts and there were others with similar expertise in the plant industries.

Research services were mainly in plant industries at Werribee, Rutherglen, Walpeup, Mildura and Burnley.

Agricultural education services were at Dookie, Longerenong and Burnley colleges.

These services had successfully assisted the agricultural industries to maintain production of food and fibre through the war years and were increasingly coming under pressure to service the needs created by the escalating post-war growth of all major agricultural industries for (initially) mainly technical knowledge.

They were also the source of the sense of service and loyalty of staff at all levels - a key characteristic of the organisation that developed from this base in the decades ahead.

The main issues and challenges for the future were:

  1. Building the Department’s capacity to respond to escalating needs of Governments, industries and individual farmers, for relevant technical, economic and management information - it was badly-under resourced and staffed in 1950.
  2. Recruitment and training of mainly graduate staff required to carry out industry-based applied R&D and development of district/regional extension services.
  3. Cooperative training assignments for industry specialist staff with CSIRO, Universities and other State Departments - for example, the training of Hyland and Cannon for the sheep industry.
  4. The establishment of new industry branches – sheep and dairy initially, followed later by pig, poultry and beef.
  5. Training in extension/communication skills across the Department. Extension training schools were established, the first at Dookie in 1954.
  6. Staffing the Mobile Extension Unit 1955-57.
  7. Realisation of the need for improved district based services and resources.
  8. Realisation of the need for improved regional R&D resources especially in the grazing industry of Western Victoria. This led to:
                      - purchase and establishment of PRS Hamilton
                      - purchase and establishment of Ellinbank & Kyabram Research Stations
                      -provision of increased resources for R&D at SRF Werribee
  9. Initiation of cooperative on-farm R&D trials in grazing and Cropping industries, including trials on sheep breeding (Heritability Trial), stocking rates, lamb losses, pasture improvement and grazing management.
  10. Effective utilisation of Industry R&D Funds to support the above initiatives.
  11. Traditional Divisional Management Structure and accountability maintained at central and district levels
  12. Key leaders who had established traditional professional standards, identity and relevance of organisation beginning to retire, including Brake, Mullet and Talbot.
  13. Leaders who would influence major changes in the next decade and beyond beginning to hit straps - Wishart, Flynn, and Kefford

The 1960-70s

  1. All industries continued growth and productivity and demands for relevant information and services.
  2. Staff and resources of Industry Divisions and Branches more than doubled in this period. For example, Sheep Industry branch went from 7 to 15 graduate staff all trained in specialist technology and extension communication to industry.
  3. Regional R&D resources and services in all major Industries greatly increased -  for example at PRS Hamilton the Beef Cattle unit was added.
  4. Regional cooperative on-farm experimental work and demonstrations increased in all regions - for example stocking rate trials on 16 locations across the state.
  5. Rapid increase of staff numbers and complexity of services at district and regional levels required the development of office and laboratory resources - for example new office and lab complexes at Hamilton, Bairnsdale, Benalla and Bendigo.
  6. New CESG funding from 1966/7 greatly enhanced resources for applied research and extension work at regional/district level.
    (Refer L. Cozens Review of March 1974 on benefits of CESG renewal -  the fund greatly enhanced Department’s organisation of regional extension and essential support services with consequent benefits in improved planning, objectivity, flexibility and capacity to adjust to the changing needs of agricultural industries and the community).
  7. R&D at regional level in plant and animal disciplines were challenging traditional methods of grazing management and husbandry - for example PRS Hamilton report of first 10 years.
  8. The Department’s regional and district services were able to provide effective advice and support in several major rural crisis events in the 60s to 80s period – droughts 1967/8, 72/3, 76/78, 82/83, 97 to present; bushfires 1962, 1969, 1977, 1983, 2009; also plague locust and mice plagues.
  9. Significant increase in publication of research results from plant and animal industry projects required communication at applied farmer level - increasing demand for effective communication through all media, on-farm discussion groups (mainly dairying), field days at research stations and farm demonstration units, on-farm management schools.
  10. Private Consultant services began business, initially mainly using technology derived from D of A R&D resources.
  11. With increasing professional expertise and experience, D of A staff were able to make significant inputs to National conferences on extension, training of industry specialist and sheep husbandry.
  12. In 1966, Dr David Wishart’s appointment as Chief Division of Animal Industry and subsequent appointment in 1967 as Director of Agriculture, led to significant changes in the corporate culture of the organisation, especially the relative balance of resource inputs to plant and animal disciplines and R&D, extension and education.
  13. From the mid 1960’s, with increasing numbers of industry specialist staff deployed at district locations under the old divisional structure and accountability, there was an increasing need to review the department’s policy and organisation of extension services and cooperation in service delivery at regional, district and farm levels.
  14. Dr Rodger Watson’s appointment in1967as Chief of the Division of Animal Industry had a significant impact on establishing and maintaining the high standards and accountability of R&D, not only in animal industry projects but across the Department as a whole.
  15. New branches were established in the Pig and Beef industries and Agrostology with the assistance of CESG and Industry Funds.
  16. An increasing number of graduates was assisted to undertake postgraduate training in industry disciplines and extension at Melbourne and overseas universities.
  17. Conferences of Divisional heads and senior regional staff in 1967 and 1968 led to the Extension Policy Conference held at Kalorama in 1970. This in turn led to the decision in 1971 to establish a new Extension Services Branch. The Principal Regional Officer had equal status with Chiefs of Divisions and under the PEO Regional Officers and Senior District Officers had delegated responsibility to plan and coordinate the extension work carried out by industry specialists and regulatory officers at the local level. The prime function of the new branch was to coordinate the extension services function of the whole Department. Ian Norman as Principle Regional Officer and his team of Regional Officers and SDO’s carried out their tasks with distinction and managed to substantially improve the coordinated delivery of regional services especially in periods of crisis such as in the dairy Industry in the mid 70’s, and dealing with drought, fires and rural adjustment. However there proved to be limitations in the model mainly because of continuing uncertainty about the delegation of responsibility to control and coordinate programs and activities at the regional and district levels and the control and availability of divisional resources.
  18. In this period there were opportunities for senior officers to undertake overseas travel. In 1967 with the assistance of Wool Research Trust Funds I made visits to study the organisation and management of R&D and Extension Services in South Africa, UK, Europe and USA.
  19. In 1969 I attended the Summer Program of Business Administration at the University of Melbourne Business School.

These activities were the main initial source of key management initiatives in the Department on staff development and performance review and training courses for senior staff in this field.

The 1970s and 1980s

The review of the role and organisation of departmental extension services continued into the 1980’s during the transition from the Wishart to Smith periods of Directorate administration.

Smith in particular wanted stronger delegation of most operational functions of R&D and extension to operational managers at the regional and district levels. This required a further consideration and definition of the function of extension.

The definition of the extension function as set out in Internal Report Series No 42, September 1982 was derived substantially from a so-called “Resource Model of Extension” developed at a meeting of senior extension workers and educators held at the University of Melbourne Strathfieldsaye Estate in October 1980.

This model encompasses my philosophy on the function of extension and the administrative organisation and relationships required to deliver effective R&D and extension services. It was a key performance criterion in my job description when I retired in 1986 - I doubt if its potential was ever fully achieved.

The description by David Smith of Extension in the 80’s at the meeting of senior staff at Dookie Agricultural College, in May 1980 was a perceptive analysis of the government policy priorities in response to community and industry changes, which would inevitably reduce the resources for R&D and extension services.

CESG withdrawal of Funding

The decision by the Commonwealth Government in 1981 to slash approx 50% of its allocation in 1981/82 and its forecast to discontinue funding of projects in 1982/83 caused the immediate disruption of approximately 100 projects across the department. The benefits of the CESG funding as outlined by Cozens above were well documented and it was difficult to understand the logic of the decision that R&D and Extension were solely a state and industry responsibility, especially as the program was originally established to assist National priorities to improve productivity in Agriculture and these benefits were being delivered. (Refer comments by LCozens on Benefits of CESG renewal 1974).

My views on this and subsequent decisions by both commonwealth and state governments on funding of regional R&D and Extension and rural industry’s own responsibility in the matter were expressed in a letter to the Australian Rural Time , September 1990.

What was achieved?

What has not been achieved?



John Kenez 1963 -1985 writes:


During this period  the major issues in the Department were the gradual increase of producers’  activities in aspects of management and  marketing, industry matters and, within the Department ore detailed overview of officers’ activities and their funding.

It was from about the late 1960-s on that  the concept of “environment” became one of the important considerations, in agricultural production and also in many other aspects  of  our industrial production and everyday life. At the same time the importance of overall management was  recognized  in primary and industrial production  and also in the running of small and large scale organizations. Thus more frequently senior positions in the Department were filled with people, whose primary knowledge and experience was in aspect s of management, rather than in primary production.  As a consequence there was an increasing effort  to  justify  manpower and expenditure to be spent on specific  activities.

The Department and individual Divisions had to become more involved in areas of produce profitability and local and export market  opportunities. These issues had important impacts on our research and extension activities.


Dr. John  E. Kenez, 10 May 2010.



Ras Lawson 1964 - 1998 writes:

Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?

These probably changed with each decade.  Taking an overview I think the big challenge has been to keep increasingly urban orientated governments and Ministers aware of the relevance of agriculture to the community.  Within this has been the problem of maintaining for the long term scientific knowledge, skills and resources in face of government demands for the new, short term and flashy.

Not strictly Departmental, but an example of the less regulated way it was in the 1970’s.  When I got back from doing my PhD part of which was to develop embryo transfer techniques, Professor Carl Wood who led a Monash University team working on in-vitro fertilisation in women approached me to join their team.  I didn’t want to leave the Department (I also had a 6 year bond) but moonlighted at Queen Victoria hospital helping transfer some of our skills from animal work.  A problem was to get conditions right to incubate ova obtained from patients after they had been fertilised in-vitro.  At Cambridge we had incubated sheep and cattle embryos in rabbit oviducts.  Rabbits not being available at the time, but with plenty of ewes at Werribee we decided to see whether we could get human fertilised ova to develop for the first few days in sheep oviducts at the right stage of the oestrous cycle.  To do this we took sheep in a red plate ute up to the back of Queen Victoria Hospital, had to convince the parking attendant we were at the right place and then take the sheep in a lift to a laboratory room we’d turned into a makeshift surgery.  The look of amazed horror on a couple of nurses who found sheep in a lift they wanted to use is still with me.  The experiment didn’t work.  Subsequently, of course, Alan Trounson another agricultural scientist came via the Cambridge laboratory to join Carl’s successful team.


Bob Luff (as told to Barrie Bardsley)


07 December 2010

The early days

Before WWII, Dookie and Longerenong were run by the Council of Agricultural Education, who got most of their money from leasing Crown Land. The model was based on the US concept of Land Grant Colleges.  After the war, the lands were required for Soldiers’ Settlement and that source of revenue was lost to the Council, which became dependent on state finances.

The government regarded it as important to provide education and training for returned servicemen, some who would take up Soldiers' Settlement blocks, and others who would enter into agricultural science or support roles in agriculture. Whilst some returned servicemen went to Longerenong, most went to Dookie. Needing to find people to act as educators, and deciding to wind up the CAE and place the agricultural colleges in a Department, a decision had to be made about which Department. Burnley was already in the Department of Agriculture, having been set up by the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria, so Dookie and Longerenong could fit into the Departmental structure.

The first "Chief of the Division of Agricultural Education", then titled Superintendent, was G.B.Woodgate. He’d been a lecturer at Longerenong, became Principal at Dookie, so as senior academic he became Superintendent. The Department appointed a Senior Inspector as his second in command. The decision about who to get to take on this role resulted in the appointment of Einar Beruldsen. Someone was needed to take on returned servicemen education. Beruldsen, prior to the War, was an irrigation officer with the Department based at Werribee, and had been involved in service training during the War. He was asked to become Woodgate’s offsider and look after returned servicemen training.

So, when Woodgate retired in 1954, Beruldsen took on the top job with John Nattrass as Senior Inspector. Nattrass had been science master at Longerenong, and when Pym Cook, from Dookie, became Principal at Longerenong, Nattrass moved to Melbourne. They stayed there till mid-1960s. Beruldsen and Nattrass got on well professionally – each had his own strengths, which were complementary. Bob related an anecdote about Nattrass and wife, both keen golfers, and who each had a Rover. They collided one day on the drive of the Horsham Golf Club, one going in and one coming out.

During this time, the government started rebuilding Dookie and adding to Longerenong.

The Division never sat comfortably in the Department, as demonstrated by the circumstances surrounding Bob’s appointment to a job in the Division. Immediately following graduation, Bob had applied for an advertised position, and firstly went to (Rod) Kefford, Vegetable Branch, who said OK but that he needed PSB and Treasury approvals and it would take several weeks to finalise. Bob said all right; then thought he’d talk to Agricultural Education. Nattrass took him into his office, said there was a position of Agricultural Education Officer, which entailed working at HO, doing a Dip. Ed. then going to one of the Colleges. He told Bob he could start “next Monday” – but actually had no prior approval for this offer. This was typical of the independent way the Division operated.

Changes in Courses at the Colleges

When Bob started, Dookie and Longerenong were still training people to go into farming (two year Certificate level training). Soon after that, the expanding Department wanted people with agricultural technician training and saw that Dookie and Longerenong graduates could be used. As a result, a three year Diploma of Agriculture was introduced.

At first, Longerenong only conducted a Certificate course. For their students to achieve a Diploma a third year had to be done at Dookie.  Later both colleges provided Diploma courses. By 1965, the Colleges produced both farmers and technicians for the Department, the Soil Conservation Authority and commercial companies servicing the farming sector, such as ICI, Shell and Pivot..  The courses started to evolve toward being more  science-based so that graduates could be agricultural technologists not only in the public service but also in industry, for example in ICI.   These courses filled a gap below the Agricultural Science course conducted by the University of Melbourne.

Some critics felt that Beruldsen was more a trainer than an educator, but he was good enough to be put on the Faculty Board of the School of Education at the University of Melbourne. He had the demeanour that enabled him to hold his own for his Division.

When Bob started work he didn’t have an office or even a desk – Beruldsen was happy for him to use one in his office!

Beruldsen had an extremely accurate memory – after a meeting, he would return to his office and dictate minutes to his secretary without having taken any notes during the meeting. He was also decisive, and gave his decision almost immediately when asked a question by one of the campuses. Provan, Principal at Dookie was a pretty good administrator, whilst Pym Cook. Principal of Longerenong was inclined to be very verbose.

In the partnership between the two men, Nattrass was the politically savvy wheeler dealer. He was independently wealthy - when he retired, he left in his desk several uncashed pay cheques. Sadly, his son died at an early age.

The next stage saw the changes to courses to make them more science-oriented at Dookie and Longerenong and also at Burnley. Burnley had always been the “poor cousin”, but the Horticulture Division wanted diploma level people. From the mid-60s on, courses became more and more scientific, and less and less related to farm skills. Thus, staff needed to be more and more science literate – and teacher trained. Beruldsen told Bob to go to Burnley, while doing his Dip. Ed. Under Eric Littlejohn and Tom Kneen (Principal), Bob taught at Burnley. Eric was quite an academic. Another staff member, Jack Farrance, had come up through the teaching system, and was keen on new technologies - like overhead projectors and roneo machines! Beruldsen then decided that an Agricultural Science graduate was needed at Longerenong, so Bob was sent there in a new position. He was the first Agricultural Science graduate in the history of Longerenong to be appointed to a full-time position at the college.

When the old Diploma courses were developed, other Divisions had some say in curriculum for example, the animal and plant subjects. Farming itself was becoming more science-based. The Division of Agricultural Education mostly let colleges do their own thing, but with coordination of a single Diploma.

Science labs were established at the Colleges as part of this change in emphasis.

Farm Management – later changes.

When Beruldsen retired, Nattrass became Superintendent; Pym Cook became Senior Inspector (Provan, although senior to Cook, was considered to be too old to return to Head Office as Superintendent). It was also felt that if Tom Kneen was to be promoted he needed to move from Burnley to Longerenong, to get experience outside horticulture. He was appointed Principal. Barry May, who’d been teaching science at Longerenong, became Vice Principal. There had always been some competition between May and Ian McMillan, who was still at Dookie.

The Glenormiston Estate, near Noorat, was bought from the Black family after the end of WWII.   A group of local farmers, including Jack Scott, got the then Premier, Henry Bolte on side to buy the land with the intention of establishing a dairy college.   Glenormiston was there as an entity, but was used by other Divisions for research (for example Gerry Vivian’s beef cattle research). It had always been intended to establish a college for the dairy industry. As a research centre, Glenormiston was administered by Agricultural Education but the research projects were run by other Divisions.

About 1970, Nattrass went overseas on a study tour to visit colleges in the UK, and on his return visited the newly established private college, Marcus Oldham Farm Agricultural College near Geelong. Ivo Dean, the first Principal there, had a strong approach to integrated farm management teaching. Student applications were strong, and as a result it was decided to have Glenormiston set up along similar lines as a farm management college. Nattrass wanted the best buildings and lobbied the Public Works Department for this to be done. Bob had by now applied for other jobs, but Nattrass called him in for a discussion about his future. The position of Vice-Principal at Burnley was vacant, but Nattrass told Bob that he wanted him to take on the new role of Principal at Glenormiston, initially to liaise with PWD in the design and construction of the College buildings..

During his time overseas Nattrass had seen and been impressed by new designs for dormitories in England. These were flats with combined lounge, toilet and kitchenette facilities. Bob sought funds for overseas travel and, with Peter Hyland’s support, received  CESG funding for this purpose.   He visited England (he had previously been to NZ), and Canada.   Agricultural colleges in Canada were mostly run by provincial departments of agriculture, and Ontario and Alberta had similar structures to Victoria.

Cook became Chief, with Barrie May stepping up to Deputy.   McMillan had moved to Longerenong following Kneen who moved to Dookie. Bob was by then Principal at Glenormiston. He didn’t live in the mansion – this would have needed staff to run it, so he and his family lived in a house formerly belonging to TruFood Milk, the neighbouring property. It was all government money that went into Glenormiston – Henry Bolte still took a personal interest in it, even though it was not by then in his electorate. There was always money for Glenormiston and a new Principal’s residence was built. Bob finished up in the beautifully refurbished old bluestone farm management house.

At this time, veterinary laboratories were being established at several locations around the State. This meant that competition for funds for capital works became more intense. All of Glenormiston had by now been built except for the multi-purpose hall. This had been designed and was ready to go but the Director, Dave Wishart, rang Bob to say the money was now needed for veterinary laboratories. The Chief, Pym Cook, was a gentleman, and not terribly strong in arguing his case – as Nattrass had been, so it appeared that the hall would not be built, at least in the near future. It happened that the Public Works architect was travelling to Glenormiston one day, and met Bolte on the road – his car had broken down. He gave Bolte a lift, and when he told him about the hall being put on hold, Bolte took action and the hall was reinstated and building started immediately!

Later in Glenormiston’s growth, another element in the mix was that horses had now become an important aspect of course development at Glenormiston, with industry support. This was at first a problem because the Departmental vets objected. Once again, the Department was overruled; the horse programs were reinstated, largely because the course committee had talked to Henry Bolte, who “had a word” with Gilbert Chandler, the Minister of Agriculture.


Changes in the systems for education and training

Ian Smith became the Minister of Agriculture in the late 70s and Colleges of Advanced Education started, under the Ministry of Education, and administered by the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission (VPSEC). Money started to flow for these colleges.

In Victoria, it was thought that courses should be accredited by VPSEC. Dookie and Longerenong both got UG2 (Diploma) accreditation, Glenormiston was given UG3 level (Associate Diploma). In other States, their agricultural colleges providing tertiary level courses had moved across to the Ministries of Education – none were left in Agriculture Ministries.

Dookie and Longerenong, followed by Burnley, applied to the Department to become independent CAEs. The Directorate met and said "no". The Department approached the Minister, Ian Smith, and said that they wanted to retain the colleges within the Departmental structure. Supporters of Dookie and Longerenong – and to a lesser extent Burnley - jumped up and down in protest.

Wishart called Bob to Melbourne, and asked him to prepare a report on agricultural education in the Department. Bob responded by providing the Luff Report, a lengthy document that went over what had happened in other states. The Report had about 15 recommendations, some of the more minor ones became in retrospect more important – like teaching parliamentarians the importance of agriculture in the community, an activity he had seen at Ontario in Canada.   However, this recommendation was not adopted,

Amongst other recommendations, the Luff Report said that Dookie and Longerenong must be allowed to have courses at the UG2 level.

Bob had introduced enrolment of female students at Glenormiston. Ian Smith decided to set up the Victorian Advisory Council on Agricultural Education (VACAE) to advise Government on agricultural education in the state. He decided to develop an Act, and looked for a chairperson – he then appointed Stewart Macarthur to this role. Stewart had also been appointed to the TAFE Board and in addition was on the Board of Marcus Oldham College– Bob noted that he was always professional in dealing with this potential conflict of interest.

The Department made a mistake at this stage – said that the Executive Officer of VACAE would be the person holding the position of Chief of Division. This at the time was Tom Kneen. He retired after 12-18 months. The Directorate then looked for a new Chief. Barrie May had had a heart attack and was a sick man. Ian McMillan had gone to Dookie when Kneen became Chief. Everyone thought McMillan would become Chief, but this did not happen, and Bob, at the age of 40, was appointed to the position.

By his appointment to that job, he also took on the role of Executive Officer of the VACAE. One of the first things the Committee did was to look at the role of the various sectors of agricultural education. Hugh Beggs was the person given this task as chairman of a sub-committee of the VACAE. On the sub-committee was Max Hopper, from Gippsland CAE, representing VPSEC. The Committee, prompted by Graham Allen, reported to the VACAE that the colleges should be amalgamated into an Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Education (VIA&HE).

Agricultural Education was getting most of its money through the Department, but some from TAFE – for example, at McMillan in Gippsland. Bill Pyle and Don MacArthur were the principal powers behind the establishment of McMillan, one industrially and one politically. Important new aspects of McMillan included that it did not provide residential programs, there were no college farms, and no apprenticeship courses (which turned out to be a problem later because it gave TAFE colleges a role in agricultural education). In addition, its philosophy was to take courses to farmers, rather than requiring them to travel to McMillan campuses.

A big fight now started. Bob tried to represent both sides of the developing argument about the future home of the college. He kept Peter Hyland (Assistant Director-General) as informed as was ethically possible. Stewart McArthur wanted to meet with the college advisory committees, and arrived late at a meeting at Longerenong where the chairperson had not announced that he would be attending. Jock Crook, Regional Officer (NW) was upset about this, and Bob’s role in the matter. He called the Director-General's office, to which Bob was summoned. Bob was told that Peter Hyland was in future to make all statements for the Department. The VACAE by now had agreed with the VIA&HE proposal. The Minister for Agriculture was now Tom Austin, whose close association with Stewart McArthur (who was chair of his electoral committee) was a major factor in the final decision about the administration of agricultural education in Victoria.

Minister Hunt (Minister for Education) didn’t really want another organisation called an Institute, but agreed to the establishment of the Victorian College of Agricultural and Horticulture.

Austin was still prevaricating. Hunt told Jim Lonsdale (Principal of Longerenong) that he didn’t think the proposal would be agreed to. Bob told Stewart Macarthur this.

The official opening of McMillan college was in the week following these developments. The VACAE met at the Leongatha campus on the morning of the opening, and there were many telephone calls.   At the opening, Austin was told of the manoeuvres, and called Peter Hyland aside to tell him what was happening. The Minister’s speech, prepared by the Department, had to be quickly modified because it was saying that the VCAH wasn’t going to happen – but this had been overruled. The then Director-General, David Smith arrived about this time to receive the news that the Liberal government would support the establishment of the VCAH, but didn’t mention who the Minister would be.   David Smith would say that he recommended the Minister for Education, and the VCAH would be a multi-level institute.

As a State election was imminent, it was then necessary to get the Labor Party on side, with the Shadow Minister being Bob Fordham. He listened to Graham Allen, and the Labor Party also came out in support of the VCAH being established. This led to the ostracism of the Agricultural Education people within the Department, and they had to find new offices.

The Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology was also brought into Agricultural Education at this time and this added to the need to have tertiary status. The Rowe Report said that Burnley had to be sorted out and should provide a degree course. Jim Davis, as Principal, established the first degree course there. Burnley also took on the Garden Advisory Service. It was decided that food production horticulture should go to Dookie, and that Burnley would deal with amenity horticulture - this required a whole new staff at Burnley.

The VCAH decided on the establishment of a technology degree course at Dookie. Ian McMillan was now Deputy Director and Dean in Head Office of the College – Bob invited Harper Adams Principal, Tony Harris and Howard Brown from San Luis Obispo (SLO) to help with course design. Neither of their own institutions conducted research.  However, SLO had a good horticulture and management faculty. Bill Simpson from the UK also got involved in course development.

The State Accreditation Board, under David Smith, (who had by now retired from the Department) had to approve of courses. Bob stayed out of the accreditation process and left it to Ian McMillan, who got the proposal through the system.

Bob maintains that the colleges could not have stayed in the Department, unless they had gone back to the farmer training level. Dawkins (Federal Minister) had at this stage said colleges had to join a university. In Queensland, the little colleges formed - and still are - the Australian College of Agricultural Education. They conduct TAFE courses – other TAFE colleges in Queensland don’t have the same involvement in agricultural education as here in Victoria.

Bob went on to describe how the VCAH came to be part of the University of Melbourne. Because the college was seen as having strong Liberal links, Nigel Wood was brought in as someone with strong Labor links. Graham Allen was asked to report in such a way as to retain multi-level programs, and the University made a good offer. The Caro Report said that it was a good idea for the University to adopt the VCAH, but that the University should leave the colleges' courses alone since they had a different ethos. Professor David Pennington listened while he was Vice-Chancellor, but later it became more difficult to retain the uniqueness of the VCAH programs. One strong supporter in the University was the Registrar, Jim Potter, who understood the situation and agreed with Caro.

Bob says he’s been on the merry-go-round three times in his career, through three different eras of agricultural education. He has played a crucial role in its changes.




Arthur Mann 1948 - 1985 writes:

I joined the Department of Agriculture at the Mallee Research Station in January 1948 and became Manager in 1953. I transferred as Manager to the then Rutherglen Research Station in 1967 and retired in 1985. Over that time there was a considerable change in the philosophy of the Department and the relationship between staff and senior officers.

When I joined, the Department was divided into Divisions and they, certainly the one with which I was connected (Division of Agriculture), operated like a close-knit family. At that time there was line command with each staff member answerable to the person directly above him in seniority. Later this was changed to the Matrix system when staff members were in doubt as to whom they owed responsibility to and this often resulted in staff members taking instruction of which their senior officers were unaware. Probably the next big change which staff were trying to come to grips with at the time I retired was VAMIS. This was a very complex system which was difficult to conform to when working in a multi-disciplinary environment.

At the time I joined shortly after World War II, there was a distinct shortage of trained staff, many having left to join the armed forces and with limited numbers at the university. The School of Agriculture was just starting to turn out agricultural graduates who had been in the armed forces. Finance was also very scarce.

Walpeup, because of its isolation and primitive facilities, had a job attracting and keeping research staff. It was not until those who were trained at the University under scholarships, and thus were bonded to the department, that staff became available- often not of their choice. As the Mallee Research Station was still in a state of development staff often were diverted from their main interest of research to other activities. Often to their displeasure.

Walpeup had a duel role to play. Apart from its role in experimentation, it was also expected to produce and market pure seed of the cereal varieties currently being promoted. This often took resources especially labour away from where it was needed by research staff.

As far as I was concerned the key people were Bill Miller, Les Hore and Harry Sims. Harry Sims contributed most to my career. As far as the Mallee was concerned, the most respected member of the Department of Agriculture was Harry Sims. He had a great rapport with farmers. They respected his advice. At field Days, Harry was the one people wanted to hear speak.

At that time there was a very strong attitude towards helping the farmer in an on-farm basis. When a farmer requested help or advice it was common to travel to his farm to assist. Later there was a trend towards the farmer coming to us and later again discouraging farmer visits and encouraging visits to field days.

Initially we had the responsibility of developing information and getting it out to farmers. Later the Extension Services section was set up with that responsibility. In the early stages there was a breakdown in communication between the research staff and extension staff which acted under a different control.

I took the view that our purpose was help farmers by obtaining information and see that it got out to those farmers and I encouraged that attitude in others.

About the time I joined, there was an entirely different approach to staff development. For example: after I had been in the department three years I applied for 18 months leave without pay and paying my own way to go to Swift Current in Canada, at that time world leaders in soil conservation research .This was refused by the then Director Hubert Mullett. Not many years’ later staff were being paid to undertake similar activities.

I think that in my earlier years in the department, governments had a greater affinity with the farming community. Later it seemed that the philosophy of governments was that farming was less important to our economy and received a lower priority. This may have been due to less reliance on wool and more on minerals as an export earner. So much so that apparently the Mallee Research Station is no longer considered any use and has been closed.The Mallee Research Station had a number of notable successes. The development and release of Insignia wheat had a tremendous impact on yields over a large part of the Australian wheat belt. At one stage 75% of the entire wheat crop was planted to Insignia. The promotion of the use of barrel medic and extension of its role in a dry-land version of the clover-ley systems was also a notable achievement.

One event comes to mind. Colin Webb had sown a strip of barrel medic in a paddock to study its persistence. After Colin left, I joined the staff and an early task was to quadrat survey the extent to which it had spread from its original boundary. Having done that the area was sown to wheat plots, one on the original strip, one on an area to which it had partly spread and one on an area to which it had not spread. Les Hore, Mac McCann and I went to inspect the plots. It was quite clear how much more advanced was the crop sown on the barrel medic area and the first indication that we could extend the clover-ley system to Mallee agriculture.

I clearly remember Les looking at it, taking off his hat and saying “Mac we have got it”. From this we set out to quantify the benefits and it resulted in a revolution in dry area farming, not just in Victoria.

The M.R.S also played a major part in developing and promoting methods of reducing soil erosion under cropping systems which was vital because in the early days of the Station soil erosion was a major agricultural and social problem. Later, it was a government decision to set up the Soil Conservation Authority independent of the Department of Agriculture. As the two are so closely related, this was a surprise. There always seemed to be little bit of friction between the two organisations though at grass roots level there was good co-operation. I presume that the Soil Conservation Authority still exists but I do not know when I last heard reference to it.

Another success of the Dept was the experimental work which showed the suitability of the first cross ewe with Dorset Horn rams for prime lamb production.

In retrospect I think we failed at the Mallee Research Station in not giving our research staff sufficient support, too often diverting their time to aspects of the operation of the station outside their immediate research interest. This may have been a contributor to our inability to retain staff although the remoteness obviously had some role.

Speaking to farmers today, it seems the Rutherglen research centre has distanced itself from the farming community. I am often asked by local farmers “what is going on at the research station?” as some seem to be unaware.

Another matter which may seem small but which I think is important is the changing of names which appears to mask the identity of the centre. Rutherglen has gone through a series of name changes. Rutherglen Experiment Farm, Rutherglen Research Station, Rutherglen Research Institute and now I believe it is known as the Dept of Sustainability & Environment-Rutherglen Centre. The Rutherglen Research Station was a highly regarded research centre and mention of the name got instant respect. I am not sure that that is the position at present.


Stuart Margetts 1956 - ? writes:

Congratulations for rising to the challenge of completing a history of the Dept. of Agriculture.  Its great to see the much incomplete work of Lyn Peel reach a satisfactory conclusion.  Her efforts, although praiseworthy, were seriously deficient in at least two areas  (1) major contributions to Victorian agriculture of  the Animal Health Services, and (2) the vital role in staff training provided by the Dept., especially by leadership in the Research Stations and also at local District Offices most of which comprised excellent teams of specialist officer, impacting on each other, to provide a well rounded professional service soundly based on excellent science.  The teams, mostly comprising specialists and a trainee understudy, allowed for the development of highly trained field staff, many of whom subsequently became agricultural consultants.

The district teams also developed excellent camaraderie and Dept. loyalty, often contributing to local press and radio/TV publicity on agricultural matters and Dept’l policy.

 A typical district team comprised my earliest acquaintance as a new graduate at Hamilton (1956).  The office, originally the Temperance Hall, rented by the Dept. (on the proviso that there could be no spirituous liquors brought on to the premises!) was a large open space allowing a small enclosure for typist/telephonist, Miss Webber.  The rest of the staff were in the open space, arranged in banks of desks, each with a visitors chair but nonetheless threatening to an intending farmer enquirer.  But the atmosphere of cooperative spirit was very apparent with much discussion across specialist boundaries. The office at this time comprised Claude Watson, Senior District Officer; Albert Engel, Govt. Vet. Officer; Peter Hyland , Sheep& Wool Officer; Les Collyer, Animal Health Officer and Bill ??, Dairy Supervisor; myself (pastures officer agrostologist) and also Gerry Rabette, agricultural economist.

Each of these specialists had a younger colleague, usually in training, subsequently to move to their own permanent appointment as a specialist officer in another district office., but with an excellent wide-ranging appreciation of the local agriculture.

I believe these teams contributed excellently to local knowledge and publicity, often with local research, surveys and experimentation with the farming cooperation very much in evidence.  The training atmosphere for new graduates was of enormous importance.  The office group also provided excellent friendly acquaintance with much cooperation.  An example of the friendly cooperation occurred when Miss Webber, typist, had agreed to drop off dry cleaning for Les Collyer en route to the post office mail run.  Just prior to her departure Miss Webber called from her office confine, “Mr Collyer, I’m ready to take your trousers down now.”  Sadly for her the whole staff seemed to be in the office that day!  Her embarrassment was acute!

The cross speciality training fitted all staff with valuable insights into district problems.  Most Dept. appointees were given little such training at Ag. College or University.

Other vital facets of in-service training were provided at multidisciplinary staff conferences in Extension techniques, farm management economics and environment and conservation gatherings.  Many of these staff assemblies occurred at Dookie, Longeronong, Glenormiston, also Rutherglen and Walpeup.  These conferences not only served to improve staff understanding and training in multi disciplinary studies but contributed enormously to Dept. loyalty and camaraderie – vital to cooperation across the state.

Other excellent in- service training activities comprised cooperative Australia wide gatherings  of specialists typified by the annual Sheep and Wool Conferences sponsored by the Wool Board.

To a more local extent, the development by Dept’l staff of farmer educational organisations such as the Grasslands Society were also on response to Dept training and extension efforts.

Best wishes and good luck

(sgd) Stuart Margetts


John Martin has submitted a history of the Department's Soil Unit 1874 to 1997 (Click to go to a PDF copy)


V  Frank McClelland PSM CM writes: (First instalment)

Some recollections of my time in the Dept of Agric and the Office of Rural Affairs

1961 -1999

When I started at the University in Melbourne (1956) many of the entrants to the B Ag Sci degree had a connection to the land and its people. Although I grew up in Hughesdale, in Melbourne, my family originally came from Gippsland and my attachment was to a small dairy farm at Childers in the Strezlecki Ranges. My family home was in Dandenong Road opposite a 130 acre farm owned by the Good Shepherd Convent which is now the Chadstone Shopping Centre. I spent almost all of my school holidays with my cousin Len Hammond and his wife Gloria on their farm in Childers and any other spare time during my school years across the road at the Convent farm.


Like me, many who entered Ag Science were the first in their families to undertake university education. In my own case, I could not have afforded to study without the Victorian Primary Producer’s Union Scholarship. Some entrants from the country or, as in my own case, from families unfamiliar with tertiary education , had spent little time in Melbourne proper and were quite bewildered, trying to find their way around the University complex. For these and other reasons the failure rate in this first year was high; in my own case the impact of the Asian flu on my family made it impossible for me to attend University in the third term and I failed Chemistry by two marks. I knew nothing then regarding appeal processes. The course at Melbourne University was also quite tough not because of any great intellectual rigour but the enormous breadth of subjects covered. Other aspects which I will return to were the focussed scientific aspect of the course, the lack of exposure to politics, the arts, the social sciences and importantly women as students of agriculture. 


 My impression is that a most significant aspect of the Ag Sci course as distinct from others was that, in the second year, the entire class lived together in the relatively isolated Dookie Agricultural College where bonds were formed which still exist today. I believe that for those who joined the Dept of Agriculture and related institutions, this year was significant because staff were able to relate to one another from day one, unlike the situation in most other agencies. I believe the functioning and influence of the Dept was enriched by the combination of the background of staff, the bonding and common interests they shared through having living together for a year and the hard study slog which allowed little involvement in the politics and frivolity enjoyed by other University students.


I was married to Nonie the day the final results were pasted on the Ag. School notice board and was able to announce at our wedding reception that I had a job for the next five years and we would be given a house to live in. This all came about because of a five year bond to the Department of Agriculture which was a requirement of my scholarship. My first appointment in 1962 was a very brief sojourn at the Melbourne office of the Dept while waiting to move to Walpeup, a small town smack in the middle of the Mallee in North Western Victoria.  From 1962 to 1968 I was appointed as an experimental officer at the isolated Mallee Research Station near Walpeup. The position involved looking after a large number of existing experiments but the opportunity existed to examine and publish the results of various cropping practices over time.


The politics of locating the station where it was are legendary, but it seems the government wanted to combat growing demands by the press to shut down the entire area due to the horrendous dust storms and the deprivations being suffered by the remaining settlers. The setting up of the Station, clearing of the mallee scrub and the initial building construction was carried out by a largely itinerant workforce ruled by a tough young agricultural scientist named Les Hore. Apart from his agricultural knowledge, his ability as a boxer was all-important in ensuring that the job was done. The Station was initially ignored to some extent (despite making significant steps to an understanding of what worked to improve cropping practices) because many local people decided that the Station was given better land than they had been allocated.


The breakthrough came when a barrel medic pasture species was discovered (I think at the edge of Lake Agnes on Pine Plains Station) which could be introduced into the cropping rotation, improving both crop yields and the number of sheep carried on farms. Nevertheless, respect for their work was hard won in those early years as many farmers presumed the hidden motive for the Station was in fact to shut the area down.  This is a story told to me by one of the early workers, Colin Webb - “Out of the blue, a group of farmers arrived at the Station as a deputation asking to meet the Manager regarding an apology they wished to make to the staff. The staff were incredulous when the leader of the group (I think a Mr Wakefield) stated that for some years they had believed that the medic plant was an uncontrollable weed, deliberately introduced to the Mallee to preclude them from cropping and to ultimately force them off their farms. They now knew they were wrong.”


Six months after we had married, found us on our first voyage to Walpeup, a three hundred mile plus journey in an old FJ Holden (ex taxi), a distance we had never before travelled, and a landscape whose ascetic appeal diminished with each mile. Some tears were shed as we headed west across the salt lakes at Ouyen and arrived at the Station to spend the night on a fold-out lounge with mice skidding around on the linoleum floor. However, with in a short space of time we were treated by local farm families (notably the Williams and Leaches) with the consideration and kindness that would normally be reserved for much loved family members. Also, by the time we arrived at the Station, it had achieved a solid reputation. If you knocked at any farm door and said you were from the Mallee Research Station, you were seen as ‘A OK’. Adding to our integration with the community were associations which had developed between the staff and the community. Three managers of the Station had married local women and the existing Deputy Manager led the Walpeup football team to their first premiership for many years.


Living in a small, isolated community taught Nonie and I a lot about relying on our own resources, contributing what meagre talents we had to offer and graciously accepting help when it was offered. At the same time, it was a lonely existence for about a dozen single officers who lived in the Batchelor’s Quarters on the Station and at one stage they advertised in the notorious ‘Truth’ newspaper for a woman to come live at the station to look after them (duties to be outlined later). The furore which followed from various church groups and head office took considerable time to die down, but the lads did get a reply from a woman in Sydney who specified she was “interested, but was not taking them all on for peanuts”

For more on the Mallee Research Station see the contributions from Arthur Mann and John Griffith.   


By 1968, after 6 years at Walpeup, Nonie and I had two little boys (one of them lucky to survive, and still suffering the after effects of Murray Valley Encephalitis), and I had submitted my Masters thesis for approval by Melbourne University. At that time, several staff from the Mallee research station and various other research stations around the State were being asked to move to the newly established Victorian Wheat Research Institute at Horsham. I was never contacted and I queried the Melbourne office, only to be told that they had assumed that I wanted to become the next Manager of the Mallee Research Station. In any event, they were quite happy for me to take a research position at Horsham. I wanted to go because the introduction of medic pastures had thrown up some widely different responses to the fertilizers in the trials I was working with and there was no obvious explanation. I believed that developing soil tests with the laboratory facilities (only available at the Institute) would at least enable us to predict fertilizer responses and enable farmers to adjust their rates accordingly. The Institute was also fortunate to have the assistance of a field research station at Longer nong Agricultural College and an expanding district advisory unit for farmers in the centre of Horsham. The Dept realised that much more effort needed to be put into ensuring the technology being developed was put in front of the farmers. It was not enough to have staff focussed on their research emerge every now and then to present their results to farmers. I know that when I was in the lab scene I regarded this periodic activity into extension a damn nuisance and an interruption to what I wanted to be doing. At that time, there was pressure to attain higher degrees, and the scientific ethos of the day was ‘publish or perish’.


1973 I was asked by the then Extension Director at Horsham to take up the Senior District Officer position at the Horsham Office leading a small team carrying out field experiments and  providing cropping advice to farmers in the Wimmera. In some ways this was a reluctant move on my part but the isolation in the lab and total focus on soil and plant analysis for four years just didn’t suit my personality. It was affecting my everyday interaction and discourse with family, friends and the broader community. After all who would want to hear about a working day spent testing peristaltic pumps suitable for an auto analyser and working with CSIRO on new lamps for an atomic absorption spectrophotometer? Before I move on with the story I must acknowledge my partner (Brian Palmer) at the Institute, an  ‘ untamed’ but brilliant chemist from northern England whose exceptional knowledge allowed us to set up the Chemistry Laboratory at the Institute and work through every soil test for phosphorous known at that time. With my change in career to become the Senior District Officer I also remember being quite disconcerted to realise that the research project we had been conducting, although significant to farmers, was not the most important consideration in their decision making.



Historically, the Department of Agriculture’s contact with farmers was mainly through regulatory staff but most inspectors/supervisors probably also provided advisory services.

However, in the late sixties, extension was separated from research and came to be seen as a discipline in itself; the University of Melbourne set up a Diploma of Extension which Dept officers were encouraged to attend. Extension units were established across the State and I believe the Dept of Agriculture became the most recognised govt service in rural Victoria (again, I will refer to this later). The advisory services used the media extensively with dedicated radio, TV, newspaper fillers and articles, field days, seminars, workshops, fact sheets and the courses developed with the agricultural colleges all added to public recognition. Many of the advisory services had a complement of staff expert in their various fields. For example, when I became the Extension Director in 1979 the Horsham unit was handling some 10,000 individual inquiries a year. It was a time of considerable technological change, a succession of new cereal varieties; early application incorporated herbicides; mixed chemical fertilizers; dangerous but  registered pesticides;  dubious dolomite, and seaweed extract concoctions; new diseases (Stripe rust, Septoria nodorum) with  the Dept actively encouraging farmers to experiment with new crops for the future. The pace of change was such that many farmers just wanted to be told what to do, never mind the explanations about why.


However over time, repeated contact with the staff lead to some close personal relations with farmers and the advice sort extended far beyond the technical and economic considerations regarding the farm. At times pressures of exorbitant interest rates, family problems of inheritance/ divorce/ educating the kids etc all surfaced in individual consultations and often the question arose whether to continue farming or quit. I believe the greatest offering by the staff (their advice was free), was their concern to provide a thoughtful, impartial and objective view with no profit or political motive. I also believe that this was the time when we began to take into account the differing capabilities of farmers to deal with information and the important role played by women in the acceptance (or not) of new technology as well as the farming sectors growing consciences of environmental issues. At the time, it was a surprise to learn that in more than two thirds of cases, it was the wives who took care of the financial side of farming. This led to financial planning workshops led by our economists where women were the main attendees. Rightly or wrongly, we also targeted women to ensure that their men took notice of chemical safety when the older residual chemicals were replaced by the more potent but less environmentally damaging formulas. My plea, on an ABC radio program to farmers’ wives to take on this responsibility was met with a hostile response from one local woman, and probably triggered my awareness of rural women beginning to assert their views on broader farming issues  


While the exit rate from farming was often quoted at an average 3 per cent per year, the percentage escalated during this period owing to some poor cropping returns and exorbitant interest rates, and for some suicide was seen as the only way out. The impact of the latter and its effect on my thinking will be discussed later. I also recall a number of farmers who left the farm and reluctantly sought work at Alcoa in Portland only to find their multi skilled background and work ethic quickly leading to positions as foremen. Their employers saw people arriving on time, not on drugs or pissed, and willing to do a little more when the pressure was on. Some of these farmers later told me they should have left earlier than they did as they had discovered there was life after farming.


To my mind the breakdown of the Branch structure and regionalisation of the Department into Extension Districts led to the disconnection of these units from the Melbourne office but our independence brought us closer to the rural community. We even changed our name to the sexier AG TEAM Horsham (coined by Garry Hallam) and no one raised an eyebrow. While Extension Director I can only recall a few communiqués from the Melbourne office over those years and most were disciplinary. One related to a ‘private’ conversation with a reporter from our local paper on a Friday night when I was tired, short staffed and angry about yet another staff freeze in the Public Service. On Monday morning there was a call from the Melbourne office to say that the Minister for Agriculture would be calling into our office in the afternoon and it was likely I would be dismissed. My conversation with the reporter turned out to be on the front page of our local paper and I was unaware that Cabinet was meeting in Horsham for the first time ever that afternoon. The meeting was interesting; Minister Smith didn’t say much but the staff said plenty, particularly the Animal Health officers, who pointed out his delay in signing off legal prosecutions was causing them considerable difficulty. I then questioned how efficient he would be if I  took away his then formidable Secretary (Elaine Stangles) and how he expected us to service the farming community to the level he required with no key staff. All the while I was putting on a brave face but thinking I’ll cry tomorrow when I don’t have a job. He left with few words and to his great credit two days later our positions were able to be advertised. However, I am sure both he and his secretary still do not believe I knew nothing about the Cabinet meeting in Horsham and that I had no intention of embarrassing him. This was the first time my colleagues and I had anything to do with the political dimension of our work and in time we came to realise just how politically naive we were!


Another incident was to do with my comments to the President of the Victorian Wool Growers Association at a growers meeting in Horsham. I attended that meeting with Richard Steer (our Sheep and Wool officer) to update my knowledge of the issues facing the wool industry at the time. The presentation started well but soon deteriorated into a wharfie bashing exercise and a call for farmers to go to the docks to sort these ‘scum’ out. I asked politely if the speaker had ever met with the Waterside Workers Federation to try and sort out the issues of concern.  His reply was derogative and he continued with his threatening language, so I then reminded him that incitement to violence was a criminal offence. The next morning I had a call from the Melbourne office demanding why I had abused the President of the VFGA at the growers meeting and that my behaviour was described as that of a ‘Catholic Communist’. I thought the caller was joking at first but he was not! Nothing I said eased the situation but fortunately Richard Steer had taped the whole session for his colleagues and when supplied to the Melbourne office nothing further was heard. Wool industry politics have never ceased to amaze me!


A very positive experience on the political side of things was an unprecedented call from the Premier’s office (John Cain) in the drought of 1982 for a simple ’yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, “Should farmers be paid a slaughter subsidy for shooting their drought affected sheep”?. My answer was a resounding ‘no’ as, apart from the fact that any farmer worth their salt would have already marketed any excess stock; we would have lost the sympathy vote from the city which was important in providing support for the generous grain subsidy to feed sheep. I was astonished to have my opinion sought and even more when asked to organise and accompany the Premier on a tour of the drought areas. I found him a very decent man and we established a rapport which allowed me to converse with him on rural issues a number of times.


I must mention here that I did travel to Melbourne on occasions for some of the most remarkable management courses which clearly demonstrated that the greatest asset of an organisation is its staff, and the skill is learning how to utilise their attributes to best advantage. These courses were organised by the Deputy Director General of the Department of Agriculture at the time, Rod Kefford; they had an enormous influence on my life and career. Rod Kefford was a manager who thought outside the square and introduced many new such initiatives including involving the Department in overseas aid projects. From what I have written about the AG Team Horsham you would have gathered that we thought we were pretty good operators. However one of the team (Frank Roseby) suggested that we should put it to the test by an external review process he was familiar with from his work on overseas projects. Our review team consisted of Heather Mitchell (soon to become the first woman President of the VFF), an Agricultural Consultant from NSW, a Hospital Manager and I think Barry Bardsley. The AG Team came out of what was an exhaustive process with top marks apart from a comment from the Hospital Manager that my attention to the paperwork was ‘pretty slack’.


First Overseas Sojourn – This is reported separately as it is difficult to incorporate into the story above.


In 1977, in an idle moment, I applied for and obtained a Howard Memorial Trust Award but was not impressed when I later realised that it was to attend an International Grasslands Conference in Leipzig, behind the feared ‘Iron Curtain’. I failed to inform Nonie that I had received the award for some months and was astonished that when she found out, she insisted that we were definitely going! The entry and departure from East Germany is a story in itself but the Melbourne Office was good enough to find the finance for me to also study cropping in Italy, Holland and France. I had always been critical of the Department spending money sending people overseas as when I asked what they had learnt, all I would get back was “it was a wonderful experience”. I had to admit that when I returned to Australia I repeated that phrase a number of times. However I did bring something back, and in a short report canvassed the possibility of cropping in the higher rainfall areas of the Southern Wimmera and the Western District.


In 1979 I was forty years old and like others I have known suffered a mid career crisis. I took long service leave for three months and caught up with a lot of work on the small farms we owned. Ten years earlier, in 1969, when we purchased our home on 10 acres near Horsham we had little money, but the property included a twenty sow intensive piggery which I got working and later we managed to purchase an irrigation property to fatten 800 lambs or 100 head of vealers each year. While on long service leave, Peter Finlayson of McGowan International offered me a job in Egypt for six weeks as a dry land cropping expert, which I jumped at. The consultancy was to access the feasibility of coastal land development on the Mediterranean Sea. A significant aspect of the project was to test a medic ley/barley farming system to assist Bedouin Arabs and a 5000 acre pilot project was agreed to and successfully implemented in the following year. This first experience of a developing country had considerable impact on my psyche but there was a lot more to come. 


In 1980, just prior to Christmas, Nonie and I rented out our house in Horsham and headed off to India with our five children aged from eight to sixteen years. My position was temporarily filled by my colleague and friend Frank Roseby who was also the person who encouraged us to experience living and working in India. I accepted the position on the clear understanding that I would return to my position of Extension Director at Horsham. Sadly this was not achieved without a bitter experience with the Melbourne office and my loss of respect for some senior officers whom I had previously regarded as friends. I was appointed as the Principal Advisor of the Indo-Australian Fodder Seed Production Project in Hessaraghatta, Bangalore. The project was the nucleus of the Australian Development Assistance Bureau involvement in the Indian pasture seed industry. I won’t go into the details of the project but was delighted at the end of our stay (early 1982) that the Government of India assessed the project as the most successful bilateral aid project in India at that time. We loved India and its people, and while the experience had differing effects on each member of the family, all were overwhelmingly positive and long lasting. For myself I learnt some humility and my approach changed from a very technical and economically based approach to really listening and considering what assistance individuals and communities were asking for.


On further reflection I realise that living and working in India proved to be a Copernican experience for me which influenced the rest of my career! Sadly the Department never seemed to recognise that the experience gained by their staff working overseas benefited the Department on their return: the attitude was more that their absence was a nuisance and our involvement was gradually scaled down and then discontinued.  In contrast and as an example, one of our staff who resigned to continue to work overseas, Frank Roseby, was presented with the Three Gorges Friendship Medal from the Chongching Government by the Premier Wen Jai Bai in recognition of his contribution to rural development.  That honour is the highest award given by the Peoples Republic of China to foreigners.   


Back in Australia


We were required to return to Australia from India some months earlier than expected (with considerable disruption to my family) as the Director General, David Smith had decided, for whatever reason, that all senior managers were to be back in Australia by April 1982 when the result of the Victorian State Election would be declared. On arrival at Tullamarine we were pleased to learn that Labor had won, mainly because of the Liberal Government’s support for the war in Vietnam. However, neither Nonie nor I had any deep interest in politics and would have been battling to name a Member of Parliament on either side. I am sure this was also the case with many of my colleagues in the country and partially explains the treatment of Minister Smith mentioned earlier. There were to be a number of occasions in the future when I had to do a lot of talking to Ministerial advisors to explain press releases by colleagues as lack of knowledge of the political imperative, rather than any intended malice towards the Government.


My return to the position of Extension Director coincided with the 1982 drought, the worst in living memory. The impact of that drought had the potential to cause serious damage to the economy and considerable social disruption in North West Victoria.  Whereas in such situations Department of Agriculture resources were normally directed to assist farmers I decided that this situation was a whole of community problem which required a whole of community response. This approach was inspired in part by situations I had observed in India where severe problems affecting a village were addressed by whole of village meetings and actions taken by all levels of society. In late October, when the crops had no possible chance of recovering, Public Meetings were called in key centres throughout the North West urging the entire community of farmers (with a specific invitation to wives), employers and employees in the manufacturing and service industries, education and health professionals to attend , and they did!  


The first point we made was that people should regard the drought as over, there was no possible chance of recovery and the important thing to be done now, was to plan for the immediate future. That simple statement resounded across the region and many people told me later that it switched them into recovery mode. It was pointed out that the Wimmera was one of the most reliable cropping areas in Australia but if a ‘shut down’ mentality prevailed until the next crops came in (fifteen months hence) the region would be in real trouble. The first people hurt would be the employees with a subsequent loss of population and importantly, skills from the area which might never return. This, in turn, would be likely to diminish sporting activities and other community recreational events. . Next would be small business failures, loss of services and in fact, the last people affected would be farmers because of pool payments still owing from previous crops.


Our message to those in the community who had money was to spend it now (there were great deals being offered on farm equipment), spend it locally, no slow payments to small business and, if money was needed, use the high equity in the farm to borrow from the Banks. Specialist meetings were also held for Bank Mangers, Accountants, Stock and Station Agents and related institutions where members of the AG Team Horsham used their skills to build a picture of the average economic return from the agricultural sector in the region and contrast that to the drought situation. No one ever challenged their assessment of the situation and one of the exceptional outcomes was that with an early alert to the Banks in the November some $80 million was lent in the region to finance the sowing of the crop in the autumn of 1983. No farmer missed out on help and notably, unlike similar situations, there were no repossessions by the Banks.


Returning to the farmers, the AG Team at Horsham also recognised the mental stress of living on the farm with dust storms, major soil erosion, lack of feed for sheep and, more importantly, nothing to do all day.  In the many meetings across the region the various team members tackled the problem of the constant worry of farmers by getting them to focus on constructing equipment to deep rip soils across the direction of the prevailing wind, thus exposing lumps of clay which helped to prevent soil erosion. These lines came to be known as the ‘conscience lines’. The other strategy introduced was for farmers to build containment areas in which to feed wheat to their sheep, thus preventing them from moving around the paddocks causing erosion. Wheat was the only feed readily available but farmers thought it was lethal for sheep. However the Government was prepared to provide a subsidy and using his know-how from the UK, our Sheep and Wool expert   (Richard Steer) was able to impart the skills necessary to feed wheat to sheep safely.

Government assistance in the drought was generous and welcome with few critics, especially after the enormous dust storm which blanketed Melbourne and frightened the life out of many city dwellers.


There were some interesting psychological aspects of the drought concerning both the farming community and the AG Team staff who were dealing with them. As the drought set in farmers were coming into the office in Horsham in various states of distress; some were angry, some depressed while others seemed to be oblivious to of the effects of the drought. Initially the staff was confused as to how to deal with such different behaviour until a friend Rae Thompson, made the observation that the response of the farmers seemed to reflect the ‘grief cycle’ model proposed by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Rae suggested that maybe the five stages of the grief model (denial; anger; bargaining; depression; acceptance) were not just about death and dying, but corresponded to the experience of loss, or threatened loss, of the farm. We went with that understanding and our communication with farmers changed considerably. For example, rather than trying to calm an angry farmer, the approach we adopted was to allow the person to express their feelings. In cases of depression we formed a relationship with the Department of Community Services where help for troubled people could be obtained.

Another interesting aspect in terms of people issues concerned the end of the drought; this occurred with excellent rain in the autumn of 1983 and a subsequent bountiful harvest. However the behavioural aspects mentioned above had subsided much earlier on, in February, when the devastation caused by the Ash Wednesday bush fires became apparent. Drought talk ceased as people came together to help those affected in any way they could. Local problems had been put in perspective by the plight of those who had lost family members, homes and stock.


I have discussed this drought in some detail as I don’t think the approaches above have been documented. In addition, I sense that the drought/crisis mitigation strategies practised today had their genesis in the insights and changes that were gained and adopted during that time.


One of the responsibilities of the Extension Directors was to identify training needs among the extension staff in the Department and to have courses put in place to fill those needs. I felt that many of the young and some older staff seemed reticent to voice their opinions and come up with the new ideas so vital to the health of any organisation. We designed and conducted “Positivity in the Job’ workshops which appeared to make a considerable difference to many of the extension staff across the State. Locally, I was approached by the Horsham High School to conduct a similar workshop for their senior students because of a significant number of withdrawals in their final study year. I enlisted the help of (Rae Thompson) who was working with disadvantaged youth and that was the beginning of a partnership which I will describe in more detail below. We were delighted when we were informed that our workshop made a considerable difference to student retention rates. It wasn’t exactly part of the job but, like many other Departmental staff in the country, I played a fairly prominent role in community affairs.

I mention the above workshops because as a result, for the next few years, I was to follow a new and fascinating phase of my career working for and with rural women.


Sometime in 1983 I was approached by an ABC Rural Reporter (Lynette Wilks) whose work on air I greatly admired. She had been broadcasting a series of interviews on the lives of women on farms and a small group of farm women in Hamilton contacted her to see if more could be done to reach other farm women. While there had been a conference in Warragul and one in Melbourne for Women In Agriculture a few years earlier the Hamilton women believed no real action had resulted in terms of highlighting the place and value of women in agriculture. The result was that Lyn Wilks, Rae Thompson, the Hamilton Group and I designed a daylong seminar for Women in Agriculture (later refined by two AG Team members Richard Steer and Ian Dickson) which was run on some fifty occasions across rural Victoria during 1984-5. The structure of the seminar was quite unique for its time, consisting of a mixture of farm business skills, and people issues commonly addressed today but not in those times; an integral part of the day were small group discussions by the farm women of issues they saw as important to the success of their farms and to their happiness. The team conducting the seminars consisted of Rae Thompson, Richard Steer and myself with a  person experienced in finance from whatever centre the seminar was conducted in.; both Richard and I agreeing that our female operative Rae was undoubtedly the key to the unqualified success of the series. The spin-offs and consequences of the seminars were many and varied but the flow on from the days outweighed all expectations. As Lyn Wilks once said” from little things big things grow” and I will describe that growth below with  my next change in career.


Director of the Office of Rural Affairs in the Dept of Agriculture and the Ministry of Ethnic, Municipal and Community Affairs.




Graeme Mein 1958 - 1989 writes:

My life with the Victorian Dept of Agriculture started in Feb 1958 when Jock Macmillan, Dougal Gilmour and I flew to NZ together as recipients of Dairy Division scholarships to begin the first year of our B. Agr Sc degrees at what was then the Massey Agricultural College.  Certain individuals with unusually clear-sighted vision within the Dairy Division, such as Tom Jensen and Ken Sillcock, had concluded that Massey offered excellent university training for future extension officers in the Department’s Dairy Division.  The year, 1958, was the first time that scholarship recipients under the ‘Massey Project’ began their year 1 at Massey.  All previous recipients had been required to complete their first year at the Uni of Melbourne. 

When I returned from NZ to start work as a Dairy Husbandry Officer under Ken Sillcock’s leadership in early 1962, there was no formal, structured program of in-service training for new graduates.  Ken was a thoughtful, quiet achiever who encouraged new graduates to get involved in a dairy extension project of their own choice and to start writing articles for the Dairyfarming Digest. After fiddling around for several months on fertilizer requirements for soils in the Bacchus Marsh region and writing a few inconsequential articles for the Dairyfarming Digest, Harry Edgoose offered an opportunity which became the pathway for much of my professional career.  Harry invited me to take over his specialist extension and training activities on milking management and milking equipment.  That offer was too good to refuse – an opportunity to explore and explain the interactions between the powerful physical forces developed within a milking machine, the biological responses of teats and udders, the behavioural responses of dairy cows and the over-arching influence of milking management.

Harry Edgoose played a key role in oiling various inter-Divisional wheels to establish the Milking Research Centre at the State Research Farm in 1965 - in the old hayshed loft (now abandoned and derelict despite being heritage-listed) where Dave Wishart had been based at an earlier stage of his career.

Dave Wishart played a critical role in the development of my career when he became Director of Agriculture in the late 1960s.  Dave expedited my application for 3 years leave on full pay for PhD studies in the UK after my family’s home and all our material possessions were burnt in the Lara bushfires in January 1969.


Important industry issues in those early years included:

The rise and fall of milking research in Victoria

Research on the behavioural responses of cows to milking (lead by Lloyd Fell in the early 1970s) and on the physical and biological responses of the teat and udder (lead by David Williams in the 1980s) helped to put Werribee on the global map for milking research.  Applied research on cost-effective cleaning systems (lead by Ian Hubble) and a series of extension workshops on dairy design for farmers who wanted to improve the efficiency of their milking systems (conducted by a succession of competent specialist advisers - Garry Smith, Peter Maguire and Pete Smith - during the 1970s and 80s) underpinned the Australia-wide reputation of the MRC for producing and promoting useful information for dairy farmers. The legendary Jack Green, who started his career in the D of Ag as a Dairy Supervisor based in Rochester, became a free-wheeling extension officer who established and conducted discussion groups for dairy farmers throughout Victoria.  Jack became a peripheral but invaluable member of the MRC team.  During the years when I was nominally responsible for supervising his weekly work program, I regarded Jack as our best sales rep.  Any time we gave Jack some briefing notes on research results, technical information or a new concept to try out on farms, we could be quite confident that Jack would have disseminated this news to all of his discussion group members around Victoria by the end of the following month.

The major, measurable outcomes from these activities were: substantial savings in the time taken to milk a typical Australian dairy herd; reduced levels of clinical and sub-clinical mastitis resulting from improved milking management and more reliable milking systems.   Despite these cost-effective outcomes, the MRC at Werribee was deemed to have reached its ‘use-by date’ by about 1987, partly because dairy farming had disappeared completely from Werribee South by then. 

The remnants of the old MRC at Werribee were transferred to Ellinbank in 1987 and were morphed into a new group known as the National Milk Harvesting Centre.   The NMHC continued to operate at Ellinbank, with mixed fortunes, for about 2 decades before its last remaining staff members were absorbed into the Dairy Extension Centre at Ellinbank in 2009. Major contributions - and lasting legacies - of the NMHC at Ellinbank include:

There has been another, less obvious benefit from the public investment in milking R, D and E over more than 4 decades.  I can record with quiet pride that many ex-staff members from the MRC at Werribee and the NMHC at Ellinbank continued to serve (and, in several cases, still continue to contribute) with distinction in the Australian dairying industry – in milk processing companies, milking equipment companies, or as independent consultants to the dairy industry.

The rise and rise of food research in Victoria

After spending a year or more as Acting Director of the Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology, while hoping that some other poor sod might want the position, I became its somewhat reluctant Director in 1987. At that stage, the Institute was under-staffed, chronically under-resourced and staff morale was low.  The GCIDT seemed destined to play permanent second fiddle when competing for funding dollars against the far better-resourced CSIRO Dairy Research Institute at Highett, and third fiddle when competing for space and dairy processing facilities against the VCAH which ‘owned’ the research and teaching factory and had much greater flexibility in its funding arrangements.

The strategy we developed to break free of this poverty cycle was crafted by a small team of senior scientists at the GCIDT, with timely support of others including Ian Howie and Geoff Cox.  The outcome was the re-branding of the GCIDT as the Food Research Institute at Werribee.  It really was little more than a re-branding exercise in the first year or two. The same small handful of under-resourced scientists and technicians were suddenly expected to perform as food technologists in the wider food industry. Suddenly, staff had to deal with requests for projects and expert advice on commercial problems as wide-ranging as the effect of algal blooms on the quality of mussels harvested from Port Phillip Bay, comparative taste testing of orange juices, radio-active contamination of foods imported from European farming areas affected by the nuclear reactor explosion at Chernobyl, and better packaging solutions for abalone.   

The FRI concept was strongly supported and nurtured by the then Minister of Agriculture, Evan Walker, during its critical early years.  The Victorian government provided several large capital grants that enabled us to build new research laboratories and three stand-alone, pilot-scale testing facilities that could be hired out to commercial companies to conduct their own confidential projects.  The original FRI has gone through a number of growth spurts and metamorphoses over the past 23 years. Now known as Food Science Australia, it is a joint venture of CSIRO and the Victorian Government operating as a highly successful national food, health and nutrition research organisation.  But that is another story and it is not my story.

My life within the Victorian D of Ag ended when I resigned in 1989 to take up an easier position in the USA at about twice the salary.  I left because the task of managing a major government initiative, within the rigid constraints of the Public Service regulations, was un-necessarily hard and frustrating.  It was difficult to attract new staff or retain excellent existing staff members when food technologists in local industries were being offered far more than Public Service wages.  The rigid rules that limited our ability to negotiate contracts with commercial companies were another great frustration - and the Department’s fledgling commercial arm (DARA-Tech) often was more of a hindrance than a help at the time.  Another example of frustrating Departmental hindrance was the inclusion of the FRI in the western region as part of a Victoria-wide program of regional restructuring.  Although the manager of the Western Region, Bruce Muir, was a competent and honorable fellow who did his best to help us develop and manage the FRI, the scope and nature of our new initiative for the Australian food industries was a complete misfit within an essentially broad-acre, western Victorian farming region.

One of the final straws for me was that apparently wise heads in the next Minister’s office in 1989 had decided on a prolonged strategy of closing down animal R, D and E activities at the State Research Farm on the pretext that scarce resources had to be freed up to support further development of the FRI.  While this may have been the correct long-term strategy, its superficial justification seemed dreadfully unfair on my colleagues at the ARI and its prolonged implementation was a depressing example of slow death by a thousand cuts, spread over two decades or more. Subsequently, that particular Minister of Agriculture was forced to resign his position in the Kirner government ministry.  Martin Sharkey, bless his heart, faxed me a copy of a newspaper cartoon depicting Minister Rowe’s resignation with the caption ‘Time wounds all heels’.



Peter Merriman 1969 - 1998

Plant Protection Burnley 1969 - 1993 & Knoxfield (1993 - 1998)

We flew into Essendon from the UK on a £10 ticket with a couple of bags and that’s about all – great value.

The appointment to the Department of Agriculture was the first after University training and Victorian Plant Research Institute Burnley was my base.  Organisational structure had assigned it Divisional status and in those days staff was seconded to other units across the State.  My posting after an initial six months in Melbourne was to the Victorian Wheat Research Institute, Horsham.

We found the get up and go and more laid back attitude of Australians refreshing by comparison with the more restricted pecking order system in the old country.  This is still an important influence.

It took time to shed the trappings of UK academia and adjust to the requirements of the technology:industry coal face.  Subsequently I was full of admiration for those colleagues who had developed innovations and promoted their application in an industry setting.  Examples included Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in orchard fruit and Pathogen Tested Schemes (PT) for horticultural crops – citrus, pome and stone fruit; potatoes and strawberries.

I cut my teeth on biological control of soil borne diseases and was privileged to work with Ken Baker an iconic scientist from UC Berkeley who was visiting Australia.  This proved an interesting experience.  The theory was great but, with some exceptions, it proved very difficult to put into practice.    The upshot is a sceptical view of approaches that expect introduction of beneficial organisms to soils can provide economic methods of disease control.  But I’m forever hopeful!

I was back at Burnley after an eighteen month spell at Horsham that at the time was full of memorable characters and stories, too many to tell.

The working relationships and friendships especially at Burnley were special.  Stan Chambers was a terrific mentor especially his disciplined approach to science.  Peter Jenkins was an amazing fount of knowledge in science and industry.  He had very creative ideas and was regularly used as sounding board for concepts.    Notable leaders in other areas of plant protection included Lionel Stubbs, Bob Taylor, Peter Smith, Dave Morris and Ron van Baer. There were remarkable levels of interaction between plant protection and industry specialists in both dryland and intensive farming industries. This significantly improved planning of work.

I made mention of the IPM approach and of Pathogen Tested Schemes.  Both are great examples of the commercial application of complex technologies.  Each required careful planning, and adoption was critically dependent on having the right skills round the “table”.  Both IPM and PT are alive and well today and incredibly relevant for securing sustainable productivity, business security and consumer acceptance.

One unheralded success was application of the concept of population management of insect pests to soil borne pathogens.  This approach used various chemical and non chemical strategies to reduce numbers and infectivity of pathogens in the upper layers of soil that roots normally exploit for plant growth.  It proved to be a feasible method of control for a range of horticultural diseases and there is now a greater understanding of the impact of population and distribution of soil pathogens on disease and yield. 

From 1988 to 92 I lead an Aus Aid initiative on leaf rust at the Coffee Research Institute in the Eastern Highlands of PNG.  It was wonderful to work with a highly skilled group of DPI and University scientists who had special knowledge in epidemiology, disease control and tertiary training.  True to form they established strong working relations with PNG scientists, industry experts and village leaders.  A program was implemented to study epidemiology and control of disease from the drier eastern to the wetter western end of the highlands. It also incorporated tertiary training for PNG staff.   Results from classical epidemiology work could not confirm the dire predictions of serious disease even at Mt Hagen where rainfall is impressive.  At the end of the day the high frequency of fungicidal spraying could not be justified.  Usually no more than two sprays of copper fungicides were all that were required to control disease.  This was a great outcome and a tribute to the PNG and Aus teams. 

There was insufficient time to understand why disease was not a problem as predicted.  The most likely explanation was that heavy rain washed most of the wind borne spores from leaves.  If this is the case then rain was acting as a unique biocontrol agent!

Expect the unexpected in PNG, we lost a 4 wheel drive and computers at gunpoint, were locked out of the Coffee Research Institute and occasionally were unwitting observers of tribal fights.  At a personal level the rush to transfer between international and domestic caused some grief.  The metre long Asaro bow split on the conveyor for bags and I lost duty free grog when the taxi took off prematurely.      

1992/93 was a tense year for all.  Government had the difficult task of reigning in large amounts of debt.  One consequence for agriculture was closures, and the Institute of Plant Sciences at Burnley was one of several facilities affected.  I remember it well.  The announcement was made public two days before Easter 93 and on my return from a short break my office and all files were at Knoxfield.  This was the first time that the winds of change were felt at the bench level.  Surprisingly within a relatively short time a new culture had developed at the Knoxfield campus.  The Kennett years proved to be an incredibly stimulating experience for those of us involved with horticultural industries.

It was during this period that the significance of quarantine, biosecurity and market access were stirring in plant industries. I was involved in policy development at the national level as Victorian member on Plant Health Committee and this provided the catalyst for leadership in the development of one of the first incursion response plans of its type – fire blight of apples.

National industry, bacteriologists, regulators, technologists, economists all contributed at formal planning sessions.  It was prescriptive in format providing those involved in incursion response with a “what to do” statement that followed the alert phase. It proved very difficult to write because incursion response demands positive action - black and white but no greys!  

In spite of the fact that fire blight was one of the most intensively researched diseases worldwide, there were serious gaps in knowledge.  It meant that in many instances experts had to assess evidence and make an educated guess on the course of action proposed for quarantine managers.  A draft was prepared for consideration and we thought things were moving in the right direction. 

I took the Canberra call late afternoon on Friday 3 May 1997, legend in Plant Standards specifies good news always comes on Friday!  We were advised of a detection of fire blight on samples of host plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. 

A plant pathologist and expert in bacteriology, on rec leave in Melbourne, had taken samples from the Gardens back to NZ laboratories where subsequent tests apparently confirmed presence of Erwinia amylovora, the bacterium that causes fire blight. 

Mike Kinsella, Phil Moors, colleagues and I were in the gardens on Saturday morning and could see most of the sites from which samples had been taken.  News spread fast, the media got hold of the story and took control.  The incident created serious agripolitical, regulatory and science issues that were driven by the drama of the occasion.

It was the top story for days in print, radio and television and covered many fractious issues.  Even Roy and HG got involved. Mike Kinsella’s performance on television and radio were memorable, he became a media star.

The Department operates brilliantly in an emergency.  It was wall to wall fire blight, silos were dissolved and new teams formed that used the right expertise to ensure quality outputs for all aspects of incursion response.

The precautionary principle was invoked to create barriers to spread of disease.  Many host plants were carefully removed and destroyed from the Gardens, Tan and parts of the Domain.  Some thirty three feral bee nests were removed from the Gardens area.  Bees can spread disease between flowering host plants over several kilometres and, although it was autumn, several host plant species were flowering in the Gardens.

Aside from the media “circus” the event exposed serious matters of protocol and questioned the science that underpinned diagnosis and pathogen testing.

Arguments still prevail. Two independent Australian laboratories (government and university) failed to detect presence of Erwinia amylovora on samples from several host plants. By contrast diagnostic tests on plant samples at a New Zealand government laboratory and a laboratory at the Max Planck Institute reported confirmation of the presence of E amylovora. But despite intensive surveys over several years, presence of fire blight was not confirmed in Australia. 

The exercise in the Gardens proved an invaluable experience.  Gaps were identified in the incursion response plan and subsequent R D & E commissioned by industry helped to refine protocols and resolve interpretation of diagnostic testing. Australia is now better prepared.

The 60’s through to the 80’s proved to be a golden era for R D & E in agriculture.  An unrecognised treasure was the core of experts in R D & E that could apply their strategic and applied skills to resolve industry problems.  Universities were powerhouses, recognised internationally for their work.  There was a certain amount of freedom and funding to follow your nose. 

The 1980’s proved to be a period of progressive transition to co-investment in R, D & E.  It involved an increased accountability and other additional responsibilities for science leaders, in response to co-investment by a mix of government and external funders particularly Rural Industry Research Councils.  This often resulted in unintended consequences. 

Matched industry funding on a dollar for dollar basis was heralded as an instant success and many colleagues secured new fully funded projects from these contestable fund sources.  However the inevitable happened and cuts were made to core government funds to balance income from new fund sources.  External and core funding mixes were forever changing as was the complexity of reporting and accountability. Long term this caused varying levels of disenchantment at the coal face and it seems that this is a significant factor in the progressive decline of core expertise.  Experts became increasingly frustrated with the challenge of chasing short term funds at the expense of discipline continuity, career development, planning and implementation of relevant R, D & E.  A consistent issue was the lack of time and resources for development of strategic and applied work for Australian agriculture and consumers.  

Increasingly tight government budgets required that vacancies were not always replaced in certain technical areas.  Also some facilities were restricted or closed.  The slow process of decline in capability has now reached a stage where the fragility of core expertise is recognised as a national issue. 

The problem and the question of Australia’s need for a vibrant and secure core of priority experts to underpin agricultural development is an ongoing national issue that needs consideration in the context of future food security and demographic predictions.  Plant protection sciences are a small part of this big picture issue.



Jim Murphy 1953 -1988 writes:

Recollections and comments by Jim Murphy B.Sc.Agr. Last designation: Irrigation Advisory Officer.

Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?

Career time span 1953-1988 spent mostly at State Research Farm, Werribee in the Irrigation Branch. Major issues in that period were:

•             Encroachment of Queensland Fruit Fly into Victoria.

•             State Research Farm annual Field Day.

•             Plant breeding for improved yield and disease resistance in cereals.

•             S.R.F. Exhibit at Royal Show.

•             Artificial breeding of dairy cattle.

•             Technology training of dairy factory staff.

•             Locust Control.

•             Replacement of fire damaged farm fencing

•             Testing of tractor safety cabins.

•             Farm management under drought conditions

•             Pasture fertilizer requirements including trace elements

•             Irrigated soil salinity

•             Drip irrigation.

•             Laser grading and landforming for flood irrigation.

•             Reduced labour systems of sprinkler irrigation.

Key people in my career development were Ray Beattie and Ian Norman until they left Werribee in 1954, and subsequently until his retirement, Alan Morgan, Senior Irrigation Officer. He introduced me to farm extension.

While at Head Office, Alan Morgan often made farm visits on request in the Melbourne region. He liked to provide more than just advice. He was a competent botanist and could readily identify any plant put before him by a landholder. I was often asked to accompany him with a soil auger and Dumpy level from Werribee to appraise, by survey, details of proposed irrigation or drainage or farm water supply schemes. I employed this philosophy in my future farm extension together with some economic appraisal. Morgy's droll sense of humour and his down to earth statements of scientific fact were well received by his farmer listeners.

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

The overall ethos of the Department when I joined was that it existed for the betterment of the farming community. This philosophy largely remained in 1988, but had been somewhat diluted by organisational change in the late 1970s.

The Department in 1953 was dominated by the Agriculture Division from which the Director had come. It seemed little had changed in overall management since the 1930s. A stint at Walpeup was still regarded as character building! Studying for a higher degree was not encouraged.  This attitude changed when Dr Roger Watson was recruited from CSIRO. Also during the Directorship of D.S. Wishart the Livestock Division gained greater influence in the Department of the 1970s. Participation in the PhD studies and for the Agricultural Extension Diploma was encouraged.

What did you see as different or unique about the Department, compared with your experiences with other organisations?

Other organisations with which I had contact were the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, the Soil Conservation Authority and the Irrigation Association of Australia and the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture. The organisation on which I exerted most influence was the Irrigation Association of Australia of which I was Departmental Representative and a Board Member for five years. I was awarded Life Membership of this organisation. I spent two years seconded part-time to the Soil Conservation Authority to advise on funding of on-farm supplementary irrigation schemes. Training of Authority Officers in irrigation techniques was also part of this secondment.

Close contact with another Government organisation was with the Water Commission and its Irrigation Services Division which employed predominantly agriculturally qualified personnel and agricultural engineers. Co-operation with the Water Commission took the form of participation in judging irrigated farm competitions and in staff training schools, particularly in sprinkler irrigation. Participation in the organisation of Irrigation Field Days was often a joint activity.

For five years in the 1980& I was Secretary of an inter-Departmental committee, Victorian Irrigation Research and Advisory Services Committee (VIRASC). Bob Taylor was the Departmental representative. The last Chairman of the Water Commission, David Constable, was the best credentialed member of VIRASC. He was an active member of this Committee and was well disposed toward the Department of Agriculture. His predecessor, Alf Tisdall, had probably set this attitude. He had a background in research into irrigated agriculture at CSIRO, Griffith.

Senior personnel of the Water Commission maintained closer contact with their field staff than was the case with the Department. At no stage though, did I consider that working conditions in the Department were inferior to those in any other Government Department. I pretty much had a free hand in arranging my extension activities, more so than I saw in other organisations. I always had a Government vehicle at my disposal for this work. Ken Garland, Bill Brown and Bob Wildes were most co-operative in these matters.

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

The droughts of 1967 and 1983 shaped my career. I was frequently required to evaluate possible supplementary irrigation schemes in south-western Victoria on dairy farms, potato farms and sheep properties. I often worked in conjunction with the Soil Conservation Authority in the design and siting of farm dams for irrigation and/or stock water supply.

What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?

Departmental officers were at the forefront of the two major technological developments of the Twentieth Century in irrigation - drip irrigation (Fergus Black) and laser grading and landforming (Joe Rumble and John Cornish at Shepparton and Numurkah, Gyn Jones at Kerang, Jim Mount at Macalister).

Who were your role models, or who played an influential role, in your career?

Major influential roles in my career were played by:

•             Alan Morgan, Senior Irrigation Officer

•             Jim Coulthard, Irrigation Association of Australia

•             Ken Garland, Senior Irrigation Officer

•             Dr. Bob Wildes under whose direction I worked at Head Office..

•             John Cornish, who was stationed at the Department's Numurkah Office, and I worked in close collaboration on major irrigation extension activities for the VIRASC, the Agriculture Department and the Irrigation Association of Australia. John was the ideas man. He mostly set the themes for irrigation field days, conferences and publications and ensured they were carried through by participants. He also set professional standards for conference and meeting procedures. I handled publicity to a large extent and liaised with exhibitors, speakers and writers and dealt with financial aspects.

Experience gained in the Department and contacts made have been most useful in obtaining part-time work in retirement in the form of technical writing, farm consultancies and field day and conference organisation.

Ian Norman was a strong proponent of the establishment of a farmer - owned research farm at Maffra to demonstrate accepted farm management practices and to undertake new experimental work. Ian's proposal was taken up by local farmers and the Department. The results do them all great credit. The Macalister Research Farm Co-operative has been a highly successfully venture. The Co-op's publication "Dairyfarming in the Macalister Irrigation District" deals in a highly informative way with all aspects of farm management for dairying under irrigation.


Pat Nolan 1948 -1987 writes:

Reflections of Pat Nolan, Admin Officer ADM-6


Periods of employment in the Department

Full time January 1948 - October 1986

Part time November 1986 - May 1987

Areas of employment

Dairying, Animal Industry, Animal Health, Departmental accommodation.

The early days in the Dairying Division

As pointed out by Des Harris, Tom Jensen was the superintendant and Les Taylor the senior clerk. Jacqy Hardy drew attention to the social activities that Les introduced.  I can also recall him organising some lunchtime concerts in the theatrette in the new Parliament Place building.  As an aside, Les wore the nickname ‘Sqizzy’ after a well know hoodlum/gangster of the same surname.  I do remember him showing me pictures of huge murray cod that he and his friends had caught. I was green with envy!!

One of the major activities in the Dairying Division was the annual licencing of dairy farms and dairies under the Milk and Dairy Supervision Act.  Card records were kept for each property, grouped under the name of the particular municipality in which they were located.

When the end of the licencing period approached renewal applications were sent to each licensee accompanied by a pre-addressed envelope to the Superintendant of Dairying for return of the application and fee.

Two officers would be present to open a batch of renewal applications (the same arrangement applied for opening any mail).

Details of fees paid would be entered on the application forms and the cheques, money orders etc. would be kept to one side.  Naturally the total of the fees entered on the application forms had to agree with the total of the cheques, money orders etc. and the batch was deemed to have balanced.

Procedures were then in place for payments to be entered on the relevant cards, receipts to be issued and the monies banked. 

Most active correspondence in the licencing section related to the collection of licence fees or improvements to properties.

If a letter was written regarding a fees matter the appropriate card was endorsed in pencil “Fees KV’ (keep in view) and the file was held in the ‘Fees KV’ section.  An entry would be made in a diary to follow up the matter on date “X”.  If the fee was received prior to “X” the file would be collected and the payment recorded on the card and the pencil marking on the card would be erased.  When “X” was reached the diary checking officer would see from the card that the matter had been resolved.  If the fee hadn’t been paid follow up action would ensue.  The improvements files followed a similar procedure.

Staff training

During the period 2nd – 6th August 1976 the department ran an “Introduction to Supervision” course at Dookie Agricultural College for the 19 admin staff located at research stations and veterinary laboratories.

Session leaders were Daryl Glasson, John O’Connor, Harold Memery, Pat Nolan, Peter Sturrock, Ken Wheatland, Dennis Murphy, J Goldsmith, Terry Hill and C Little.

The importance of the course was highlighted by the attendance of Rod Kefford and Bill Young on the last day to receive the “Presentation of Reports” at the plenary session.

The objectives of the course were:

To increase the effectiveness of administrative officers located at research stations and veterinary laboratories by the further development of their understanding and skills in recognising:

- The individual differences between people;

- The factors affecting group performance in an organisation;

- The communication process involved in face to face and group situations; and

- The role of the supervisor.


To encourage course participants to employ an innovative approach to:

- Work planning;

- Work methods;

- Work instructions; and

- Their role in the organisation.


The V.P.S.A. (Victorian Public Service Association) store

My first recollection of the stores existence was when my uncle, Jim McCashney operated it at lunchtimes from a strong room on the first floor at Treasury Place.  It was subsequently relocated to a room on the ground floor in the same building.  I became involved when Vic Ritchie was running the store and when he left I took over its operation.  It seemed to run quite profitably and we provided a reasonable range of goods.  But of course all good things come to an end and when supermarkets reared their heads we couldn’t compete with their bulk buying.


J L McCashney scholarship

My uncle Jim McCashney spent all his working life in the Department.  He stared as Office Clerk and became Secretary.  He died in 1967 at the age of 66.  The scholarship was set up as a memorial to be awarded to help country lads employed as administrative officers with the Department to further their studies in Melbourne.


My lasting impressions

The more I learnt about the breadth and depth of the Department’s operations the more I came to the conclusion that to call it a complex organisation was probably an understatement.

It seemed to me that there was an ‘energy’ in the Department that thrived on challenges and, of course, it set itself high standards of performance.

For instance, in Animal Health there was the activity generated by the disease control/eradication programs; the development of the Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the Attwood Veterinary Research Laboratory, the takeover of Meat Inspection etc.

Ken Wheatland in describing Bill Young ticked all my boxes.  Bill’s advice and guidance was much sought after.  I can recall having a particular problem and his comment was to see if I could make the regulations work for me.  It was a very perceptive remark.

Bill also chaired regular meetings of Senior Administrative staff.  The meetings were very useful and team building exercises.  Ideas surfaced and you learnt more about what was going on outside your own backyard.  It was a practice I put into operation with my own staff.

It used to be said the Department ran on a ball point pen but I think money had a bit to do with it.  The Accountants, Doug Gray and his successor Alan Barling, were of great help and facilitated the smooth running of the financial areas I was concerned with.

I believe the administrative and allied staff in the Department contributed so much towards having the Department function smoothly and effectively


I will always have memories of a challenging and well run Department.


Tom Patton 1951 - 1990 writes:

The Tom Patton view.


Christopher Tom Patton, BAgr Sc (Melb, 1950), Dip Agr Extn (Melb 1972), MAIAST, PSM.


Period of Service:                     March 1951 to April 1990.

Commencing Position:           Assistant Agricultural Research Officer, Cereal Branch, Agricultural Division.

Final Position:                         Manager, Policy Development, Rural Policy and Marketing Division (de facto deputy to General Manager Michael Taylor).


Department of Agriculture, Victoria, Personal Historical Perspectives.

 Major Issues of the Times: Almost to many to describe. They ranged from getting more wheat grown to feed Post-War Britain to deconstructing and modifying many of the agricultural marketing schemes developed over the previous half century for products ranging from wheat and other grains to tobacco, dairy produce and fresh milk. Many of these schemes also involved the Commonwealth and other States.

  1. An underlying theme for the field crops industries over the whole period was the improvement in productivity, especially through plant breeding and disease control and developments in agronomy such as chemical weed control. Wheat quality became more important with changes in breadmaking technology and diversified demands of export markets. Quality , largely influenced by grain protein content also focussed attention on declining soil fertility in much of the wheat belt leading to a major stress on modifying crop rotations to include periods of legume pastures and subsequently legume crops.
  2. Following the world glut in wheat and subsequent introduction of quotas on wheat deliveries in 1969, diversification into other crops became an urgent issue. It opened the door introduction of rapeseed (later to become Canola following advances in Canada and their granting of permission for us to use the coined name). Lupins found a niche in the north east and field peas were rediscovered as a rotation crop. The Department fostered these changes to farming methods through a successful series “Wheat and What” Seminars in major centres across the wheat belt in 1970.
  3. A major threat to Australia’s wheat exports arose in the mid 1970’s when insect pests of stored grain developed resistance to malathion which was then used as a protectant added to grain at bulk receival points. A major extension campaign ensued to encourage farmers to disinfest machinery and farm grain storages. We participated in developing Standards for grain machinery construction and sealability through an AAC/SCA Sub Committee.
  4. Wheat marketing was a major issue throughout the period. The Australian Wheat Board was established under complementary Commonwealth and State legislation on expiry of wartime emergency arrangements in a series of five year plans negotiated under the Australian Agricultural Council and developed by a sub-committee of Commonwealth and State Officers in which we participated.
  5. Other important matters arising through the AAC/SCA process were the Rural Research Fund Arrangements  which provided a massive increase in the money available to the Department for research in the industries concerned. Victoria’s crop research infrastructure was greatly enhanced by the establishment of the Victorian Crops Research Institute and increased staffing and facilities at MRS Walpeup, RRS Rutherglen and CEC Longerenong. A similar scheme was developed for barley between Victoria and South Australia which had retained the Australian Barley Board at war’s end.


  What was the Department like?

 The Department was something of a mystery! We had no formal induction as such. I was interviewed by Jack Brake, Agricultural Superintendent, and persuaded to join the then Cereal Branch where Les Hore, father of Des, was Senior Agronomist and my boss. As it was just after harvest I was given a lot of notebooks containing crude results from plot  trials  which had to be converted to yields in bushels per acre. I was introduced to Harry Sims, Senior Cereal Research Officer, but was even then to me the brains of the outfit, a clerical officer, Cec Barker whose function was to allot quotas of pure seed of wheat varieties produced at the Research Stations to farmer applicants, process payments and issue delivery instructions to the Stations. We also had a missing person, John Mullaly who was  recruited  two years previously and who had been sent to the Mallee Research Station (MRS) to help with the harvest. This was part of the process of in service training at the time. Les Hore had established the MRS and Harry Sims had been the next Manager (as the OIC’s were then designated). We had an admin office where they did records and filing and requisitions (another mystery) and a typing pool ruled over by Gwen Chidzey, a martinet but a gem with a vast knowledge of departmental history and procedure.

Little by little the picture emerged partly helped by the daily ritual of the morning tea club where

we drank from Departmental issue tumblers which “darkened” with tea stains to a state of opacity.


In the Division we had the Pasture Branch with Bob Twentyman in charge and a Senior Seeds Inspector looking after Regulations dealing with seed quality including the Seeds Lab, where a team of young women conducted purity and germination tests. We had Andy Morrow, Senior District Agricultural Officer, the DAO’s Branch was the forerunner of the separate extension service and was a postwar phenomenon. Upstairs lived Walter McDonald, Senior Plant Investigation Officer whose empire covered all sorts of non-cereal crops such as tobacco and potatoes and some that had been started up during the war such as flax, linseed and soybeans, some of which fizzled out and some of which I ultimately inherited in the minor crops portfolio within the by now Agronomy Branch. Our Division had another regulatory function done by the Farm Produce Inspection Branch which ad- ministered the Farm Produce Agents Act and kept trading honest. They also inspected and OK’d produce for export and for many years acted for the Commonwealth in plant quarantine matters.

Also in the mix were Bill Miller, Senior Inspector of Agriculture. The joker in the pack was Alan Morgan (Morgie), Senior Irrigation Officer, who invariably had a topical quip to enliven morning tea. Morgie also stars in the apocryphal record of an exchange of minutes, then written on the bottoms of documents referred for action or comments down the line. Morgie responded to a minute from Bill Miller on the folded back page of a memo with two little round dots and the words “round objects” (ie. balls!) and initialled off. Miller, not one the most humorous of the senior staff returned a further minute addressed “SIO, Who is Round and to what does he object?”. The document may still exist in the archives at Laverton.


Downstairs in the holy of holies dwelt Hubert Mullet, (aka Hubie), The Director of Agriculture; Pat Ryan, Deputy Director; Brian McKeon, Executive Officer, a side kick to the Director, and the Secretary who headed the admin bods and who had to be approached in fear and trembling to initial any requisitions to obtain urgent attention from the Stores Branch (the Department’s purchasing section). At the very front was the Ministers Office where he occasionally visited.


What was the overall ethos or philosophy.


As junior officers we imbibed the feeling that our job was to make farming more productive and hence profitable by scientific investigation into the factors of production. Inter alia, we were brought into interaction with farmers and became familiar with their way of life and parts of their belief system. Early on we had a seamless transition between field research and what came to be called “Extension”. We found out what we thought was needed to be known and told the farmers about it.

In our Branch, we were thrown in at the deep end through the Farm Competitions Association. A movement sponsored by the Department whereby local agricultural societies which existed in many localities conducted competitions for the best area, usually 50 acres, of whatever crop. About half of these were judged by a farmer from another district and about half  by officers of the Agronomy Branch allocated by the Branch Head. The winning crops in each local competition then competed in a District Championship judged by an experienced departmental officer who then oversaw the harvest of the winner and certified the average yield. The contact between officers, crops and farmers in many localities gave younger officers a very good understanding of the production side of the cropping industry. Writing up our own, and editing reports of the farmer judges, for distribution to the many local news papers provided a useful means of spreading the lessons demonstrated in the agronomy of the leading crops. Competitions were also an “extension method” for introducing “new” ideas into traditional farming. Wheat belt pasture competitions helped the incorporation of  medic and clover pastures into crop rotations and improved soil nitrogen  content, wheat yields, disease control and wheat protein content ( the major factor in bread making quality).


Changes in Philosophy


In nearly forty years there was an almost continual change from our earlier laissez  faire state where resources flowed freely and new appointments were relatively unrestricted to meet new needs, to one where agriculture lost its place as a premier aspect of the Victorian economy. The changes followed increasing demands for accountability within the community and developments in  “management theory and practice” fostered by the PSB and others requiring realignments to structures and financial arrangements. The place of the Government as the driver of Departmental action became dominant.


During the middle years we established a highly integrated and cohesive branch of about 100 staff members covering research and extension for the crops industries at the research stations and district offices, coordinated by the Principal Agronomist.

We then had massive upheavals in 1976? with a new Divisional  Structure separating research and industry aspects of our work  and 1979, when the Branch was virtually disbanded and Principal Officers appointed as the custodians of industry knowledge with no line authority.

The next step in 1986? brought about further changes in Divisional structure and for me greater emphasis on management and affairs of Government as opposed to science and production efficiency.


Personal  philosophy and approach in work and applied to others.


I have always found my work intensely interesting and tried to apply scientific processes and principles to understanding the agricultural system. In my early days this was almost solely applied to the basic plant/soil/ animal components and interactions. With experience I realised that people formed the overriding component in the system. This applied not only in agriculture at large but also in the Department. This realisation was helped along by moves to introduce extension training and increasing management and liaison tasks. PSB courses and the like. The Agricultural Extension Diploma Course greatly influenced my view of the human element in my work. In regard to others, I recognised that all people are different and have different talents. They deserve opportunities to add to their knowledge and utilise their talents to the good of the community achieved through their contribution to the Department’s effort. My management style is to bring everyone, where possible, into the ring to contribute ideas to the solution of a problem or development of a proposition. In short to find or make the appropriate holes to fit the round or square pegs as we find them. The outcome from this treatment is immensely satisfying for all concerned.


Uniqueness of the Department of Agriculture (and latterly Rural Affairs).


As a basically science and knowledge based organization the Department had no equivalent function in the Victorian Public Service. Other organizations that I was aware of mostly had specific administrative functions to deliver services eg. deliver water to farmers, register motor vehicles or run railways. Apart from a selection of regulatory tasks to do with plant or animal health which affected Victoria’s ability to produce or market agricultural produce, we had no legislated purpose or restriction and in many respects could go our own way subject to the will of the hierarchy and the financial constraints of the Treasury. We were the producers and distributors of public good, free to all.

The difference in outlook was very obvious on occasions when we were combined with officers of other Departments in operations such as PSB Management Courses or even in Drought or Salinity Management Committees where there was a closer alignment in the subject matter.


Key Challenges and Opportunities.


The basic challenge was always to raise the productivity of Victorian agriculture and to resolve the constraints on our ability to contribute. This aim would cover all aspects of recruitment and training of our staff and acquisition and development of specialised facilities. The wider view would include the removal of threats such as the Fruit Fly Campaign in Metropolitan Melbourne in 1952 and the Grain Insect Program in 1973/6.

Opportunities for expansion of the Department’s efforts arose from the Commonwealth Extension Services Grant from the mid 1950’s onwards which funded staff and facilities for field work, numerous training exercises and the Mobile Extension Unit. Numerous opportunities followed the establishment of the Rural Research Funds covering matters as diverse as scholarships for undergraduate university training in Agricultural Science and higher Degrees to mobile experimental units to undertake a whole range of field experiments at country locations away from the Research Stations.

Other opportunities to expand our role came with the increased need to collaborate with other State agencies in matters concerning water, soil conservation, general resource conservation, land use and forestry. The field widened with consultations within the AAC/SCA sub-committees.

As mentioned above a key challenge in latter years was to ensure that agriculture and hence the Department maintained its relevance in the eyes of a largely urban focussed government with conflicting views on some agricultural practices.


Political Environment


In the early days it seemed to me as though the Department was devoid of any political influence. There must have been at least in relation to budgeting which must have been adequate for us to do “our own thing”. The Ministers came and went and were meekly? advised by the Director/Director General about how agriculture should proceed.

This all changed after Gilbert Chandler was succeeded by Ian Smith whose claimed role was to run the department according to his Political Party’s requirements and to accept advice only when he asked for it, and often gave directions through politically appointed Ministerial Advisors.

This system continued less aggressively with the next change of Government ensuring that the Department followed more closely to the Government’s policy line. While Eric Kent understood agriculture few of his colleagues had much appreciation. We had a hard time trying to bring the Premier up to speed on the implications and necessary responses to the 1982 drought and the Ash Wednesday fires.

We enjoyed a welcome change in our recognition by the Government with the appointment of Evan Walker as our Minister. Walker had a wide appreciation of the economic and social role of agriculture and added the Rural Affairs portfolio to the Department’s array of functions


Key Industry Leaders.


As with Ministers, these came and went. Broadly speaking most of the farmer leaders were associated with the Country/National Party and intertwined their political advancement with their involvement in Departmental operations such as Advisory Committees where the agenda was essentially technical.

E.E. (Jim) Nuske was a dominant personality for a long period as the chair of The Victorian Wheat Research Committee. This Committee allocated the funds contributed by Victorian growers to the Wheat  Research levy scheme. The Department had protracted negotiations with Nuske concerning the siting and foundation of the then Victorian Wheat Research Institute, its funding, staffing and programs.

On the user industry side, Geoff Wise was a longstanding Chairman of The Victorian Flourmiller’s Council and became the millers’ chief advocate on matters of wheat quality.

The Grain Elevators Board, a Victorian Semi-Government authority, was chaired by ex Upper House Liberal politicians Keith Turnbull followed by Ken Gross until the change of Government when an independent Chairman, Cliff Semmler, took the role removing the political influence.

The Australian Wheat Board was the dominant Statutory Authority in the cropping sector; it’s Chair men were appointed by the Commonwealth usually from the senior ranks of the C’wealth DPI but grower members were elected by the States’growers and sought to become identities.


Major Events Etc.


The major external events were;


The internal events included:

      1. Training courses at regular intervals covering extension, economics, management and finance.

      2. Promotion, ultimately through branch head, to acting Chief of Division of Crop Industries to                                                                                                                                      Manager, Policy Development.

      3. Becoming Principal Agronomist and able to lead a loyal and cohesive group of officers who accepted delegated responsibility  and showed a willingness to contribute to the Branch tasks in research and extension work irrespective of their designated positions

      4. Departmental re-organisations especially “new” Divisions post 1976 and 1986?

      5. Appointment to many inter-Departmental Task forces eg.”The State of the Rivers”, convening the group recommending solution of a problem of sewerage outfall pollution of the Wimmera River and development of an irrigated site for plant breeding replacing land lost when Longerenong College separated from the Department of Agriculture.

      6. Appointment to the Steering Committee concerning the purchase of private land for pine plantations by the Government (DCFL/DCE)


Successes and Failures.



Role Models, Mentors and Characters.


Anecdotes and Experiences.


 1. Many experiences have faded from the memory with the passage of time . Two which illustrate to somewhat primitive accommodation available for work in the country were one at Lake Bolac in 1951 when I was accompanying Andy Morrow in trying to promote wheat growing around Westmere. The pub’s chooks roosted under my bed. The second was at Mysia, when Mac McCann and I were lining up local farmers to host demonstration plots of pasture species on wheat land under an early CESG project. We became benighted when the Boort Hotel, our normal stopping place, was full. The newly installed hosts at Mysia had not had overnight guests previously, the outside toilet pan had  rusted through to the bare earth, electricity was not connected  and I can still see the hostess cooking sausages in a frying pan over a smoky one fire stove by the aid of a torch.

2. The Mallee Research Station, which by its strong association with the Branch’s  Senior Officers was the location and source of many anecdotes. A feature of each year was the annual Field Day which in its hey day attracted over a thousand Mallee farmers. We had wall sheets, about 1m square  on wooden frames showing the results of experiments at various points around the Station whence the crowd moved in a motor cavalcade. Officers concerned stood on a small raised platform to address the gatherings. At one such point a very senior officer stepped backwards off the podium and disappeared to the delight of the crowd and the staff who had been somewhat harried by the said officer in regard to running the Field Day, then regarded as a major event in the Departments calendar with an opening speech by the Director.

3. In the early days, trunk telephone calls were expensive and required senior officers permission. On the odd occasion when Les Hore had to call MRS there would be a general call around the office for any urgent subject matter to be raised during the call. When he did get through, he could be heard all over the building such that we speculated that he could be heard in Walpeup even without the telephone!


Final  Remarks.


  As my whole professional life was spent in the Department, I could be regarded as a “company man” and liable to exaggeration, however I found the whole experience immensely interesting and rewarding. It seemed that every so often new opportunities and experiences appeared to challenge whatever talents I had to apply and many took me to areas of work I could never have envisaged on joining the Department. These ranged from cloud seeding, to machine design and construction, to attending international conferences in Ste Adele (Canada) and Castel Gandolfo (Italy), to Membership of the Grain Elevators Board, to sitting-in very briefly for the CGM.

Not the least unusual experience was as a passenger in a chartered air craft which crashed after impacting a pine tree while attempting to reach Yarram for a meeting of the State Plantations Impact Committee with local landholders.

Much of my success, if I can call it that, has been due to a whole host of loyal supporters in all sorts of roles and positions within the Department and beyond, for which I thank them most profoundly. They are the proof that the Department is a most friendly and effective institution which has served Victorian agriculture  extremely well.



Peter Pryke (1948-1985) with Gerald Halloran (1954-1961)

The following is the text of a letter from Gerald Pryke (1949-1985) to Barrie Bardsley :

Dear Barrie,

This letter is one which I find difficult to write, but which I feel I must do out of loyalty to a long-time close friend Gerald Halloran, of whose death last September I was unaware until I rang last Monday and spoke with his widow to learn of his depression and subsequent suicide. This came as a severe shock as I had visited him not that long before when I was in Melbourne for a funeral

I had joined the Department on 28th of June, 1948  on the promise of a position as Assistant Geneticist, on the understanding that I would not work on Cereals, but on Vegetables, with a view to developing disease resistance in such crops as warranted. I was to be located at the new College of Horticulture, soon to be opened at Burnley Gardens. This came about in September, 1949 and I remained there in charge of the Plant Breeding Laboratory until the College regained occupancy in 1981,  after which I spent a couple of years at Head Office, prior to a another two final years at the Biology Branch when I retired in mid- April, 1985.

My contact with the Division of Agriculture was almost entirely through Alan Raw, the Senior Geneticist based at the S.R.F. at Werribee, until his premature death, after which Harry Sims took over that role.

All this preamble is due to the fact that my friendship with Gerald grew considerably during his years on the teaching staff at the Victorian Faculty of Agriculture, up in Carlton. The copy of your letter from the Dept. of Primary Industries of 31 March, 2010 to Jim Murphy (who by a co-incidence had obtained his degree from Sydney University through having won a James Murphy Bursary, as I had in 1942) had been forwarded on by him to Gerald because J.M. had so little contact with the heart of the department in the days of most interest.

Gerald was reluctant to put down in writing what he saw as the Dept.'s shortcomings and felt that I may be able to do so, on his behalf. When I first received his 5-page,hand written letter (8 June, 2010), I read it, but put it aside until I learnt of his death , and in particular of his suicide. I was deeply shaken by the depth of the emotions involved            :

I will print only the last paragraphs of his letter and separately list some of his feelings:


"Vale the Commissars of the Department !

Peter, hope you will undertake the task of writing the history of plant breeding in the Dept. in the Era presented. My effort, as you discern, would have been NOXIOUS ". Best regards ... Gerald Halloran. "



Earlier in his letter, he wrote .... "Dear Peter ... ...... ... ... I certainly gladly defer to you to undertake this task because (a) I was a mere interloper (1954--1961) and (b) I would have to make very trenchant criticisms of the scientific ethos (or lack of) that permeated the Dept. during my employment e.g. the 'Fifth Column stance of keeping CSIRO out of Victorian agricultural research, (the potential denial also of economic benefits to the Victorian farmers/horticulturalists that could have flowed from an in situ presence of CSIRO in collaborative research with Ag Dept scientists in this period.

(b) The quasi to anti-science attitudes of the senior administration (especially virulent in the Ag. Division---Miller, Hoare, McCann ), in their clamour for the expedient of Public Accountability, science did not matter.

Towards the end if his letter he says that : certainly my experience in the Department under "Bung" and later in the NSW Department (1963-70) were valuable, both to
the credibility of lecturing in plant breeding in the Ag. Science course (Melbourne and Latrobe ), and in the supervision of relevant (plant breeding)

" Q, est sera ,sera ..... ... ....


I feel that I have probably done as much as I could to fulfill Gerald's request and I don't intend adding my personal comments, except some explanatory remarks.

When I was given a job in 1948, my background was one of three years following graduation, as a Food Technologist with three different food processors , largely competing with the plethora of Returned Soldiers.

My first was with a new company in Sydney, close to home. Years later I learned that any company supplying US Troops had by LAW to employ a qualified Food Technologist; he didn't have to do anything, but he had to be qualified.

Later in the year I resigned and eventually took a job as a Bacteriologist with the giant English meat processor, Vestes, at Footscray, testing daily their Dehydrated Egg Powder

After four months there I applied for a job back in Sydney, and headed back there, but between applying and taking up my new job, I had fallen in love with a Melbourne girl to whom I was happily married, in Melbourne, for close to 57 years, almost 35 of which I spent based in Melbourne, working professionally for the Victorian Dept. of Agriculture.

Important in all this was that I was not a local. I had no knowledge of Prof. Sam Wadham; I had heard a lot about Prof..Leeper, but mostly from the students whom he had failed, as I employed a goodly number each year helping me with my labour needs each summer (helping with the onion breeding program). And it took me 13 years to shake off my inherited love of Rugby.

It pleases me to recall that at my retirement send­off, I broke the existing record for money donated, and me not a member of the Biology Branch Staff.

As I expect that you will have long since had a quick glance to see who this is I will thank you for your patience... (My very good friend Bruce Campbell had given you a good reference, so I reckoned I might get a hearing !



(signed) Peter Pryke



Robert (Bob) Rothols 1966 - 1985 writes:





OFFICER-IN CHARGE…….1970 – 1986.


As I came from over ten years with the then Soil Conservation Authority, I noticed the Department was less geared to Conservation issues e.g. catchment management…but was to me the “big brother” of rural extension.

Key people in the Department were Bill Miller and David Wishart, as well as Colin Webb.  In my career development, the key person was Tony Evans, then head of the Film unit.  I became his Deputy until 1970 when he left and I took over.

In the Extension course which both Tony and I did (1967 and 1968)  Jock Potter was crucial.

The philosophy of the Department was service to Victoria’s Primary Producers. Advice to farmers from the immediate post war years was from rural centres and Melbourne, with radio as the main medium, but this gradually changed with the advent of TV which enabled the audience to increase considerably and allowed extension services to expand during the 1950s, 60s and 70s

As I was involved in the production of information for farmers and organisations concerned with land use, my approach was always to take account of the effect of particular methods and use of land on the overall environment. An example was in a film on “Modern Poultry Housing” in which the “factory” approach justified high production  without mentioning the effect of such pressures on the health of the livestock involved.  Negotiation with the Departmental people involved resulted in modification of the script to enable these issues  to be part of  the information provided.

Compared to other organisations, the Department  has been unique in incorporating Research Centres and Education Centres in its structure.

The key challenges to the Department and the Information Branch from the 1950s onwards were in communication, particularly in the role of films in addition to radio production. In the 1960s the impact of TV on country people increased enormously with new country commercial stations.  This led to the production of programs and films  directed primarily to rural and rural-urban audiences.

 My appointment to the Information Branch’s Film & Radio Unit in 1966 came simultaneously with that of Anthony Evans, a former film producer and director with the ABC and CSIRO, who took charge of the Unit, with me as his deputy.  My main previous experience was with the Soil Conservation Authority and in the use of film. Both of us were graduates in Agricultural Science, with varying experience in scripting and production, as well as Agricultural extension in Victoria and N.S.W. Both of us were experienced in conducting workshops for scientific officers.  

These two appointments were a turning point in the Departmental Film and Radio production programme and the use of film and video in extension programmes. Until then the staff consisted of trained cameramen and technical operators whose intense interest and experience in aspects of film-making and radio enabled  these media to serve the needs of agricultural extension. The realisation  that any In-House Unit must have an active association and liaison  with its own Department and with the  industry led to a widening of the requirements for qualifications  for production personnel.

 The origins of similar small units in Commonwealth and State Departments usually started off with an enthusiast who saw the potential for the visual outlets in a Department. The Victorian film unit actually started this way in 1938 when Jack Keane, economics officer and editor of the Agricultural Journal was keen to have a departmental Unit because the only films available to the Department were those put out by the Commonwealth Commerce Department  at Victoria Barracks. That enthusiast was Vern Wagstaff, whose interest was filming and who had helped the Department with technical problems and built a lot of equipment for the Department. He was appointed with the title of Motion Picture Engineer, a title which the Public Service called a misnomer. By the 1950s, the Film unit consisted of the above position and an experienced cinematographer and producer (Ted Davis), another cinematographer who was also a still photographer  (Ted Domeyer), a Technical Officer who was a film projectionist and cinematographer taught by Vern Wagstaff (Bruce Gundry) and an editor (Ann Millard). By the 1960s there was also a producer and experienced communicator (Robert Hesselschwerdt).

It is interesting to note changes in the advertisements for the personnel in this part of the Department. . Where in the 1950s and early 1960’s the Agriculture Department would still insist on an agricultural diploma for some of its communication positions, from the 1966 appointments the stress turned to experience in film/ video/ TV/ Radio as the first priority

Types of Productions.

The potential audience of the Department’s film and radio  was  in rural areas where the productions and programmes catered for farmers, country residents and schools. The interests of both the Department and the audience had to be met .  The difficulties of treatment and integration require experience in agricultural extension and the media, which was brought into the Production Unit by the appointment of the two positions in 1966…(Anthony Evans, and myself, Bob Rothols).  Our work included regular communication with specialist scientific officers in the various Divisions, both within Head Office and Country centres. We were also involved in producing occasional films for other Departments e.g. Forests Commission, Soil Conservation Authority, State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.

One of the main uses of Departmental films  were at “Super Ideas” seminars, held at local halls, where information was put forward  by several members of the District Staff and discussed in syndicates by local farmers. These discussions were based on case studies of properties in the area. Before the discussions, short colour films made recently on each property were screened. Details of each property were supplied on duplicated sheets.

Each film was mainly in the form  of a “head and shoulders” interview  between the owner and  a member of the Department of  Agriculture. Although these films were comparatively simple to make, they still involved a substantial expenditure for variable costs.

One of the most regular and successful example of this type of production was with  Dairy Husbandry Officer, Jack Greene, who used silent colour film produced for specific use with his extension work and meetings with farmers .  This kind of extension work, in which the Officer provided the live narration and used the film to demonstrate methods and situations proved the value of film in creating interest and stimulating discussion.

Another example of the use of film was in the early 1980s, when a series of short sound films were made on the topic of “Drought Feeding”. The films were made in a series of areas affected by the drought period of 1982 to ’83. The aim was to prepare farmers and graziers for future drought situations.

Sound Recording:  Radio and Sound Tracks for Film and Video

The transfer of all production for film and radio to 3rd Floor Windsor Place, together with the installation of a PMG recording line to Head Office enabled all interviews and talks spoken  at  Head office to be recorded  at Windsor Place. Programmes could go direct to any radio station in Victoria. Film narrations could be recorded directly on to sprocketed tape recorders at Windsor Place.

The PMG line to Windsor Place  was used for

• the weekly recording of Voice of Agriculture continuity

the recording of at least 3 –4 interviews and/or talks  per week for the state wide     Voice of Agriculture magazine

•the recording of all narrations for sound tracks  for film and video productions.

 Another PMG line to the PMG City West Exchange was used:

•An average  of once a week to send market information to country stations and to the ABC in Melbourne

•An average of once weekly for transmission of  short news items  or “hot” information to country stations.

•The transmission of specific items to radio stations on an arranged basis for each occasion



Use and action of the teat-cup.

AGACTION IN THE 80s. 30 mins, 1980.

New and old technology in Agriculture.


Livestock Marketing  Reporting Service…how it works.


Results of the cross-breeding programme  lifting the production of milk and wool.


Nature and control of a locust plague.

BLACKOUT…26 MINS.,1974.    Training film demonstrating technique of making a fire line around a forest fire.

BLAST IT  ! 25 MINS., 1977.

Use of explosives in agriculture.


For extension programmes in dairying .


Re weed control in crops.

CAN SOMETHING BE DONE ? 20 mins .,  1975.

Intensive lambing systems on two properties in southern Victoria.

CERTAIN SEEDS…31 mins,  1977.

Re Potatoes….on various locations. Disease –free tuber production Made for Victorian Plant Research  Institute at Burnley.

CLODS TO ASHES…17 mins., 1982.

Re Grape Phylloxera and  history and effect on Wine Industry

And prevention.

 CLOSE TO THE BONE…31 minutes, 1976. Demonstration film on cutting up a beef carcase, made with cooperation of William Angliss College of Catering and Food Studies.


Melbourne’s Royal Agricultural Show.


Aims and techniques of a Carcase Classification Scheme. For Australian Meat Research Committee.


The do’s and don’ts of safe tractor operation.


A Discussion Film….Dairy Farmers, Men and Women,  are interviewed about their life Style and why they have chosen to

“live with cows”.

DAIRY SHED DESIGN…38 mins...1984. (Video only)

Principles of good shed design on selected properties in Gippsland, with interviews.


Instructional film on the proper use of chemicals in the growing of market crops. It focuses on the antics of Harry Sheelberite, who always knew better about how to spray his crops until he found there were other ways.

DISASTER FLY…20 mins., 1976.

Deals with Screw Worm Fly which infests  animals and people in P.N.G.  and its threat to cattle herds in Australia.



Training and Handling of the Victoria Police Dog Squad at Westmeadows, and how they are cared for by the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Staff.

DROUGHT- A FACT OF LIFE…57 mins..1981.

A  discussion film on the question “What would you do if you thought you were in a drought?” Contains interviews with five landholders with contrasting approaches  to animal management  in time of drought or impending drought. Each interview can be used on its own.


History of Barley from early times to the 20th Century. Deals with problems of barley industry  and its practices.

FAT EWES HAVE MORE  LAMBS..23 mins ..1976

Deals with the question “How does the condition  of ewes at joining  affect the lambing percentage ?” Shows experiments that test and contradict the opinion  that overfat ewes do not get  in lamb.

FIELD DAYS  1978…8 mins..1978

Casual look at two typical field days…in the Wimmera (Machinery ) and Gippsland (Dairying).


Deals with distribution, nature, mode of spread, prevention and reasons for stringent measures to stop its entry to Australia.

(Produced by Film Australia)


Illustrates simulated investigation into suspected outbreak on fictitious farm on Eastern coast.

GENTLEMEN THE QUEEN! 42 mins..1976

Deals with raising of queen bees for sale throughout Australia and for export. Rare footage of  hatching of queen bees.

THE GRAIN BANDITS…14 mins….1975

Instructional film on cleaning up of farm to prevent infestation of storage places by grain insects, especially weevils.


For use in  group discussions involving dairy farmers.

GRASS TETANY…16 mins…1964

Development of method of preventing grass tetany, a fatal disease of cattle and sheep in Victoria.

THE GREEN HARVEST…23 mins…1974

Steps taken in  commercial pea production….peas are most popular frozen vegetable.

HANDLING BALED HAY…30 mins..1979

Shows 16  methods of carting and stacking  bales of hay.

HAY PACKAGING  AND HANDLING SYSTEMS  IN THE 80s.…..31 mins …1980.  Preparation of the hay crop and main systems of  handling hay…the film aims to help farmers to decide which system to adopt.

HORSE BREAKING…28 mins…1982.

Revival of an early 1952 film  on the topic of “educating” an  unbroken horse. Features Kel Jeffery, at that stage 75 years old, is shown applying  his unique and humane method of  gaining the horse’s confidence.


Filmed at Glenormiston Agricultural College…a comprehensive instructional film  about health, management, and care of breeding mares and stallions.


(part of the close-op series – Agricultural scientists at work)

District methods of extension in Sunraysia  District.  Features Officer-in Charge at the time, Ron Webber.

HYDATIDS – A CYCLE TO BREAK….16 mins….1983.

The prevention of hydatid tapeworm  through the chain of sheep, dogs and humans.  Involves a veterinary surgeon, an animal extension officer and a surgeon in Hamilton in the Western District.

JOHNE’S DISEASE…..8 mins…pre-1960.

A disease which has been prevalent among dairy herds in southern districts of Victoria.


Possible ways in which foot and mouth disease could enter Australia, especially air travel. Likely effects of an outbreak.

THE MANAGER MAKERS….20 mins…1979.

Based on Glenormiston Agricultural College. Shows how the College trains and assists  in developing farmers to be better managers.


Instructional film  on ways of using mating crayons in sheep breeding.

MUSTER AT YANAKIE…9 mins….1963..(available on video only)

2000 cattle wintered on agistment at Yanakie on Wilson’s Promontory…their round up  and herding across the dunes to a central distribution point.  A rare film.


Historical review  of work done on cereal breeding since  the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1872.

Made for the Department’s Centenary.


What is involved  in seed certification.

PIG TATTOOING….4 ½  mins….1977

Correct method of branding pigs for sale or slaughter as part of

 of the National  Pig Carcase Classification Scheme.

PLEASANT MILKING….22 mins….1980.Five dairy farmers talk about how and why they have changed the design of their milking sheds and yards to achieve greater efficiency in handling their herds.

POLICE HORSES  --- WHO CARES?….(Long Version) 33 mins…1978.

Deals in detail with some of the finer pointso breeding, training and handling of Victorian Police horses. Shows the care of their mental and hysical health at  the Attwood Veterinary  Research Laboratories at Westmeadows , north of Melbourne. Includes footage from Royal Jubilee Visit in 1976.

POLICE HORSES – WHO CARES? (Short version for TV, schools, General)….9 mins…1977.

THE RABIES THREAT….15 Mins….1973.

The threat of rabies….the film shows the quarantine procedures and tests on pets brought by migrants from overseas.

THE RED SWAMP….15 mins…1970

The development of a swamp area in the Yanakie Settlement Scheme.

THE RELUCTANT HOST…16 mins …1976.

Biological  control of red scale in citrus fruit.  Life cycle of the insects,  and research work in Victoria  during the 1970s.

REPORT ON EPPALOCK….16mins..1967

Made for the Soil Conservation Authority…a historical record of  the Authority’s work  in the Eppalock Catchment to prepare the land-use for the Eppalock Water  Reservoir.



Six extension  and research workers in the Victorian Department of Agriculture discuss the methods used  to obtain and store scientific information, and the problems they have in keeping themselves informed. Subjects  of discussion include computer-based services, filing systems, libraries and various  approaches to coping  with scientific information.


About the research  on the potential use of reclaimed water from the  Melbourne Sewage Disposal System. Possible safe uses are the growing of vegetables, trees, and pastures.


A survey film about changes in design of shearing sheds to meet new demands in sheep shearing.


Shearing methods in a Gippsland shearing shed showing the complete cycle of wool handling from roundup to penning  to shearing and wool classing.

SHE’S APPLES…10 mins…1976

The hazards that can lead to damaged fruit from the time the apples are picked to the time they are  sold to the consumer.

Especially instructive to fruit growers and supermarkets.

SILAGE MAKING…22 mins…1981

The film introduces the essentials of good silage and the mechanical systems  of making and storing  silage.


Changes in poultry housing which have occurred in the Melbourne District.

SWELL WETHER TO IRAN…11 mins..1978

Thousands of live sheep have been sold to Middle Eastern countries. The film shows the way in which the sheep are prepared for export on the specially designed ships. Shot in and near Portland.


Shows the correct  procedure  in applying tail tags to cattle  before marketing. Enables  tracing of properties of origin of

Animals with diseases detected at abattoirs.

THAT’S A GOOD LURK….IN 13 PARTS…ranging from 3 to 5 mins….1982….

Deals with common problems and their simple solutions on farms and round the home. This series has been available in several formats:

1 complete  programme on film or video,


 A modern project….the filming of  land-use maps  generated by computer – which enables the study of land-use changes over specific periods. Dr. Jack Massey, of the Department of Geography at the University of Melbourne, takes  the viewer through every step and explains how the technique can be used.

THIRTY SECONDS TO GO…16 mins…1978.

TV has become an integral part of  the Mildura Extension Service.  This film shows a reconstruction of  a typical programme  telecast weekly  through STV Channel 8  in Mildura. Rated to have at least 20,000 viewers and incorporates a wide range of interviews, live and filmed, videotape, slides, photographs and other visual aids.

TRACTOR DRIVING..15 mins…1978

The basics of safe tractor driving.

TROUT HARVEST…..10 mins…1960

Science assists nature in a modern fish hatchery, enabling over 70% of eggs to survive.   (The film is of historical interest)

VINE GRAFTING…..15 mins…1970.

The methods and advantages of vine grafting for vineyards in Victoria.

WATCH IT! WE BRUISE…….24 mins….1983.  (Video only)

Light-hearted production which deals with the chain of events between the orchard and the home……during which  apples and pears are handled by  people and machines. Made as a training programme for supermarket staff, it shows how the fruit can be bruised  , shortening the shelf life, and how this can be prevented.

WATER IS THE WEAPON…25 mins…1977

Film made for the Country Fire Authority. Shows the method of attack to control grass fires  in open country. Filmed in Western District with cooperation of Willaura Fire Brigade.

A WESTERLY ASPECT……6 mins…..1976.

Set to the “Valse Triste” (“Sad Waltz”) by Sibelius, this film sets out to  give a visual impression  of the moods and sights of the Western District.  No word commentary, Has been screened on rural TV channels.

WHY DID THOSE LAMBS DIE ?…9 mins….1975.

The film deals with the death of lambs exposed to extreme weather conditions. A veterinary surgeon shows simple post-mortem techniques  which farmers can use to find why and when the lambs died.

THE MOVING RECORD….42 mins…1985.

This documentary film was made  as part of the 150th anniversary of Victorian settlement. It deals with the way in which agriculture  and farming is seen through the medium of film, both in fiction and fact. Many different situations are shown, not least the BETTER FARMING TRAIN.



BURNS IN CATTLE AND HORSES….60 slides…20 mins..1984

Deals with the symptoms , treatment and healing procedures of burns in cattle and horses resulting from the disastrous bushfires in the Warrnambool area of SW Victoria. (Slides and narration only, no music)

DIRECT DRILLING….47 slides….10  mins…1981

Outlines the methods of direct drilling  of crops in country where soils are poor and badly drained. Deals with associated techniques of spraying , grazing and burning…and the benefits…saving of time ,  reduced fuel consumption, improvement of soils, better yields.

PIG MATING MANAGEMENT….65 slides….11 mins..1984

Deals with the components of good mating management, which is the key to good  pig management and good returns. Shows the influence of penning arrangements, nutrition, and the back pressure test on expression of oestrus, detection of oestrus and mating.

PIGS ON RECORD…80 slides…11 mins…1982.

The nature and advantages of the Department of Agriculture’s

Pig Management Recording Service.


80 slides….13 mins……1984.

The functions of the Laboratory at Benalla in N.E. Victoria.  It serves  some of the prime grazing areas  south of the Murray River between Corryong and Tocumwal.  The programme shows details of the following functions……disease diagnosis; brucellosis eradication; research; exotic disease surveillance  and education.

The Laboratory also operates a small animal house and the Australian National Fish Health Reference  Laboratory.

RUTHERGLEN  RESEARCH INSTITUTE….80 slides….14 mins…..1984

The history and most significant research  work and findings  of the Institute.  Emphasizes fat lamb production; wheat variety improvement; use of lupins in rotations; feeding of beef cattle, cattle yard design and meat research.

SEALING FARM SILOS FOR FUMIGATION…..80 slides..12 mins..1984.

Principles of fumigation in wheat storage silos, particularly on farms.

SUPERATE……42 slides….6 mins…1983.

Superate is a service  for providing a sound economic basis for the use of superphosphate on pastures. The set describes how the service works  with soil tests, soil analyses,  and district staff participation. Highlights the advantages of the service.

THE WELCOME LEGUME….80 slides…12 mins…1981.

Management of lupins  in cereal rotations. Highlights the advantages of lupins and the effects on crop yields and health…and focuses on lupin research done at  Rutherglen Research  Institute. 





Hamish Russell 1964 - 1986 writes:


Departmental History Project

Bringing Science to Agriculture


Name & Qualifications:  Hamish Russell, PhD (Michigan State), MAgrSc (UMelb)


Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?

I joined the Department of Agriculture in 1964 as a Sheep & Wool Officer (Livestock Extension Officer Class SO1) in the Livestock Division and I resigned in 1986 as Director of Scientific & Information Services.   The major issues changed from a simple “Produce More” to dramatic changes in demand from traditional markets and a growing emphasis on management and sustainability.  The last of the non-graduate trained industry experts were nearing the end of their careers in 1965 and over the next twenty years the emphasis on science and economics grew dramatically.

What was the Department like when you joined

I was recruited by Peter Hyland to go to Horsham but for various reasons this never occurred and my whole career was spent in Head Office.  Located at that time in Parliament Place, the Department Head Office had a strong sense of quiet confidence and formality.  We had a well established Minister and it seemed that the Chiefs of Divisions had great autonomy to run their “fiefdoms.  Slow but progressive growth in numbers was expected and “characters” were tolerated and even enjoyed.

The Christmas parties on Christmas Eve were occasions for loads of formers officers to return and the organisation seemed very assured about its place in the scheme of things.

When I joined, the key person for me was undoubtably Peter Hyland, who was then Senior Sheep & Wool Officer.   My Chief of Division was Bob Grayson.   About two years later, with Grayson’s retirement, the Livestock Division was split into Animal Health and Animal Industry and Dave Wishart was appointed Chief of Animal Industry with Rodger Watson his Deputy.  Peter, Dave and Rodger without doubt had the major influence on my early career and Peter and Dave remain treasured friends.  Their faith in me led to me being granted three years leave on full salary and approval to accept an Australian Wool Board Scholarship to undertake Doctoral studies in communication at Michigan State University from 1969 t0 1972.

Other people who had a major input to my career were my respective supervisors: Rod Kefford (initially as Senior Executive Officer, then as Principal Executive Officer and finally as Deputy Director General); Bob Taylor as Assistant Director General; and Jim McLaughlin as Assistant Director General.   In retrospect, in many ways I unofficially followed Rod in many of the tasks that I undertook in Central Administration and on the plethora of Departmental Committees that I was a member of and often ultimately chaired.

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?
In my experience, the Department always had a strong farm and farmer orientation.   Over my career I sensed a strong ethos of valuing staff and encouraging scientific staff to extend their qualifications and become involved in broader scientific communities within Australia and beyond.

In Head Office there was a strong sense that the Department knew what was needed for agriculture and the agricultural community.  Following Sir Gilbert Chandler’s retirement as Minister, I never felt that subsequent Ministers had as much faith in the Department.  The strong Departmental ethos of being there for the farming sector was increasingly challenged by central government and as growth was replaced by “efficiency” trust and commitment seemed to wane.

What approach, ethos or philosophy did you aim to employ in your work and to foster in others?

I sought to engender a strong sense of commitment to the philosophy of science and the constant need to question, measure and evaluate.  My concern was always to seek to have decisions made with the best possible scientific evidence.

What did you see as different or unique about the Department, compared with your experiences with other organisations?

In many ways I felt the Department of Agriculture engendered a unique sense of “family”.  With Dave Wishart’s appointment as Permanent Head, people were promoted more clearly on the basis of achievement not just seniority and there was a sense that you were valued and cared for as a person.  This engendered a strong sense of loyalty amongst almost all of the  professional staff that I dealt with and for many there was a feeling that “Agriculture” was a great lifetime career.  Professional officers who moved to other departments or other organisations were still considered unusual and almost disloyal.   While this started to breakdown in the early 1980’s, long-term commitment to the Department was an overwhelming feature among professional staff.

What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced – and saw the Department as facing?

The key challenges that I sensed in the Department related to the need to adapt from the “produce more” philosophy of the forties and fifties to a farm management orientation and finally to a “top/down” government  imperative of “small government” and “user pays” strategies to contain expenditure.

These changes had a huge impact on scientific staff, who had become used to an unchallenged value that was felt to be inherent in their work.

The huge challenges and opportunities from my perspective related to being able to better justify and communicate the benefits of what we did.  Early adoption of new technology, such as computers, and moving to an objectives based approach to management made us leaders in the Victorian Public Sector in many ways but perversely left us more vulnerable to cuts.   The challenge to do more with the same or less seemed to gradually erode the sense of confidence in the Department.

Staff resented greater accountability as a loss of trust from our political masters.  However, for those who were able to cope, opportunities arose in many other areas of public endeavour.

How did the political environment of the time affect your work?

As a scientific officer, I spent most of my career well shielded from the political environment.  However, involvement with the development and implementation of the objectives based management system drew interest from politicians.   I sensed a bi-partisan respect for what the Department was able to achieve but perhaps an unease that the Department was not under sufficient Ministerial control and direction.

Sadly, there was a vast change from the close trust of the Chandler years to the growing “them & us” political distrust that characterised my last years in the Department.

Who were the key industry leaders you regard as important in your era?

In my role, I really didn’t get involved with industry leaders.

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

Clearly for me, leave to complete further post-graduate study had the greatest impact on my career.   My interest in organisational communication changed my career.  Effectively I moved from extension to scientific administration on my return from the US and I lost virtually all direct contact with farmers and the farming community.   Suggesting the relevance of the US CRIS (Current Research Information System) to the Department meshed with a growing “corporatisation” of the Department and led to my work developing VAMIS (Victorian Agricultural Management Information System) and contributing  with Bob Jardine to the development of OBMS (Objectives Based Management System).  These initiatives largely dominated my future work in Central Administration and ultimately led to me being approached by the Hon David White, then recently appointed Minister for Health, to participate in a Public Service Board Review  of the Health Commission and subsequently join the Health Department to introduce Health Service Agreements across the health sector.

What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?

Victoria led the way in applying science to a wide range of farming practices.  Improved varieties, improved health and improved management all combined to bring huge increases in agricultural production.  Severe drought (climate change?) and changing world markets led to new issues of economic survival and changing practices at the farm and industry level.

It seems to me that the Department was generally at the forefront in identifying issues and assisting agricultural producers to adapt.  Wide understanding of basic principles of scientific agriculture and increased capacity to analyse and manage farm systems have allowed farmers to adapt to major environmental and market changes and the Department is justified in claiming considerable credit.

In retrospect, some scientific developments may not have contributed to long term sustainability but there was a general perception that the Department was “on the farmers’ side”.

The success must be the sustained production of food and fibre in the context of dramatic changes in world supply and demand.

The failures mostly relate to issues  where problems were insidious such as rising salinity in the irrigation districts, contamination of soil and livestock from long-life pesticide residues and involvement in “picking winners”

Who were your role models, or who played an influential role, in your career?

For me, Peter Hyland fills a special role as role model, mentor and friend.  His encouragement and faith spanned my career in the Department and I always sensed that he was there for me.

Rod Kefford sensed that I could contribute to several of his passions – management by objectives, staff development and strategic planning.   He was instrumental in my move from an Industry Division to Central Administration.  For better or worse, Rod probably had as much or more impact on my career direction than any other person.

Bob Taylor and Jim McLaughlin were extremely supportive supervisors and friends.   My Secretary, Tamara Corteling, was always looking out for me.  She chose not to accept other more prestigious positions and gave me the loyalty that allowed me to take on new challenges.

Finally, I have a profound debt of gratitude to Dave Wishart who gave me encouragement in every step that I took in my career in the Department.  I am extremely fortunate to count Dave as a friend as well as my former Chief, Director and Director-General.

Do you have a particular anecdote or experience about people or events you'd like to contribute?

On a very personal level, when I was a very new junior officer, my father died and my Branch Head, Peter Hyland, arranged for me to work from home in the country for several weeks.  I didn’t even request this but he realised that my Mother would need help adjusting to my Dad’s death and would need help with the farm and assigned me to a project close to home.  This concern for me as a junior staff member made an indelible impression on me and epitomised the best things about a great Department that I was very proud to be in.

 H.M. Russell

March 2010 


A further perspective from the corridors of Head Office

I was recruited at the beginning of 1964 to become the Sheep & Wool Officer at Horsham.  However, a series of events occurred that led to my career being always based in Head Office.

My initial shared office was in the old 3 Treasury Place building.  My recollections relate to long corridors with shiny brown linoleum and high ceilings.  Senior staff were invariably located toward the front of the building and there was a pervading sense of quiet and purpose.   New Sheep & Woolies undertook a mixture of formal training at a national sheep and wool training course based at Leura in the Blue Mountains and at the Gordon Institute in Geelong and the CSIRO Wool Technology Division at Belmont and on-the-job training with three district Sheep & Wool Officers (Dave Cannon at Benalla, Murray Elliot at Bairnsdale and Ben McConchie at Rochester).  I also took my turn endlessly turning the handle of a massive calculating machine used to analyse the results from a major heritability trial that was conducted with the owners of large wool flocks across western Victoria .   The analysis was undertaken by Peter Mullaney.   However, most of the fieldwork was done by district-based staff including Jim McLaughlin, Max Frew, Dave Lear and others.

In those days, there was no Melbourne district office as such and little or no inter-Divisional co-ordination of Head Office advisory services.   My work as a district Sheep & Wool Officer was largely driven by telephone enquiries, which more often than not, were followed up with on-farm visits.    These visits involved discussion of options and recommendations were couched in terms of “If I were you, I would probably ...”.      Such discussions often served as a basis for subsequent articles or radio talks.     My work also involved a component of experimental work/demonstration on private properties.   This experimental work (studies relating to possible mineral deficiencies and stocking rates) were conducted on private properties and involved the property owners themselves, other departmental officers from the Agrostology (Pasture) Branch, staff of the Veterinary Research Institute in Parkville and staff from the State Chem Labs.   So, in every sense, this was co-operative research!    The stocking rate trial that I co-ordinated at Romsey was part of a State-wide program that eventually involved over a dozen sites across the State.    The results of these trials had a significant impact by demonstrating the law of diminishing returns when stocking rates were pushed too hard.

Christmas was a major event in Head Office.  Work finished at 12 noon on Christmas eve and each division organised its own party on its particular floor.    Many retired officers would come in and people moved from party to party.   Even in the sixties, designated drivers were the order of the day!

Being based in Melbourne also brought with it some unique responsibilities such as lecturing (on sheep identification) to the Victorian Police Detective Training School with “field” exercises at the enormous livestock market at the Flemington saleyard.   Another such “Head Office” duty was designing, erecting and manning the sheep and wool component of the extensive Department of Agriculture exhibit in the Government Pavilion at the Royal Show.  Back in the 1960’s, the Royal Show was vastly different with the emphasis being firmly focussed on the farming community.  Farmers came to buy equipment and/or livestock and to compare all sorts of commercial exhibits.    The Department’s exhibits took up most of the Government Pavilion.

Formal study opportunities within the wider Public Service were limited.  However, where the need could be established, the industry research funds provided the Department with unique access to funds for this purpose.   The State Government granted me leave on full pay and allowed me to take up an Australian Wool Board Scholarship for three years of graduate study in the United States.   This was an amazing opportunity that certainly dramatically changed my career path.

Soon after my return to the Department in 1972, I was appointed Senior Scientific Services Officer in Central Administration where my formal role was to assist in the technical administration of the Department, with particular responsibility to undertake special assignments in relation to organisation development, planning and co-ordination of services.   In this role I was privileged to work closely with Rod Kefford in particular.    A strong feature of Rod’s approach was to involve younger officers on departmental committees and task forces that were set up to advise the Director.  This gave these officers, including myself, an opportunity to work with other officers from across the Department on issues that were at the cutting edge of contemporary public administration.   One such committee was the Planning Review Committee.   Its recommendations laid the groundwork for the subsequent development of the Department’s version of management by objectives.    Our Objectives Based Management System (OBMS) and the associated computer-based information system (VAMIS) owed much of their conception to the insightful ideas of Bob Jardine, the Departmental biometrician.    Bob had an amazing intellect that allowed him to critically analyse ideas and many of his pithy comments were absolute gems.      Bob was very much a “one man band” and actively opposed any suggestion that he should be supported by any additional biometric staff.   He was also renowned for avoiding any suggestion that he should actually visit any research or experimental work.  While highly controversial at times, he single handedly reviewed (& approved) the design of all proposed experiments and, at the conclusion of the work, personally handled the processing and analysis of most of the results and approval of papers before they were submitted for publication.     As more officers obtained higher degrees, and as access to computing facilities started to become easier, Bob’s role became more questionable and, following his retirement, no subsequent Biometrician sought to control all research design and analysis.  

Head Office moved to Wellington Parade in the late seventies.  The move to a brand new building (subsequently two adjoining buildings) brought most Head Office staff together for the first time in many years.    This move happened at much the same time as the creation of the Directorate.   While it was exciting to have new premises, many of us had moments of nostalgia for Treasury Place!

A feature of Central Administration was a very real commitment to co-operation with other Government agencies.      Some was formal membership on special task groups of the State Co-Ordination Council and some was more informal co-operation where the particular skills of individual staff were sought..  For example, I was a member of the Board of Studies of the Victoria Institute of Colleges and either Chair or Deputy Chair of two of its academic committees, Chair of the Applied Science Course Advisory Committee at Victoria College (subsequently part of Deakin University).   Also, along with others, I was also encouraged to accept executive roles on national, regional and international professional associations.

The State Government also granted me leave to undertake short term international consultancies for the Australian Development Assistance Bureau and the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

All of these roles and opportunities were, at that time, part of the Department accepting a broad leadership role in Australian agriculture, in agriculture in the Asia Pacific region and in public administration.

We were widely recognised and our involvement was sought, by central agencies of Government, in a range of pilot initiatives.   Without being overly arrogant, as a department we were good at what we did and we knew it!     Also, importantly, we were keen to share our knowledge and experience.

In many ways, it seems that, while agriculture held such an important place in the State and national economies, the Department of Agriculture took advantage of the opportunities to grow its services to the rural sector, to hone its research and to become more sophisticated in its communication with farm families.  Our national and international links enabled our staff to continue to fill a key role in bringing world science to Victorian agriculture.   At the same time as we increasingly focussed with our farming community on efficient management of agricultural resources, the Department was recognised for its leadership in public sector management.   While in retrospect many of these management initiatives now appear cumbersome and quaint, the Department did build a formidable reputation within the public sector for “giving things a go” and being prepared to adapt and change as circumstances demanded,    This capacity to confront and deal with changing circumstances was perhaps part of our underlying ethos as a department and therefore easier to accommodate than it proved to be for many other public sector bodies.

Working out of Head Office may have involved a very different clientele at times.   However, many of the skills needed for good research, good regulation and good extension were equally relevant to good administration!



HMR Oct ‘12



Ralph Salisbury* 1964 - 1991 writes

Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?

My career began in January 1964 and I resigned in November 1991 to take up

a position with AusAid in Indonesia.

The major issues during my time with the Department were Pleuropneumonia

in Gippsland, Avian Influenza, brucellosis and TB eradication, Footrot Control area.

What was the Department like when you joined? Who were the key people, both in the Department and in your career development?

On joining the Department I found the staff to be friendly and supportive.

The ethical standards were very high.

The Department grew in size and employed 100 veterinarians after taking on

Meat Inspection. Head Office Staff was based in Melbourne and there were

District Veterinary Officers at various locations throughout the State, prior

to regionalisation. Stock Inspectors worked under the District Veterinary


Key people in the Department, at the time were Robert Grayson, Chief

Inspector of Stock and Chief Veterinary Officer situated in Treasury Place,

Melbourne. Daniel Mannix Flynn, Senior Veterinary Officer and Bryan H.


Key people in my career development. Daniel Mannix Flynn and Bryan H.

Rushford were both mentors throughout my career.

While doing my Masters Degree Dr John Henry Arundel was my supervisor and

a key person in my successful completion of this degree.

When selected to go to the United Kingdom 1n 1967 to work on the Foot and

Mouth Disease outbreak Dr David Wishart, Director of Agriculture provided

invaluable mentoring and advice. Daniel Mannix Flynn and Bryan             H. Rushford

also provided mentoring at this time

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

Overall ethos and philosophy of the Department was to serve the rural

communities and Victoria generally.  When things needed to be investigated

eg kangaroo meat subsitution scandal the Department was seen as an honest

broker with no vested interest and with the expertise to undertake such


The Department grew larger with the regionalisation. Animal Health

now had five Regional Veterinary Officers each in charge of a region while

District Veterinary Officers and other staff worked under their management.

Decentralisation and Regional Veterinary Laboratories also contributed to

the expansion of the Department.

Politicisation - Some Ministers were more interested in good publicity for

themselves rather than supporting the work of the Department.

What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced – and saw the Department as facing?

Key Challenges - Maintaining the high work ethic on a daily basis.

How did the political environment of the time affect your work?

Didn't affect my work.Who were the key industry leaders you regard as important in your era?

Rod Dyer, Grazier, Western District, Victoria

Robin Ritchie, Grazier, Western District, Victoria, Chairman of Exandis

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

.1967 Seconded as as Aid Expert to the UK and worked in the FMD Eradication


1974 worked in Indonesia on the successful FMD Vaccination Campaign

1978 in Indonesia collecting serum samples from livestock from East Java

to West Timor to test for bluetongue antibodies.

The FMD experience in 1967 triggered my interest in Animal Health

Emergency Planning and I was able to contribute at state and national levels

to the extent that my position became "PVO Counter-Disaster and Exotic Diseases". I was Victoria’s representative on the Exotic Diseases

Sub-Committee of Animal Health Committee from 1975 until 1991 and

Agriculture's representative on the State Disaster Committee for the same

period. I designed and ran mock FMD exercises in 5 regions and played a

senior role in the 1985 Avian Influenza eradication campaign. In 1980 I

played a leading role in developing the concepts that led to the Australian

Veterinary Emergency Plan and convincing Australian Agricultural Council to

re-establish ESDC. I was a member of the editorial committee for the first

edition of AUSVETPLAN. I wrote the first animal disease emergency plan in


My interest in worms began while working as a District Veterinary Officer in

Hamilton. I was doing total worm counts on a regular basis and this led me

to undertake a Master of Veterinary Science Degree specialising in parasitology.

During my time in Hamilton 1965 to 1974 the Regional Veterinary Laboratory

was established and I became the Deputy Officer-in-Charge.

1989 Project Leader appointed by Overseas Projects, Victoria to design and

manage training for 10 Indonesian veterinarians for 3 months based in

Victoria and James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland.

What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?

Successes during my time with the Department. Eradication of TB and Bovine

Brucellosis. Avian Influenza eradication campaign, the development of

Emergency Planning in writing and exercising them and the manner in which

the Department responded to Bushfire and Flood Emergencies.

* Past colleagues and friends of Ralph will be concerned to know that Ralph has Huntingdon's Disease.  The authors are grateful to Ralph and Patricia Salisbury for sending this contribution.


Martin Sharkey 1959 - 1989 writes:

Notes from a scientist

M.J. Sharkey B. Agr. Sc., M Agr.Sc. Ph.D.

Employed March 1959 - September 1989


Animal research in the 1950's was mostly comprised of the very active program pioneered by DS Wishart for the production of frozen bull sement for use by dairyfarmer members of the Victorian Artificial Breeders Cooperative, studies on grazing management and productivity of dairy cows by Dr Mike Freer, on farm studies of sheep productivity by officers of the Livestock Branch and sundry pig and poultry studies: mostly on evaluation of feed ingredients.

The Department had Research facilities at Werribee, Walpeup and Rutherglen but other stations at Hamilton, Horsham, Ellinbank. Glenormiston and others had not yet been purchased.

Research Training in the 50's and early 60's

In my early years there was no formal training or supervision in research procedures.  Essentially no graduates had been seconded to complete higher degrees and to provide this supervision and no scientists with higher qualifications were recruited to fill this need. This lack of supervision within adiscipline framework was keenly felt by all scientists.

Management actively discouraged or forbade cooperative research with fellow workers in other states or CSIRO. CSIRO was greatly discouraged or forbidden from establishing Research Laboratories in Victoria. The rare interstate trips to conferences when presenting a research finding were always by train.

Research publications over this period were abysmally few in number.In many Departmental Divisions the studying for higher degrees using field data from the normal work program was not encouraged. I give as an example, the experience of Robert Daniel Price now deceased. Robert completed a degree, M. Agr. Sc. on studies of "Takeall" disease in Wheat using data collected in studies on farms throughout the Mallee.  His Chief of Division told Bob 'your extra degree means nothing to me'. You will gain no rewards for this extra work you have done - hardly encouraging.

I describe the situation as 'A primitive management system’. This is not a negative statement.  In this system the scientist once having the approval of his Chief of Division is totally free to research any aspect of a subject so long as he attracts the funds, conducts the research and reports appropriately. The scientist is far happier operating under this system than under management

systems of the 1990's and 2000's where funds attracted by the scientist are siphoned off to fund activities unrelated to the work in hand.

Research in the latter 1960's. 1970's and !980's

These years were the 'Golden Years" for research in the Department.  It was driven by the establishment of research levies on commodities which were administered by the Rural Industry Research Funds . These research Committees recognised Industry needs for targeted research, provided scholarships for PhD and other discipline training in research and provided priority lists for studies they wished to support. Major capital programs totaling millions of dollars was provided from the RIRF's to double the size of SS Cameron Laboratory to accommodate the Prince Henry's reproductive research group, to provide major animal surgeries and equipment,  provide meat laboratories, chiller rooms and meat handling equipment, major extensions to the piggery to house a research sow herd and smaller laboratories for controlled temperature housing of broilers and laying hens.

These facilities were ready and waiting to support a small army of scientists in training. New powerful techniques were found to unlock problems in reproduction, nutrition animal welfare and general animal handling. I have separately nominated Officers Ian Cumming, Roger Campbell, Ras Lawson, Graeme Mein, Paul Hemsworth, and Mike Taverner to outline major achievement and the mechanisms used in their studies.

I describe the 1970's and 1980's as the golden years for research. Talented research scientists were trained at Universities and returned to our laboratories fitted with more up to date equipment and their research output in terms of published papers and on farm adoption of their findings flowed far and wide both within Australia and overseas.

I was Director of Research at the Animal Research Institute. Werribee from 1981 until September 1989. One of the greatest improvements in  efficiency for each Research Scientist was achieved by the provision of one or two senior technicians funded by the State and attached to each Research Scientist. There is only so many hours in the day for handling of animals, collection of data, analysis of samples and summarising of daily records. Freeing the Research Scientist from these demands, enabled productivity, as judged by research published, projects completed, final reports written and information adopted by industry, to be greatly increased. Unfortunately in the Kennet years most of these support positions were made redundant with a consequent lowering of efficiency,

In 1981, I observed that there were two Departmental programs using a Treasury Trust Account. One was the Artificial Breeding Program, the other was Tobacco Research at Myrtleford. With greater difficulty than the extraction of teeth from hens the Departmental Accountant grudgingly agreed that a Treasury Trust Account could be established if the work could not be done unless all funds were supplied up-front.

My scientists were keen to contract to conduct studies on behalf of commercial firms and using this Mechanism we soon had many Treasury Trust Accounts and about 30% of total revenue accruing from this work. Many capital items were obtained for the work and became the property of the Institute thereafter.

The era of over management

Sadly; in my opinion in the 1990's and 2000's the Department has become over managed with a bloated central management which has stultified the free ranging and fast moving program of earlier years. I talk with many friends who commission and oversee distribution of Research Funds. Universally, they say they grudgingly or no longer sign contracts with the Department because the signing officer is not an active researcher.


Peter Shelden 1955 -1987 writes:

-submission by Gerard Peter Shelden, employee from 1955 to 1987.

 After graduating from Melbourne University in 1954, in Agricultural Science,  I joined the Plant Research Institute at Burnley Gardens in 1955 , as an entomologist, and remained in that position until 1978, when I transferred to the Plant Standards Branch at Head Office with the title of Senior Plant Protection Officer, under Mike Kinsella.  In  1987, I retired at age 57.

Regarding the answers to the 12 questions posed,     I find that none of the questions  can be answered by me as they bear no known relevance to my job at Burnley.

The highlights occurring during my stay at Burnley include the following:

Involvement in the Locust control campaigns of 1955 and later;

If further contact is needed , my contact details are as below.

I apologise for the sparse nature of my reply as I feel I don’t have much to contribute.


Ken Sillcock 1938 - 1975 writes:

              My memories of the Department of Agriculture Victoria

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends

Rough-hew them how we will”

That was possibly one of sentences in those old Copy Books, in which we were expected to write in the same perfection as some authority had done in the first line.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

One day the Head Teacher (“Old Ned”) said to me, “You will never be a good writer, but everyone will be able to read your writing”. That puzzled me at the time, but I saw its value in the days when we wrote everything in longhand – letters to farmers and others and articles for publication – and then had them typed by the girls in the typing team in the Department.

They always gave my work preference over those of others who handed in work full of corrections, and arrows pointing to where individual words should go. Scientists, Agricultural and otherwise, were not always orderly in their habits.

After my last year at Yinnar State School, which gave us a really sound education up to Grade 8, I was sent, in 1925, to the newly opened Higher Elementary School at Mirboo North.

In the meantime Jack Finlayson,  the Head Teacher at Yinnar, had suggested that I should enter for a Junior Government Scholarship, and gave me special coaching.

Secondary education

.A few weeks after the school year (1925) had begun I learned that I had won a Junior Government Scholarship. This was tenable for four years, during which it would pay half my tuition fees, a book allowance and the cost of boarding away from home, which was then forty pounds. So I spent the next four years as a boarder at Trinity Grammar School, Kew, which met the other half of my tuition fees.

Two years later my younger brother, Ron, also won a Junior Government Scholarship, and joined me at Trinity.

In 1929 I entered the University of Melbourne, with a major resident scholarship at Trinity College.

I had hoped to do a Science degree with a major in Physics, my best subject, and I imagined that I might join the team of Sir Ernest Rutherford, who was on the verge of splitting the atom. However, in applying for Senior Government Scholarships, I was asked to name a second preference of courses, so I put down Agricultural Science without much idea of the content of that course.

My “20 year university course” begins

The State Government “grabbed me with glee” and awarded me a Free Place for Ag. Science, as it needed more people to support its involvement in the primary industries. I could have handled courses in the Humanities, but Science was my main interest.

Despite all that help there were costs which my parents had to meet.

Then came Otto Niemeyer from the Bank of England, telling us and our local banks they suddenly had to reduce all overdrafts. That caused in Australia, as in other countries, the deepest financial depression the world had known, which some of us described as “Poverty Amidst Plenty”. Our farms produced plenty of food, wool and, later, cotton for clothing, and there were ample able to supplies of timber and bricks for building. But people throughout the nation lost their jobs, companies were forced out of business.  Many people therefore had no money to buy essential farm products. In one year my parents’ income, mainly from cream supplied to butter factories, dropped from 2/8 a pound to 8d a pound (the equivalent of 32 cents to 8 cents a pound.

The family could no longer support three of us away at study (my sister Kath had joined us at MLC doing a course in Domestic Science). Governments provided some relief in the form of public works for the unemployed, for which they were paid “Sustenance” for two days’ work a week.

A new career as a Herd Tester

Jobs were hard to get, so Ron and Kath remained on the farm. I sat, and passed, the examination for Herd Tester conducted by the Department of Agriculture, and was able to get a job as a Herd Tester, luckily in my local district. The other two testers employed at Yinnar got the pay of 3 pounds a week for the full quota of 26 herds visited each month. With only about half that number I was paid 10 shillings a herd. In addition to payment, the farmer had to supply board and meals and feed for the tester’s horse.

As soon as I could afford it, I bought a much pre-loved T Model Ford car for 26 pounds, but farmers did not pay for petrol to “feed” my car. That was “uneconomic” of me, but it enhanced my opportunities to take part in the social and cultural activities of Yinnar, and eased the burden of “living in a suit case”.

My fortunes improved when the Boolarra Herd Testing Association lost its tester for a similar part unit. I was invited to work part time for Boolarra also, making my territory extend from Morwell North to Mirboo South. I rather enjoyed meeting so many more farm families and spending time in their homes, including a few whose children I had known when at the Mirboo school for a few weeks in 1925.

During my years at Yinnar I joined the Yinnar Amateur Dramatic Society and took part in several of the annual three-act plays staged by that Society under the expert leader, Mrs. Shrimpton, the wife of a local general store keeper, whose husband                 greatly helped with the make-up of the cast. The plays always started promptly at 8 pm, and all seats were taken 20 minutes earlier. Acting experience became useful later.


When the Morwell Shire Band was re-formed after some years in recess, learners were invited to join if they bought their own instruments.  So I bought a silver plated Paul LeGrand cornet for ten pounds. I could not afford the other option, a tenor horn for thirteen pounds. The bandmaster, Brunette soon brought some of the

learners up to playing solo parts confidently. One farmer asked me how I was going. “Not as well as Keith and Doug”. I replied. “Being in other people’s homes I don’t get time to practise. Young children in some of the homes I visit would get excited and wouldn’t go to sleep.


“No worry”, said the farmer. “After you have done your testing and writing up, you can go up to the milking shed and practise till the cows come home.” I tried that, but I had only got a few notes into the Toreador Song when the cows came home seeking the young bull who could bellow so melodiously. The adjoining farmer’s cows also came up from the river flat, thus interfering with their job of converting grass to milk, so I had to go further afield and visit that farm a few days later when the milk yield of the cows had returned to normal.


I first joined the Department of Agriculture in 1938 as a Dairy Supervisor.

In 1936 I sat for the examination for Dairy Supervisor in the Department of Agriculture, and was one of seven who were issued with certificates out of 101 entrants. The exam was highly competitive, as the number passed was limited to the foreseeable vacancies in the next few years. In 1938 I was offered, and accepted, the position for the Shire of Alberton based on Yarram.

I remained an officer of the Department until 1975 when, at age 65, I was compelled to retire. I then received, and still receive, a fortnightly pension which, twice a year, is indexed according to the Consumer Price Index. If I had converted my superannuation to a Lump Sum Payment, the only option now available to Victorian State Employees, I would have run out of money long ago, and, now in my hundredth year, I would have had to depend upon the Age Pension provided by the Commonwealth Government to all who have little or no other income

I was introduced by my Senior Dairy Supervisor, Alec Mess, who suggested that I should board with Mr. and Mrs. Henley, who made me feel like one of the family.

In the meantime I had changed cars twice, so I started the job with a new car which looked respectable, and it was run on a mileage allowance when on duty, which provided sufficient funds to allow the purchase of a replacement after some years of use.

I was able to enter into the life of the town and district, having some introductions from the people at Yinnar. At the time, farmers were coming out of the Financial Depression with enough money to install milking machines. They were allowed to do so only if their milking sheds and yards complied with standards conducive to good hygiene, so much of my time was taken up with drawing plans for the installation which met the standards. I submitted numbers of plans, which were signed by the farmer and me, and a copy was then sent to the Dairying Division headquarters for approval.

At that time the machines were driven by internal combustion engines, as electric power was not available on the farms. The town had electric lighting and limited power from a local generating station powered by a large kerosene engine during the main hours of the day and evening, but power was not available throughout the night except, I think, at the hospital, which probably had its own electric plant.

As my territory was bounded by the summit of the Strzelecki Range, some of the farms were halfway to Yinnar. I could, therefore, travel to Yinnar on a Friday afternoon and return to work again, visiting farms near the hilltop and work my way back to Yarram. I could, therefore, charge the same mileage allowance as I would if I had returned to Yarram on the Friday afternoon and started again on hilltop farms on the Monday morning following. I only did that occasionally, but it was useful to keep in touch.

War interrupted my career`

Among other interests, I joined the Yarram Band, and was also in the Militia, training for defence within Australia. When war broke out in September 1939 we were made to go into a training camp for one month. The band, with a few other players in the South Gippsland area, became the band of the 22nd. Militia Battalion, so we were much occupied in music practice and in some First Aid training, as we became stretcher bearers when the Battalion went into action (or on training manoeuvres). After the camp, there was our Christmas break, so I would have to do as many farm visits as possible when on duty.

That was short-lived, as we were called up in February for a three-month camp. After a dispute between the Department of Agriculture and the military authorities, I was allowed one month’s leave to continue my Dairy Supervision duties after the first month in camp, then had to go into camp again for the final month.

War became a full time job

Four of us in the Band decided that, if we were messed around like that, we might as well join the AIF, which would be more purposeful. We were wrong, of course. A lot of “messing around” is necessary training so that a thousand men can act as one without question.

So I decided, and told the Department, that I proposed to continue until July. This would allow me to continue supervision of farms until the end of June and then compile the Annual Reports for the season, then enlist in August.

The reply came back that, I was in a Reserved Occupation, so would require a Certificate of Release, which the Department refused to grant.

Leave without pay (but not without agricultural interest) during war service.

I could have left it at that, but our Senior Clerk, a First World War veteran, included his own little note saying that, if I really want to enlist, and re-apply, the Certificate might be granted. By that time I was rather uneasy that, if I should withdraw, someone else might have to do my share as well as his own. Anyway, I was not going there to shoot people, but would follow up to look after the battle casualties. It didn’t occur to me that, should we be retreating, we would be the last out after attending to the wounded, so might be taken as prisoners. So I re-applied, making much of the fact that, as the eldest of four sons, it was my duty to be the first to volunteer. My application was granted. At that point the story of my war service is taken up by my book, “Two Journeys Into Peril”, which was published in November 2009 and is now in the book-shops world wide. It is made up of the letters which my brother Ron and I wrote home from war service. They are not much about warlike activities, which were heavily censored, but a good deal about activities on leave, the state of living in the countries we visited, and a lot about agriculture in those countries.

I complete my degree of B. Agr. Sc.

Overall, I had been associated with the University of Melbourne for 19 years. Fortunately for me, Professor Sir Samuel Wadham still held that position. I continued contact with him when we both were members of an Advisory Council for Victorian Young Farmers and at meetings of the new graduate section of what is now the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology. He always kept us focussed on the importance of the farmer and his family in our agriculture. This is  often overlooked by some later graduates, who can talk all day about professional matters such as “extension” without once mentioning the farmer.

In my “  20th University year” I unofficially took a part time course in “Statistical Methods for Research Workers”, which gave us a much better appreciation of good layout of experiments and of tests of significance of experimental results. At that time there was only one Biometrician in the Department,   Bob Jardine who was occupied in laying out field trials of the Agricultural and Horticultural Divisions to take account of differences in soil characteristics so they would not undermine the validity of differences in results.  

After war service, I resumed duty briefly in the Department of Agriculture   as a Dairy Supervisor, visiting farms in the Standard Herd Test scheme for breeders of stud stock and sending the milk samples to State Laboratories for testing, but I applied for two further years of leave without pay to complete my course for the four year degree in Agricultural Science. This was granted, and on its completion I was appointed to the graduate position of Dairy Science Officer. Soon my salary was raised by two increments so it would equal what I would have received if I had remained a Dairy Supervisor. Colin Bradbury and I got a further rise in salary when we both applied for positions in the Queensland Department of Agriculture and I was invited to fly to Brisbane at Queensland’s expense for a personal interview. At that time I was newly married, and the move interstate would have caused family problems, so I was relieved when moves were made to raise my salary, and Colin’s, to match the interstate offer. It was thought that we had applied for two different positions, and we had not corrected that impression. Colin became Senior Supervisor of Herd Testing, and I became Senior Dairy Husbandry Officer, making provision for appointments of the scholarship holders who were soon to complete their degrees at Massey Agricultural College (later Massey University) in New Zealand.

At this point, much of the development in the Department  up to the 1970’s is recorded in my book “Three Lifetimes of Dairying in Victoria”, beginning with Part 3 Number 7 (Page 95), “New Dairying Division in the Department of Agriculture”, as most of the technical developments at the time concerned dairy farmers and manufacturers of dairy products.

The book has long been out of print. It could well run to a second edition, in which I would be happy to be a co-author with a younger, or a recently retired, officer of the Department. Perhaps the present drive to publish the   later history of the Department may go some way to fulfil the need, continuing on from the history we published in the 1970’s as a special issue of the “Journal of Agriculture”. If a second edition should be attempted, I would invite Graeme Mein, one of our Massey graduates, now retired but still acting as a Consultant in Machine Milking and Mastitis, in which he is a world authority and holder of a Ph.D. However, he is probably involved in our present project, our history of the Department.

There is a later history of the dairying industry compiled by a paid freelance journalist who probably had little prior experience of the industry. The  cost of it was met by the manufacturing companies. I have a copy somewhere  which could be found if necessary. A good deal of my book was quoted, with permission, in that book.

During 1947 and 1948 I was fully occupied each week with the third and fourth years of the Agricultural Science course at Melbourne University, so had little contact with the Department. One exception was the Thursday during the Royal Melbourne Show, which was a public holiday. I went to the show, and there I met Tom Jensen, who was then the Superintendent of Dairying in the Department. He was a New Zealander with a degree in Agricultural Science, who had been in research into manufacture of dairy products and had been in charge of the School of Dairy Technology at the State Research Farm at Werribee.

The EEC undermined our markets

During the post-war years the Commonwealth Government had provided funds for scholarships under a Dairy Industry Efficiency Grant. This was in response to movements in Europe, which had begun with an economic union called Benelux between Belgium, the Netherlands and the Principality of Luxembourg. From that beginning grew the European Economic Community, commonly called the “Common Market”, which was a counter-weight to the dominance of USA   as a creditor nation.

After much hesitation and divided opinion, Britain joined the EEC and was then obliged to move from preferential trade with nations such as Australia and New Zealand. Britain had no real option: if it did not join, the EEC led by France and Germany could isolate Britain in secret moves. New Zealand was given some time to adjust, as dairy exports had been such a major part of its earnings from agriculture.

Most of the Grant, in the early years, went to the State Departments of Agriculture and to CSIRO departments, and most of the early holders of scholarships, later called Cadetships, were offered to students who had completed their first year of Agricultural Science in Australian universities. I presume that Tom Jensen would have initiated the decision to train students in New Zealand, where dairying was given more emphasis. In Melbourne University its fourth year included an option between Dairy Technology and Horticulture. Very few students had taken up the offer, as the first year course differed from the first year at Massey Agricultural College (of the University of New Zealand). I suggested that the same funds should be used to provide a smaller number of four-year scholarships to Massey, and that was adopted.

At the time Colin Bradbury and I were the only two graduates concerned with dairy farming. Soon, we were joined by the first six graduates from Massey. Keith Flynn, Harry Edgoose, Terry Edey and Ivo Dean had taken the farming option, and Ian Howey and Charles Bevan the dairy products and manufacture option. Edey had taken an extra year at Massey to take a Masters degree. Flynn had seen war service, so took his degree under the same conditions as I had completed mine, but he was given some extra help from the  Dairy Industry Grant.

In the meantime Colin Bradbury had made a study trip to New Zealand under the Grant to study their herd improvement systems, which were run by the New Zealand Dairy Board. That Board had appointed a number of Consulting Officers whose duty it was to advise farmers on breeding cows for improved production, but they soon became advisers on all aspects of dairy farming, and were encouraged to have small farm enterprises of their own, run by tenants or managers.

My New Zealand study tour

Tom Jensen later advised me to apply for a month’s study in New Zealand to learn how their farm advisory work operated. In my application I had to outline the general pattern of my tour and provide an estimate of the cost. So I got in touch with the Dairy Board Consulting Officers and, with them, arranged an itinerary which included short visits to all of them in their own districts – all in the North Island. I was able to include visits to Massey Agricultural College, where we had further men in training, and also to the Ruakura Animal Research Station near Hamilton.

Towards the end of my stay the Farmers’ Week of Ruakura was to be held. With enough money to cover the cost, I applied for my stay to be extended to take in that week, in which some of the Consulting Officers were involved. It interested me to see how closely research and advisory (or “extension”) officers worked together.

Show Exhibits a distraction

I came back with a much better idea of my role in our Dairying Division and how I could lead the graduates who would join us in the Dairy Husbandry Branch. But there were senior officers who, at first, told me what I had to do in conformity with their old ideas. One thing that was forced upon us was to prepare an exhibit in the Government Pavilion during Show Week, and to have staff on duty each day. Luckily we had some Dairy Supervisors in nearby districts who had some talent for display work, but they needed assurance by getting my approval to go ahead with their ideas. We tried to portray, as far as possible, some of the advanced ideas of farm management. We seemed to be able to spend lavishly on materials. One year we had a working model of two horses galloping side by side, and we portrayed farm management as a series of hurdles which the farmer, or farm manager, had to overcome. Another year we had a model of a cow, half size, in which we installed

a loud speaker to make her a “talking cow”. Several times a day an officer on duty asked the cow various questions, previously scripted, and one of the girls from the office answered from a hidden location, connected to the loud speaker in the cow. I felt very sorry for our new graduates, who were anxious to get out in country districts and work with farmers, as the Dairy Board consultants did in New Zealand

The Dairy Science Unit

Worse still, someone dreamed up a Dairy Science Unit, containing exhibits of better farming. Their memories went back to the days of the Better Farming Train, which stayed several days at railway stations in dairying districts. Officers of the Department gave lectures and were available for discussions with farmers, This later version was a large semi-trailer van, provided with benches set up with exhibits either side of a central passage running the length of the van, which we irreverently named the Yellow Peril. At first the intention, we were told, was to speak from the back of the unit in a town on market day, but fortunately it was changed to taking the unit to farm field days.

Films, a new teaching aid

About that time, our Information Branch had acquired the ability to make and show films on farming topics in a nearby hall, so the Dairy Science Unit accompanied the film operator and acted as an attention getter for the film show. Some of the films were instructive, some entertaining. One very popular American film was “Farm Inconveniences”, a good lesson in failure to do proper maintenance and clean up items such as baling wire. It reminded   people of their own failures and the consequences they suffered.

A very telling film by Professor W.E.Petersen of the University of Minnesota, USA was “The Science of Milk Production” showing the new knowledge of the part played by the nervous system and hormones which enabled the milk in the cow’s udder to become available to be withdrawn by a calf and, similarly, by a milking machine after the right stimulus was given. This greatly reduced the labour of milking, as it removed the need for “hand stripping” to get the last of the milk after the machine had done its job. Petersen made several tours of our dairying districts and reinforced the teachings of the film.

Petersen’s work was taken up by Walter G Whittlestone at the Ruakura Animal Research Station in New Zealand.

Dairy Farm Management Competitions

Two other developments were significant in the new knowledge they brought. One was a request that the dairy farm competition, which in pre-war days had been run in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Society should be revived based, as before, on the farmers’ herd test organisation. Money from the Commonwealth Dairy Industry Extension Grant would be available for regional and section prizes and for the three finalists for a Dairy Farmer of the Year award. I was asked to draw up a scale of points for judging. I drew up a very detailed scale and submitted it to the State organisation representing dairy farmers, thinking that they would ask for a more simplified scale, but they accepted it without any change.

At this   stage I must pay tribute to the work of W.J. (Bill) Yuill, a Dairy Supervisor with many interests and abilities, a real leader in our dairying industry. He interested groups of dairy famers in the idea of forming their own herd   testing associations and employing a herd tester to service the group.

Bill had been a lecturer on the Better Farming Train. On that train were two dairy cows, one provided from a leading stud of registered dairy cattle, the other a nondescript cow, described as a “scrub cow”, of no known ancestry. Both cows were equally well fed. After a short time on tour, the scrub cow began to outdo the aristocrat. The implication was not lost on Bill, who later widely proclaimed the motto, “Feed, Weed and Breed”.


The initial judging within their districts was done by our Dairy Supervisors or by a local farmer appointed to the task, then carried out in regions, mainly by our Senior Dairy Supervisors, and Tom Jensen and I judged the finalists from the regions. I took the precaution of trying out the scale of points by judging a local group in the Foster district in conjunction with a local farmer chosen as judge, so I knew how the scale of points worked in practice. For me it answered the question how one could go onto a farm and advise the farmer who knew his property in much more detail and at all seasons. The competition revealed that many farmers were strong in one aspect of management but weaker in others. So we could go onto a farm, discuss the management and point out any imbalance without necessarily going into details of costs and returns.

The origin of Dairy Farmer Discussion Groups

The other development was the dairy farmer Discussion Groups. That movement began in New Zealand among the Consulting Officers of the New Zealand Dairy Board. The day I arrived in Wellington to begin a Study Tour I met two Yinnar farmers, Bill Vagg and Les Nuttall, who had heard of the discussion groups and asked me to find out about them. I was able to attend the first night meeting of one group and the first farm walk of another group, which was accompanied, on a very wet day, by one of the leading scientists.

On my return to duty, I formed the first Victorian group with Bill and Les and a few other farmers whom they invited. I soon found that between five and nine members was the optimum size, and that groups had to consist of members who were at ease with one another when discussing their farms or farming generally. Smaller numbers did not bring enough variety of opinion, and a larger group tended to break up into two different conversations. Moreover, a group needed one dissimilar member, such as myself or another specialist. Even after years of experience, a group of farmers on their own could not maintain interest. A farmer from another district could  maintain interest for one meeting.

At the next annual conference of Dairy Supervisors I told of my experience with the Yinnar group.

A year later, at their next annual conference, Bob Morgan of the Sale area told of his experience with two groups he had formed, and showed a film of some of their activities. The movement then spread rapidly. George Abbiss formed two groups in the Cohuna district, and Jack Green formed about seven in the Rochester district.

When Jack applied for a transfer to metropolitan Melbourne so he and his wife could make a home for their only daughter, Tom Jensen and I decided that his talents and energy would be largely wasted when his main duty would be inspecting milk bars and supermarkets and a few manufacturing plants. We were able to offer him a new position of Dairy Extension Officer. This enabled him to spend much of his time in visiting Discussion Groups. A man of enormous energy and enthusiasm, he was able to maintain about eighty groups, sometimes visiting two in one night or combining two groups for a special visit. For ensuing years he also took a part in developing new milking shed designs and milking systems, where his early experience of life on a dairy farm served well.

Other Divisions of the Department questioned whether one man could be an expert in matters as varied as pasture management, livestock health and fodder production and stock feeding. Our answer to that was that every dairy farmer had to be knowledgeable in all those matters. But we did encourage the groups to invite specialists to their meetings, and so give them the benefit of specialist knowledge possessed by the Department as a whole.

We also based some of our New Zealand graduates in District Agricultural Centres, where they worked in conjunction with officers of the other divisions. Our graduates became better known and were in time fully accepted into the district teams.

Origin of the Dairyfarming Digest

Meanwhile we had encouraged our Dairy Supervisors to give general advice on farming to the farmers they visited in the course of their statutory duties of maintaining dairy hygiene. Many of them were already doing so, as they had all come from dairy farms or had worked as herd testers. They were then seen more as friends instead of, formerly, often as enemies. While I was a Dairy Supervisor I kept in frequent touch with Alf Light, a very experienced tester and grader at the then Yarram Butter Factory. He could tell me, by the taste of the cream, not only that it was faulty but what was the type of fault, be it from lack of hygiene, from disease in a cow’s udder or from flavour derived from feed such as capeweed. On visiting the farm concerned, I often confirmed his diagnosis and advised the farmer how to correct it.

 As Senior Dairy Husbandry Officer, I began a newsletter of a few pages, which told the Dairy Supervisors of new or unusual practices of farmers. Some of the Supervisors contributed items of interest. Tom Jensen saw the possibility, and was able to get funds from the Commonwealth Grant, to produce a quarterly booklet, called the Dairyfarming Digest, which was mailed to all farmers in Victoria who milked ten cows or more. We already had the addresses, which could be extracted from dairy licence records.

The “Digest” was well received and eagerly read, was quoted in other States, and by special arrangement was mailed to all dairy farmers in Tasmania. It continued for more than 20 years, always with something fresh and interesting for farmers.

A later Director of the Department decreed that other Divisions should produce Digests, and this was done. It fell to me to edit our Digests in regard to subject matter and, to some extent, presentation, and then pass the draft to the Information Branch of the Department for final editing and arrangements with the Government Printer. Fortunately Arthur Ollier came seeking a job, a man with some experience in dairy farming and with writing as a hobby. We were able to appoint him as a Dairy Extension Officer, who was able to do much of the detailed work under my general guidance. He was also able to do some field work in the Yarra Valley with Keith Flynn, who worked that area from his new home in Ringwood and who served as my deputy as needed.


Field studies for Dairy Husbandry Officers

I always gave my new graduates the opportunity to make a special study of some aspect of farming, so that their first contact with Victorian farmers was as an enquirer rather than as an adviser. Keith Flynn made a special study of spray irrigation on farms where the system was in use, and was able to publish his experiences in the “Digest”. Farmers were soon beating a path to his door, seeking more detail of his experiences. During Spring he also studied the incidence of Bloat, which occurred at that season in cows grazing clover-dominant pastures. In conjunction with Ralph Laby of CSIRO, some anti-foaming agents were developed either as feed components or special drenches administered to cows before they went out onto the dangerous pasture. The treatments could be time consuming, but they were better than the rush to save any cows which fell victim by punching a hole through to the distended rumen to relieve the gas pressure before the cow died.


Harry Edgoose, stationed at the Warragul office of the Department, began a study of machine milking in conjunction with farmers, including Mr. Gillies, who first found a way to make machines with overhead delivery of milk to work satisfactorily. The solution was to bore a small hole in the machine “claw” to admit air, which would send milk up to an overhead pipe and thence to a holding vat. Harry compiled a short history of machine milking up to that time. A later Massey graduate, Graeme Mein, took up the work, and we were able to accommodate him and assistants in part of a shed at the State Research Farm at Werribee, after Harry chose general advisory work with farmers in the Warragul district. Later additions to the team of graduates to the Dairy Husbandry Branch similarly were given projects as their introduction to local farmers. Dave Myers investigated the place of root crops on dairy farms.


A School and Conference on Machine Milking

A few years later the Commonwealth Government made funds available for   an interstate School and Conference on Machine Milking to be held in Victoria. The first residential college at Monash University was chosen as the venue after I had negotiated with the college Principal and submitted an estimate of the costs. I wanted as many of my Dairy Husbandry Officers as possible to attend, so I went on a daily basis only and, on the close of each day, I went home and typed up a summary of the day’s proceedings before going to bed. They were long days, but the effort was worth- while.

One of the main lecturers was W.G.Whittlestone who, had moved from the Ruakura Animal Research Station in New Zealand to serve with the NSW Department of Agriculture. His lecture style, with homely reference to the use of detergents in washing up after a roast dinner, did much towards making the scientists, the farmers and the milking machine manufacturers and distributors feel that they were all moving in the same direction. When the manufacturers understood the advantages of stainless steel in milk handling equipment, they made the change without any persuasion from other sectors of the industry. Previously, components coming in contact with milk were made of brass heavily coated with a tin and zinc alloy, so       copper from the brass could not be taken up by the milk. Copper in milk acted as a catalyst   which caused a rancid flavour to develop, especially when the milk was not cooled sufficiently. An early Government proposal to provide every child in schools with a half pint of bottled milk as part of lunch failed because there was no provision to cool the milk properly and then keep it cool until the child received it. Moreover, empty bottles were not collected and cleaned properly before re-use. When the milk industry treatment plants took over the responsibility, the milk in schools became popular.

Another initiative which greatly increased the popularity of milk as a drink was the inclusion of fruit flavours and some sugar into the milk, which was then kept under refrigeration and sold for immediate consumption in milk bars. People of all ages drank chilled milk at those bars. When household refrigerators came into common use, flavoured milk became available to children in the home. Of course, licensing of milk bars and maintenance of standards became a part of the duties of the Division of Dairying, which also had responsibilities under the Health Act.




By the 1950s some of the war-time shortages had been overcome, and the nation was keen to increase its productivity and the quality of its products. These had always been prime aims in the dairying industry. Milk is the most valuable and complete of all foods, lacking mainly only in iron and in indigestible fibre. It is also the most perishable of foods and a suitable substrate for the growth of many pathogenic and spoilage organisms 

The Dairying Division of the Department  therefore has had responsibilities under  number of pieces of legislation including, in Victoria, the Milk and Dairy Supervision Act, the Health Act, the Milk Pasteurisation Act and various Livestock  diseases Acts which provide for compulsory slaughter of , and compensation for, diseased animals.

Like the Department   itself, the Division began largely as a regulatory body, with the later addition of advisory and research bodies as suitable staff for these activities could be trained.

It was first thought that a medical practitioner should be in charge of the handling of such a food, but it was then decided that a trained veterinarian would be qualified to head the regulatory groups. Harry Elder was appointed Senior Inspector of Dairying, and was second in rank to J. Matthew Kerr, a former Dairy Supervisor, who was appointed Chief Inspector of Dairying when the new Dairying Division was formed.

Kerr was very well read and strongly motivated to enforce the highest standards in all aspects of milk production and handling. A Milk Products Branch of Inspectors was established to ensure that the highest standards were met in manufacture and distribution of milk products, such as butter and cheese, and the School of Dairy Technology was established to conduct research and to teach staff of dairy manufacturing and milk handling and distribution plants. Early staff of the School came mainly from abroad, notably New Zealand.


The Division had moved far from its beginnings as part of the Division of Animal Health under R. J. De Courcey Talbot. That Division also began to move into new activities. Dan Flynn remained in charge of animal health, including the important quarantine measures against the introduction of diseases   from abroad, and Dave Wishart took charge of other animal industry matters such as the use of artificial breeding and the collection and use of identical twin cattle in research into farm management and grazing systems. He had a research team working at the State Research Farm at Werribee. They also acquired use of the Ellinbank Dairy Research Station in Gippsland.


When Frank Read, then Director of the Department, raised with me the proposal that the Division of Dairying should be a full Division with its own research station, I fully agreed, and explained the advantages of having research and extension officers in the same division.

When this was decided, I specially welcomed the professional officers, Alan Higgins, John Stewart, Graeme Rogers and others, and had them working happily together with our local Dairy Husbandry Officers on a Field Day at the station.

By the time I retired the team was well established, and I always ensured that topics from Ellinbank had a place in the Dairyfarming Digest. Later, Tony McGown, a holder of a Doctorate, was appointed to Ellinbank as leader of the research team.


When Harry Elder retired from his position as Senor Inspector of Dairying an attempt was made to claim the position for another Veterinary Science graduate. Tom Jensen successfully opposed this and had me appointed to the position. Later, in each Division of the Department, the title was changed from Senior Inspector to Deputy Chief, which better fitted the many duties of the Department. Nobody opposed my appointment. All the other Branches of the Division had their specific duties, whereas I had been called upon to take up any duty not so assigned. I managed to do so, with the help of Dairy Husbandry Officers where appropriate and with the invaluable help of Arthur Ollier and of Doris Bayliss, our clerical officer, and with the service of the typing pool located mainly with the Herd Test Branch, where one typist (Rita Mackay) assigned to the work of Chief of Division. 


Now I have little more to tell. When Tom Jensen retired and his position was advertised, I was the only applicant for it from within the Division of Dairying, as everyone thought I was the obvious choice and were happy to work under my guidance. There were other applicants, one from South Australia who had previously worked in Victoria at the School of Dairy Technology at Werribee.

The Director called me up to tell me that he didn’t consider me the man for the job and would not recommend my appointment. For whatever reason, he recommended the appointment of the South Australian.


I decided to use my right of appeal against my non-recommendation in order to open the way for others within the Department to apply. The South Australian could then be appointed only if it could be shown that there was no person within the Victorian Public Service capable of fulfilling the duties of the position.


I called my Branch heads together and asked them whether they wanted to serve under the South Australian. When they were strongly against that, I told them that I would try to get fresh applications called for the position. I suggested that we should all then apply for the position and, if the South Australian should again be recommended, we should then all appeal. I added, “If one of you gets the job, I will serve loyally as your Deputy.”


People I met in the corridors who would normally speak to me changed their minds and moved on. All but one member of the Division of Dairying was loyal to me  and of that one I was warned in time to avoid damage. My general line was that as senior applicant, it was my duty to appeal, but you haven’t much chance against the Head of your Department.

When the day came for my appeal hearing, with the Director present, I firmly rejected any suggestion of nepotism between him and the South Australian, and mentioned instead that I thought it may be it due to his inability to trust those not closely acquainted, as noted in the recent trend to appointment of an extra layer of assistant Directors above Heads of Divisions. My appeal resulted in the calling of fresh applications.

The outcome was that the Board appointed Ian Howey as the Chief of Division, with me remaining his Deputy, supporting him in most initiatives but opposing him when my greater experience justified a different course.


An unusual and unexpected outcome was that I was seconded to the Department of Foreign Affairs to accompany a party of 22 senior men from 11 different nations, all of whom were in charge of dairy development in their own countries. This was an experience I would have missed if I had been given the position as Chief of Division. We started with meetings in Sydney, moved to northern NSW and included the Wollongbar Agricultural Research Station, then flew to New Zealand for a two week tour of farms and research stations in the North Island, and concluded with a tour of Gippsland and a final meeting in Melbourne, with one night reserved for a dinner at my home to meet my family and those of two friends who joined with us in providing the meal. That was a great experience for our combined group of eight student children.


In my report, which I issued to all the members of the tour party, to NSW and Victorian Departments of Agriculture, to NZ   Departments of Foreign Affairs and Agriculture, I recommended that  the countries sending officers to us for training should send those who would be in touch with farmers on return to their own countries, not those in city offices who were being given trips as a reward for long service. I also recommended that we should move, at least partially, from training to consultancy, in which some of our experienced officers should make short visits to the countries we are trying to help so that we could give training better suited to the needs of those countries.


My lasting impressioins.

Whatever we do in agriculture, we will always be confronted with the idea that the worst weed on the farm is the mortgage. A farmer may get rid of it by good management, hard work and self-sacrifice, but he cannot live forever. He may leave the farm, free of debt, to one son or daughter, but sooner or later it will be inherited jointly by more than one person.  If one of those has to buy out the shares of the others, the mortgage re-appears as a debt   which must be paid even before the farm occupant can even buy food. Jesus overthrew the tables of the money changers in the temple, saying that they have made the place a den of thieves. He gained no support from the Temple priesthood, who probably got a handsome kick-back from the money changers.

That corrupt system can be changed only by both sides of politics acting as one.


Another feature of modern life is that we are using up fossil fuels at a greater rate than we did in any previous age. Only time will tell whether we are using them faster than our planet can restore the balance by photosynthesis and the growth of giant green plants.

We can be sure that we will not destroy Planet Earth, but we might destroy it as a habitat suited to Homo sapiens if we are not careful.


On a lighter note


Agricultural (and Vet) Scientists are capable of “innocent enjoyment”. We made fun together on the last night of a residential Agricultural Extension Conference.

I especially remember Jack Hosking, who was one year ahead of us in completing our degree courses after war service. Always ready for a laugh, and apt to pronounce “molybdenum” playfully among ourselves as “molydibbelum”, Jack revealed himself as a skilled lightning artist.    When someone challenged him to represent my name, he at once drew a rooster standing on a window sill. He did equally well with the names of many other people present.

Ken Sillcock



DAVID  SMITH 1979 -1985 writes:

My time in AgVic


Dr David Smith, Director General November 1979 to December 1985.



As unique individuals, each contributor to this treatise will have a distinctly different contribution, even different memory of events. Having read others, I am struck by the different understanding of events from different positions in the department!


I was Director-General for just over six years, and spent another four years at Permanent Head level as a Senior Consultant to the Victorian Government, the activities much informed by the years in the Department of Agriculture. The Department was an excellent organization, respected in the overall service for its sense of purpose, discipline in financial management and positive attitude to staff development – and good service to farmers. The central agencies – Premiers, Treasury and Public Service Board considered it a model in many ways.  We were the agency chosen to test the new idea of Program Priority Budgeting. This probably meant I had a stronger interaction with the rest of the public service than my predecessor.


I was recruited by Minister Ian Smith and had an excellent working relationship with him, also Tom Austin, who followed. Eric Kent, the first Labour Minister really understood what we were about, but was hindered both by some of his staff and some Labour Party structures. His successor Evan Walker was more problematic, perhaps more dominated by the party machine. Many Labour people seemed to think our staff in the country were all agents of the Country (National) Party, whereas to my knowledge few were overtly connected to any party.. I myself was not uneasy with either side of politics, not, as some suggested happy - or unhappy - when Labour came to power. (It was well known by the Government that I had been Victorian leader of the Australia Party/Democrats.  In fact I had instigated the negotiations with Don Chipp).


I say that the good reputation rubbed off on me! Early in 1983, seeing the Department of Human Services as a rather undisciplined, over spending operation needing a shake-up, John Cain asked me to be temporarily transferred to be Chief Administrator Welfare Services. Could my department do without me? Yes, it could: I had excellent deputies and senior people. The Minister for Welfare, Pauline Toner was most welcoming and supportive. We had a spill of all senior positions, made new appointments and defined tasks. It was something like the building of an organization from the ground up as I had done in Tasmania, then grafting on the sense of purpose and discipline of the Department of Agriculture.


Some time later David White, a tough Minister interested in improving performance, sought my help with people who could be seconded to Health to set up improved systems. Bob Taylor and Hamish Russell took up the challenge. This was never, as some suggest, an attempt to weaken the Department of Agriculture, nor, by any stretch of the imagination was it in any way connected to politics or to breaking up the department.  It was recognition of expertise.  


I had experience of national committees, having represented Tasmania on several, so was soon at ease in the Agricultural Council and Standing Committee on Agriculture – the national meetings of senior state and federal agriculture people. I had come to know John Kerin well and worked on a number of national committees. A notable one was the setting up of a model for rural R&D organisations, and the initiation of these to cover all industries. (These have stood the test of time well). As well I set up and chaired the Cotton R&D organization – which introduced GM cotton under my watch -  and was on the boards for dairy and meat. I had also travelled overseas with John Kerin as part of his delegation to FAO in Rome..


Through my career I had never been in a situation more than six years and remain a firm believer in people moving on, so planned to do so at the end of 1985. The Premier put to me the proposition that the Victorian Government would maintain my position in the service, classified as an Executive Consultant with my services available to the state and federal governments. One of my first tasks was to set up an Accreditation Board for Advanced Education and TAFE courses, then to chair it, a part time task. I was never seconded to TAFE as some suggest, but to give me a base I was attached to the Ministry of Education with office support at Invergowrie in Hawthorn.  In the next five years I continued the R&D work and carried out many interesting senior tasks eg establishing the Curriculum and Assessment Board to develop the Victorian Certificate of Education, carrying out sensitive reviews and chairing committees. It was a very interesting period for me.  Building on my other career experience, the Department of Agriculture time had equipped me superbly to carry out these senior government tasks. 


My Appointment to AgVic

I understand that I was the first ‘outside’ appointment as head in a more than 100 year history: outside the Department, the VPS, the state, in my education! (I had B Ag Sc and M Ag Sc Adelaide, M Ed UNE), was working in Tasmania.  But I could claim considerable insider knowledge: 16 years Melbourne School of Agriculture, working at Dookie College, then establishing the university’s own field station on the basalt plains west of Melbourne, I taught Agriculture 101 for 16 years, most of it best labeled Agriculture in Victoria. In purposefully setting out to learn about Victoria, AgVic staff were the key, using their field stations in teaching. Especially valuable were my former students – from 1961 on there had been numbers of them joining the department. I was also a foundation member of the Grasslands Society of Victoria and very active in it and the Institute of Agricultural Science.  I had come to know many leading farmers in the state and many industry people – some major firms had supported my travels.


So what were the influences operating, what happened to succession planning? Following the Bland report on Public Services in Victoria there had been increased emphasis on well-qualified and more experienced people being recruited to senior management positions.  Fortuitously I filled that bill – I had three higher degrees including a Ph D in agronomy. I had worked for another ag department – South Australia – The University of Melbourne and the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. I had actually been surprised when I learned that the position was being advertised externally. I was in the UK on a sabbatical at the time, so submitted an application without asking for more information or contacting colleagues. 


In my application and interview I acknowledged my view of the organization as well structured and well staffed, and did not promise change/restructuring or immediate changes in emphasis.  I stressed my rural background, my breadth of agricultural experience, my various domiciles and interests in different rural zones of southern Australia, which I believed had given me a broad view.  This included growing up on the Adelaide Hills farm (like Ballarat with dairying and potatoes), living on lower Eyre Peninsula, one of Australia’s top cereal growing districts working as an agriculture teacher, being close to family land development at Esperance, WA, working in the south east of South Australia as district agronomist, living in northern Victoria as the university staff member at Dookie College and  the western basalt as director of the university field station, and in Tasmania as head of a tertiary education campus at Launceston.  Thus I acknowledged being an ‘outsider’, but a well informed one: I had for 16 years taught a subject Agriculture in Victoria at The University of Melbourne.  And most of my life had been spent in the country, not head office!  I had travelled relatively widely overseas, with extensive study tours, including a Carnegie Travelling Fellowship, a consultancy with the World bank, conference attendances, a year’s domicile in California and some months based in the UK. I had visited every continent except Antarctica!


I argued that through my experience and higher degrees I could speak the language of the farmer, of the scientist (Ph D) and the organization person (M Ed Admin). I had studied the ecology of native flora and fauna (M Agr Sc on the ecology of Eyre Peninsula) so related to the conservation movement. I argued that I had experience recruiting staff and that continued gains could come from developing the personnel asset.


Taking up the appointment.

Strong oversight of the operations of the department came under a Directorate: a Deputy DG, Rod Kefford, and a team of Assistant DGs, Peter Hyland, Bob Taylor, Jim McLaughlin, Des Hore and Bill Young. I knew some of them and they made me very welcome. Collectively this must have been one of the most impressive groups of senior people ever assembled, each with their individual strengths and fields of expertise yet a strong commitment to the whole department. Below this were a number of divisions with mostly excellent division heads/directors. One very interesting aspect was the establishment of subject specialist, described as Principal Officers, whose role was to maintain the knowledge base.  There was, broadly, a view that the organization should continue to evolve. An emerging technology was information systems, using the  (to us now rudimentary) computer technology, incorporated into VAMIS – the Victorian Agricultural Management Information System.  People like Hamish Russell were in the vanguard of this movement. The department had also enlisted a consultant to develop a Corporate Plan. Perhaps relating to this was computerized control of expenditures and the department was increasingly admired in the key government agencies as responsible and capable in managing its budget.


There was no immediate need for change. I had read and been impressed by Donald Schon in his book Beyond the Stable State which argued for attention to motivation and change in people – personal development – rather than changing structures. I feared structural change was more often disabling than enabling. Thus I quietly held conversations with senior people on their view of the future, the things they would like altered/reviewed, tried to meet many staff informally. It was with pleasure that I connected with my former students – and perhaps some things were mentioned to me and not their superiors! 


Against this background I saw staff development and a knowledge-based, client –oriented  organization as keys to high performance.  


Particular staff matters were the rather too complete separation of vets and ags – it was said that no vet was subordinate to an ag – and confusion over diploma and degree qualifications. The former issue was a matter of long term change, the latter needing more direct action.  I met it head on by calling a meeting of diplomate staff. I outlined the four groups into which technical/scientific people fitted. Firstly, there were people with a good pass in year 12, holding the Matric certificate. Then there were those who instead of years 11 and 12 had gone to an agricultural college for a two year diploma. Another group had passed year 12, then studied for four years for a degree.   Using educational level as a measure, the first two could be considered together, the third separately.  There was no more a case for treating diplomats and degree holders the same than there was for treating diplomats and those with HSC as the same. I then argued that, for each person, there were subsequent educational experience and performance in employment. I outlined the case for accelerated promotion etc using an internal assessment panel – so the Scientific Officers Assessment Panel (SOAP) was conceived, and argued through the Public Service Board. That served us well.


Staff development and overseas travel

Once it was established that further education and better performance could be rewarded, there was encouragement for staff initiatives. Conferences and study tours were relatively easy to handle. Post-graduate study of any length eg for Ph D, was more problematic, but we did reasonably well. Masters could be done externally, so without employment interruption. My own experience and university background were useful in all of this.


My own fairly extensive overseas travel convinced me of its benefit, including the placement of staff in the aid program in India. I am surprised to find that some thought I made a decision to terminate that!   It was brought about by other factors, then swept up in the general debate about the value of overseas experience.

Quite soon after John Cain became premier of Victoria he was at a dinner at Dookie College, his wife on my right, between us. My conversation with her got around to fitness, jogging, exercise bikes etc. I remarked that I was into energy conservation, and I jokingly said I would make all of those who jogged do parts of paper rounds and those who rode exercise bikes pump water up hill, like the Chinese peasants do at dawn – a wonderful sight.  John must have overheard, as he suddenly exclaimed ’I know who you are – the head of Agriculture and you send half of your staff overseas every year’. Not knowing at this stage his passion about this I made an inflammatory rejoinder  ’Actually I think we are a bit underdone on overseas travel – 80 out of more than 1 600 scientific staff went overseas last year, at that rate they would barely get two trips in a career’.  ‘I’ll fix that’, he said, vehemently.   From then on all travel permission had to have his personal signature, and the next year only 38 travelled – but as I personally explained to him, just in case he thought we were ‘wasting’ public money  - only one had the fare paid by his government, as we had overseas development consultations, travel with farmer groups etc. To his credit, he forced us to be very thorough in planning our operations, gaining maximum benefit per dollar spent. 

            Part of the reason for the high number traveling was in fact our leadership in good, usually conservation oriented (ie green) yet more productive agriculture. Among other things we had had a contract for the agricultural development work in India, involving placements for about 10 people in long-term work, which made it possible for families to locate there.  I had visited them and was very impressed with the way the program was organized, with a high percentage of effective expenditure. That sort of work fell victim to attitudes to overseas travel and funding pressures. (Because of my conviction about travel the life of my second wife is commemorated in perpetuity by the annual award of the Susan Holmes Travelling Fellowship, worth $5 - 6 000, for students completing their degree as residents of St Hilda’s College, University of Melbourne, where Susan was a foundation student and active alumnus).


Devolution to regions and districts

The devolution to regional and even further to district level was very effective, and I took great pride in some demonstrations of this. The first followed a nasty bush fire near Maryborough in central Victoria late one week. We had no permanent office in that town so a temporary one was set up by the regional manager responsible for the area. I visited midway through the next week, found a well ordered operation, staff drawn from all over the state and divisions, even some people from interstate – veterinarians, agronomists, clerical staff.  I had not been consulted: it was very gratifying.  The second was when we had a poultry disease outbreak near Bendigo.  A week or so later I visited the workers – finding what was in effect a mini-Department of Agriculture operating in a rented country hall.  This was teamwork at its best: not rigid structures and attachments, but the ability to regroup, redefine purpose, accept different super-ordinates, and get the job done.


In another case I was the obstacle to devolution! One of the Department’s flourishing activities was discussion groups among farmers to pass on new information and technologies.  These had been developed centrally through head office, led by a dynamic specialist, Jack Green.  In my early weeks in the Department it was suggested that the time had come to decentralize these discussion groups, attaching them to the local offices. 

It was my general policy not to be hurried into any changes – so we covered this as part of a larger review nearly a year later. What (I swear!) I did not know was that the leader was also an Essendon Football Club talent scout, and had developed a wonderful rapport with people throughout the state.  By my conservatism I had allowed him an extra year – with the great Kevin Sheedy arriving soon after and working with our man’s, among others’, material, surely contributing to success in the early-mid 1980s.  I should add that I am not suggesting impropriety by our staff member – he was profitably using his spare time in the bush – for my team.   How mortified I would have been if he had been soldiering for Hawthorn!


As I recall one exception to my rule of not changing immediately was the proposition that Rutherglen Research Station should not be administered through the Research Centre at Horsham. I happened to know Tim Reeves, who had sought my advice earlier on further studies, so I made the administrative decision to appoint him as director of a free standing station.  (Then my last speech before stepping down in 1985 was at Rutherglen.  I described Tim as being as highly adaptable to Australian conditions as capeweed: within a few weeks of arrival in Australia he was playing Australian rules football).

Computers and data analysis

Another interesting situation was the use of emerging technologies like computers. This was seen as so specialized an area that acquisition, and even much of the analysis of research results, was highly centralized under the watchful eye of a specialist, Bob Jardine.  My own belief, influenced by my own experience in the South Australian Department and the University was that as much as possible the researcher should follow through the experimentation with analysis of results and should personally understand the process, rather than see it as the somewhat mystical domain of another. Thus, with a certain amount of resistance, I encouraged a decentralised approach to acquisition of computers and operations, with local groups developing their own expertise. I admit the change was carried on the tide: cheaper, smaller computers were becoming available. A couple of years later there were probably 100 small computers in the different units, widely used, even in secretarial word processing.


(I had an interesting experience in 1983 when I was seconded to run Community Welfare Services. They had a computer, which they treated as very precious, kept safely locked away, and few staff had expertise.  I found I was guardian to more than 4 000 children, wards of the state, so in my care, at least notionally. One staff member spent the whole week managing the card index data base of names and addresses, fairly much a fulltime job as the wards moved about quite a lot. I recognized the perfect applicability of computing to this task, and with my modest computer skills I was able to introduce the staff member to the computer.  The task was usually completed by lunch-time on Mondays). 

The ‘boundaries’ of state agriculture departments with other organizations such as agricultural colleges and universities and CSIRO have been fascinating, varying from state to state, often inconsistent. In South Australia the University of Adelaide, with its famous Waite Institute and co-located Soils Division of CSIRO dominated agricultural research. The state agriculture department had a number of research farms on which a lot of plot work and demonstrations were located, with some visiting scientists from head office.  I was the first to be actually based in the country, at the Kybybolite Station near the Victorian border, as District Research Officer for the south east of South Australia. Co-incidentally this gave me an understanding of this role and brought me into contact with the Victorian department of Agriculture research workers based at Hamilton.

It was with some surprise, after joining The University of Melbourne, that I discovered the very real firepower of the Victorian Department’s research groups and it was natural then to associate with them for many purposes. 

Veterinary servicing.

At The University of Melbourne I had taught a unit in the Veterinary degree in Parkville, so was well aware of the State Veterinary Laboratory in the same complex, which had incorporated for many years most of the veterinary work of the Department of Agriculture.  I was well aware of the successful brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign of the 1960s and 70s, and that five new laboratories had been built, one at Attwood near Melbourne Airport, and four regional labs at Hamilton, Bendigo, Benalla and Bairnsdale, all state of the art in equipment and facilities. It was suggested to me that the department had too many labs and possibly too many vets, though if we had had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease of some other major problem we may have needed them. In due course, satisfied that there were really good contingency plans that stressed mobility and disaster planning rather than carrying so many staff and facilities, I closed the old and venerable central laboratory.  Most staff were redeployed, mostly to country locations.  Inevitably some people’s lives were adversely affected and I was seen by some as anti-vets.  Having had the responsibility for managing the closure of the CAE in Hobart was useful experience.

I also believed that the notion of teams for a purpose meant that from time to time we would have a mix of staff with vets answerable to others and vice versa. The post-fire operation at Maryborough was a good example. 


Agricultural education.

In my view events since about 1980 have constituted a sorry chapter in Victoria’s history.  I had a background in education: Dip Ed and M Ed, had worked at all levels from country schools to university, had had a Carnegie Travelling Fellowship to study agricultural education overseas and education consultancies with the World Bank.  I had been leader of the team to establish a multipurpose college of advanced education in Launceston, Tasmania.


Mono-purpose/narrowly based institutions have been toyed with from time to time, but by the late 1970s/early1980s in educational terms these were considered second best. It was generally agreed that students – and staff - benefit from contact with those in other courses, with cross-over of ideas and greater understanding.  For instance, after a brief flirtation with the separate Teachers Colleges being swept together into the purely teacher education State College of Victoria, the Victorian government acted to break it up and attach the various units of teacher education to nearby Universities or CAEs. 


Thus it was with dismay that I heard of the proposition to establish a mono-purpose agricultural college, the VCAH. Earlier Victorian Governments had recognised that the two agriculture faculties at Melbourne and La Trobe Universities had plenty of capacity for degree students, so, wisely as most of the agricultural college work had been at the TAFE level, the agricultural colleges had not become CAEs. My consistent, unwavering advice to the government – and I read anything to the contrary in other persons views of history with some anger - was that if the colleges were removed from the management of the Department of Agriculture (it was dubiously claimed they had to be to receive Commonwealth funding)  the campuses should be attached to local regional institutions. Those predominantly diplomas and the like should be attached to TAFE institutions, those with some degree work (Dookie and Burnley) to institutions with technological bases.


As the 1982 election approached the ALP promised that if they won they would form the VCAH. I sat down privately with Minister Austin ‘What are we to do’ he said’ we are going to lose the election’. So we decided, against our better judgment, to form the VCAH in our own way, protecting as far as possible the extension services and short courses of the Department of Agriculture. I helped write the Ministers speech, given at the opening of the McMillan Centre.


Labour won the election and formed the VCAH.  For a short time the new college flourished, and while under budget pressures we were reducing staff in the country they seemed able to make new appointments. We soon found they were drawing funds from both state and federal sources, effectively double dipping. There was a clarification of funding responsibility and that soon ceased.  Among other things the new Minister for Education allowed VCAH to pay all of its staff at higher education rates, rather than most being at lower TAFE rates, which brought peace in the short term but was something of a time bomb – which detonated when governments provided funds to institutions per student in specific classifications.


Later the Victorian Accreditation Board received an application from the VCAH for the establishment of a degree course based at their Dookie campus.  Properly, we appointed a competent review Committee, which, somewhat to our surprise, endorsed the proposal for a B Appl Sc degree – while making very strong recommendations for substantial enlargement of library resources and appointment of more specialist staff, but could not make this conditional. In a few years came Dawkins, and the VCAH was seen as too small to be viable alone and must join with other institutions.  Surely wisdom would have had seen attachment of the campuses locally to one or more local TAFE institutions – the level at which most of their work lay - rather than universities.  Extraordinarily, in discussing staff, the colleges were commended for having staff who could teach outside their specialities - anything!  Yet the lack of specialist staff remained one of their grave weaknesses. 


In a completely incomprehensible move, in 1989 University of Melbourne agreed to a merger with VCAH. This brought a legacy of problems in the maintenance of low level courses, aging infrastructure and buildings and high administrative costs. The VCAH was something of a Trojan horse and through the next couple of decades much of the energy of the agriculture faculty was soaked up in these matters and it incurred huge financial deficits. There were even attempts by senior people in the University to relocate (isolate?) the whole faculty at Dookie. In any case, the heavily TAFE oriented task sat oddly with the experience and management style of our oldest Victorian university, which, apart from the brief effort at Mildura, mainly to cope with a surge of ex-service enrolments, had no experience of country campuses. How much better if the faculty could have concentrated on being part of its ‘home’ university with a wide rage of disciplines.  In this era of ‘greening’, it is particularly important that the role and performance of agriculture is more correctly understood in the widest possible academic circles.

In 2011 some semblance of order is being restored and the Parkville unit is developing a field station at Dookie, though how this will ‘graft on’ to a location with many relics of the past only time will tell. In the intervening 20 years there has been loss of well-accepted qualifications by both Parkville and Dookie and possibly a serious loss of connections to industry.


The questions to be addressed

Undoubtedly the major issues of my time arose from the defeat of the Liberal Government in 1982 – so a transition from a Government inherently sympathetic to agriculture and rural issues  to one inherently suspicious of the country people and their interests. My perceptions were that for the most part in the times of the Liberals there had been powerful Ministers – epitomized by Gib Chandler – looking after their interests. In the latter part a more junior Minister Ian Smith had for some reason had an uneasy relationship with my predecessor, David Wishart. Naturally he was supportive of his own appointee!


The difficulties of the Labour regime were undoubtedly aggravated by the nature of the Ministerial Advisers, people of considerable power in the Government. We called them minders! It was not particularly sensible to appoint a Departmental staff member, one of the few who had been in some trouble because of  overtly Labour sympathies so might well be suspected of letting his feelings complicate his technical judgment.  The first Labour Minister Eric Kent shared with me privately the difficulty he had with the arrangements. The adviser of the second Minister Evan Walker was just as unfortunate even if for different reasons: he was an urban lawyer with limited knowledge of rural issues.


The over-riding operational issue was the budget cuts as the priorities of the Labour Government focused more on social and human issues. We were fortunate that we had well honed financial management systems, so, though many might find it hard to believe, the cuts were ‘kinder’ in their application – we were permitted, in the spirit of program priority budgeting (PPB) to work out how we would deliver savings, rather than having detailed decisions thrust upon us.


We had one minor piece of good fortune: the new Government had asked the Public Service Board to report on the staffing of each department relative to its establishment. The Board erroneously reported Agriculture as being over its establishment and we had a severely worded Please Explain from the Government.    I protested that it was an error  and sought an urgent meeting with Chairman of the PSB. I was able to convince him of the error and agree on the wording of an apology to us, copy to the Premier’s Department. To compensate, it was agreed that we should have a number (as I remember, 40) of ‘ex-establishment’ (ie special extra) trainees each year, no position guaranteed at the end, but obviously well placed to take any vacancies. They need not be new graduates and could be used flexibly. We advertised and had hundreds of applications, bringing some excellent people into the Department.


The passing of the Bolte/Hamer era meant that there had to be a genuine search for more effective ways of allocating resources from lower to higher priority areas – abandonment of simple incremental budgets. Zero based budgeting – everything having to be justified – and program priority budgeting became buzz words. Fitting in with this was emphasis on programs – with the implications of completion ie task-defined, time-bounded, and the cessation of resourcing for some things. Structures need to be flexible enough not to mandate upheavals on completion.  


 I have largely covered this in earlier comments. In my time there was even more stress on staff development, even more local devolution, less rigid divisions between staff groups, opportunities for internal progression . There was more focus in areas like extension services. The comment had been made that the groups were too much like offices activated by local enquiries, rather than linked to broader programs. Whatever, there was clearly increased emphasis on promoting objectives originating deeper in the department, illustrated not much later by the rural R&D Councils becoming effectively R&D&A (A for Adoption). Such evolution was assisted by the ADG overseeing Extension Services, Peter Hyland, being selected for the board of the RIRDC. Peter also had come up through a group pushing breeding objectives in the sheep industry.

This has largely been covered. A strong Directorate and Divisional Heads enabled much decision making down through the ranks.  There was a formal document covering delegations, annually reviewed. Operations were more task-defined time-bounded.


4. What did you see as different or unique compared with other organisations?

The department had a large proportion of professionals - graduate staff (a fair number with higher degrees) - filling a very wide spread of roles so was in a sense dominated by those sort of people rather than large numbers of any one type of person in rigid structures.  (I define a professional as one who has had such training as giving him/her an ability to work fairly autonomously to pre-agreed goals, not needing much structure or supervision). This also leads to a more open attitude to innovation.

One already mentioned was the, perhaps natural, sympathies of a changed government – with the challenge of showing that by and large agriculture, when properly understood, is fundamentally a conservation oriented, naturally sustainable, activity. I had through the last decade written and spoken of this eg New Perspectives for Agriculture, Jour of AIAST 1973, seen as a seminal paper. 

With cuts to our budget, there was the challenge to show our flexibility.

Again I have indicated some of the difficulties. I had the personal advantage of it being known that I did not sit on either side of the political fence. I also have the firm personal view that the elected government of the day is entitled to loyalty from its public servants – this does not mean not arguing  in the appropriate councils against policies and budget cuts – but that once things are settled my task was to implement  efficiently and effectively (Thus in Tasmania I had managed the closure of the CAE in Hobart and moving of people and resources to Launceston – resolutely, not ruthlessly). 

This is a hard one to answer. Changes - cuts – occurred on my watch, but the measure is whether they strongly affected the performance of the department. I believe we minimized the impact. In my years as DG the National Farmer ran a FarmPoll, ranking on nine facets – research, extension, economic advice etc. As I remember it, we were high in the early 1980s, sagged a bit then were second only to WA in 1985. The author wrote ’ VDA rated the tops in Australia for staff attitude, extension and economic advice, second highest for publications and market information’.

I should also have put more effort into the agricultural education debate in 1982. In fact that was a tough year for me – my wife Marian died from breast cancer late in the year. The wives of Directorate members had given wonderful support over some months.


Interactions with politicians.

Much discussion occurred privately, sometimes best described as robust, but I believe generally with mutual respect. It was not appropriate to broadcast the content of conversations. Over my career I worked on a 1 to 1 basis with eleven ministers and have privately ranked them – people would be surprised at the order, except perhaps John Kerin as the best, but there is no party pattern.  I jokingly say that when they are all dead, if I am still alive I will write a book of eleven chapters!

Here I recount two episodes, without names, though some might guess.

One day I picked up my phone. The caller identified himself as a senior member of government, stating that his government was one demanding clear-cut answers to questions, Yes or No. Then he asked ‘Is there enough grain in Victoria to feed our sheep through the (1982) drought?’ My answer was ‘Yes, there is, but…..’ He interrupted ‘No buts please, just a clear Yes or No.’. So I replied  ‘Yes.  I will make a written statement of the context and have it on your table within the hour. In the meantime I need a clear answer to a question - what date will the drought end?’  There was a brief silence, then an almighty crash as the receiver came down at the other end.  I wrote  ‘We estimate there are x sheep in Victoria. They will need a ration of y kg each of grain a week.  We hope the drought will end on April 1 ie after z weeks, but it could be 1.5z.  Thus the grain needed could be xyz kg but might be 1.5xyz. There is in store at least 2xyz BUT the courts have ruled that the Wheat Board cannot be compelled even by the National Government  to forgo sales overseas just in case the grain is needed in Australia’. I had that typed up and sent.  (I have not kept a record of the values for x, y and z).  I never heard any more of the matter. And I am pleased to say I have enjoyed a good relationship with that person ever since.

One day a Minister made an eloquent speech in parliament declaiming feed-lotting of dairy cows, which had crept into practice on many farms – very sensibly in fact where cows were kept off pastures after heavy rain, or to supplement paddock feed with grain when there was not enough feed growing.  His people had complained of “feed-lotting’, seeing it as intensive animal keeping, and his answer was simple ‘There will be no more dairy farms in Victoria’.  He did not tell me about the rousing speech in parliament, but I heard about it so asked him if he knew the procedure.  ‘What procedure?’ he asked.  I explained that there regulations governing the issuing a license, which stated that the person wanting one shall apply to the Director-General of Agriculture who shall examine the person’s technical and financial capability and if satisfied shall issue the license.   ‘But you wouldn’t would you?’ he said. I explained that a person had applied and I was satisfied and was about to issue a license.  ‘What if I instructed you not to?’ he said.  ‘I still would’. I replied, going on to explain that the regulations had been some wise government’s way of ensuring that the process was never political, was based on facts and sense.  In any case, my staff – correctly as it has turned out, saw Victoria as becoming the leading dairying state in Australia.  It would have been dreadful if his position – based on wrong premises anyway – had held the state back.

A third event concerned the fruit fly roadblocks on the Vic/NSW border, always sensitive politically. They cost about $3m a year to run and there were the additional costs of every few years stripping fruit from  a one mile radius around an outbreak. The Burnley Research Centre Staff had done some excellent work on the tolerance of fruit flies to outdoor Melbourne conditions, including a transect of lures across Melbourne – which showed an odd fly in most lures most months. The conclusion was that fruit fly was widespread in Melbourne, but usually struggling to survive. I took a recommendation to the Minister that we close down the road blocks, with some special measures in fruit growing areas. This was a great test of confidence as there would inevitably be controversy. The Minister supported us and millions were saved.



Interestingly, my predecessor who had spent so much of his working life in the Department, expressed the view that he was ‘sorry for those who didn’t come up through the department , so didn’t see its role in the same way’ as he did.  I never regretted not having been ‘inside’ – in a way it was his sentiments that caused the Bland inquiry and findings. The opportunity to serve in this position in my adopted state, and to make interconnections for such a good department to a wider range  was a crowning  point in a varied career which I believe adequately prepared me for this role.  I have continued association with a number of former staff, especially enjoying the annual reunion.







GREG SMITH has provided a history he has written of Rutherglen Research Institute.  (Click to go to a PDF copy)





1956 — 1960 Vegetable Branch, Division of Horticulture

As a Horticultural Research Officer, I conducted agronomic research on a range of vegetable crops, concentrating mainly on tomato varieties suitable for processing, chemical weed control in processing peas, early maturing of cucurbits, etc. These projects were initiated in a very ad hoc way and usually resulted from problems occurring in the industry brought to the attention of the Research Officers by the Vegetable Advisors.

Problems with this system included:

I cannot recall being directly involved in any major issues at this time. If these did occur, they were always dealt with by Rod Kefford, the Vegetable Agronomist and head of the Vegetable Branch. An important issue handled by Kefford was the need for a Research Station specifically for the needs of the vegetable industry. This facility did not eventuate until several years after I transferred from the Vegetable Branch to the Plant Research Laboratory, Burnley.

1960 — 1990 Plant Research Institute, Burnley

Major issues:

Lack of funding

In the early 1960's, State Vote money usually was often spent by the March of each year. As a consequence, all travel ceased and the residue funds covered only power, telephone and essential laboratory materials such as agar, Petri dishes, etc.

Even in the months when State Vote money was available, the only vehicle available full time for the use of PRL staff was an extremely old Jeep that was not suitable for long country trips. Staff requiring transport used booklets of vouchers for train and taxi use.

The first industry-funded project was for brown rot control in stone fruits. This work also funded a vehicle which slowly improved access to transport for other research work but was initially limited as the Chief Biologist, Stan Fish, only granted approval after sufficient "quid pro quo" had been demonstrated.

After this initial period of financial stress, industry funding became more easily obtained and lack of money was no longer a severe restriction to the research activities at Burnley.

Locust outbreak 1959

This was a very serious problem, affecting large areas of the state. With limited resources, literally all the male staff at the PRL was transferred to the country for active participation in field eradication. This resulted in other current work on plant diseases and insect pest problems being abandoned. In subsequent outbreaks, staff was provided from other sources without disruption to the PLR's research staff.


This was a continuing problem throughout my time in the Department. Staff was under direction by superiors and did not initiate new projects without approvals. With the emphasis on publications, those officers working in areas not conducive to research and with limited opportunities to present an acceptable list of publications, particularly in approved externally refereed journals, had almost no hope of promotion. The Public Service Board used a system where each level of classification was limited in numbers. This "Profile" system resulted in having to rank those officers who met all the criteria for reclassification. Unfortunately, only a few at the top of each classification were promoted, with others not being successful even though they met all the criteria for promotion.

I served on the assessment panels for both Scientific Officers and Research Scientists for two years and it was obvious that a significant number lost faith in this system, and their interest in their work lessened.

Attrition within Department by Labor Government in late 1980's

In the last seven years of my career in the Department, while serving as the Principal Plant Pathologist [3 years] and Director [4 years], 42 positions became vacant at Burnley. Every month, Directors were instructed to provide a list of the most important vacancies that should be filled; the final decision being made by the Chief, Division of Plant Research, Jack Meagher. In this period I was allowed only one vacancy to be filled, that of a Receptionist at the main entry of the Institute. When I expressed dismay at this political decision, I was told that the process was to determine "how a Department handled attrition".

The hypocritic side of this decision was that no projects were to be terminated, activities had to continue, not unlike the deck chairs on the deck of a sinking Titanic. Staff morale became very low. The end was that an internal review in the early 1990's that resulted in closure of the Institute; all surviving staff moved to the Institute for Horticultural Development, Knoxfield with a small group of molecular biologists moving to La Trobe University. Arguably, one of the finest research institutes of its kind in Australia, even in the southern hemisphere, was closed without a protest from industry. The establishment of the new, country-based research institutes, staffed with staff in the disciplines of plant pathology andentomology had resulted in the Burnley location being supported mainly only by the flower industry.


In 1956 and for most of my early years in the Department we had a Minister of Agriculture who was highly respected by industry and departmental staff. Within the Department, the Director General and the Superintendent of Agriculture were also good appointments. However, at my level, I had more direct dealings with the Vegetable Agronomist, Rod Kefford, who was very supportive in my research work and was supportive of my desire to become a plant pathologist. When I told him that I had obtained a position as an Experimental Officer at the CSIRO Division of Forest Products, he suggested that I see Stan Fish, the Chief Biologist at Burnley, to transfer to the PRI to continue my career as a Plant Pathologist.

At Burnley, I was initially loosely supervised by David Harrison for my first few years but then came under the rather loose direction of the late Peter Jenkins when working on parsnip canker, for my master's degree. Eventually, I started work on virus diseases under the supervision of Bob Taylor and then Lionel Stubbs.

Both of the above had very important roles in my career as a Plant Virologist, both in training me in the discipline and in obtaining additional experience at the Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis, and also at the University of Melbourne where I later obtained my Ph.D.


From my relatively low position as an Assistant Horticultural Research Officer in the late 1950's I didn't give much thought to the above concepts except that we were employed to help the farming community. With the training I had in the vegetable industry I felt that my contributions to this philosophy was very limited and was the main reason why I transferred to plant pathology. When I joined the department in the vegetable branch I was under the incorrect impression that my career in vegetables would include working on diseases of these crops.

When I joined the Department in 1956, 1 accepted that the Department's main role was to help farmers to maintain economic agricultural businesses that contributed to the wealth of the country. By the date of my resignation these roles still applied, but protecting the Minister of Agriculture had become much more important.


The work of the Institute at Burnley was unique in that we were encouraged to conduct research in depth in the laboratory, glasshouse and in the field. The staff was encouraged to publish their results and work towards higher degrees. This caused some resentment within other areas in the Department, particularly when staff promotions were compared.

When I was responsible for the development of staff, as Section leader-virology, Principal Plant Pathologist and Director-Plant Research Institute, this philosophy continued.  Staff were successful in obtaining financial support from industry for their projects, protected from interference in obtaining their research goals, and encouraged to publish results and apply for promotions.

Unfortunately, staff not actively involved in research did not have the same success in obtaining promotions and therefore were not always successful candidates in the annual review for promotions.

Likewise, other Departmental staff resented the promotional abilities of the candidates at Burnley.


No comments other than under Point 1.


No affect on my career as a research scientist, but later on the inability to replace staff without making appropriate cuts in the range of projects made managing the Institute extremely difficult.


As a Plant Pathologist, my career was greatly enhanced by Lionel Stubbs and Bob Taylor. I worked in a series of research collaborations with both and published a number of papers as joint work. There never was any conflict as to who was the senior author.

Bob Taylor was largely responsible for my 15 months working in the Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis; and Lionel Stubbs facilitated my Ph.D. studies after he accepted a position as Professor of Agriculture, University of Melbourne.

Other people working at Burnley also benefitted from the close relationships between senior Staff at Burnley and Universities located in Melbourne to enable higher degrees to be completed :

Geoff O'Ioughlin, Tony Kellock, Jack Meagher, Frank Greenlaugh, Peter Ridland, Garry Mc Donald, John McFarlane, and Ian Pascoe were some that benefitted. I am sure Peter Ridland and Peter Merriman could provide more recent participants in this scheme.


I was fortunate to work on a large number of diseases during my career at Burnley, most of which resulted in publication in the "right" scientific Journals. One that comes to mind that demonstrates versatility, collaboration and pure luck was the very important identification of the cause of a decline in lucerne plantings in east Gippsland in the mid 1960's.

For many years, the cause of the decline had remained unidentified, possibly because specimens sent to Burnley arrived in badly deteriorated conditions that prevented the isolation of the pathogen. A visit to Burnley by the then Chief, Division of Plant Industries, CSIRO, prompted the question why the visit? Was CSIRO planning to move activities into plant pathology in Victoria? Pastures appeared an obvious target of investigation

Pathologists Taylor and Smith decided to inspect these plants to see if a virus was the cause. They inspected affected plantings at sites near Maffra, returned to Burnley with fresh specimens and made a number of viral diagnostic tests. While waiting for the results of the tests, Smith found a black and white photograph in Dixon's "Diseases of Field Crops" of an alfalfa plant showing symptoms seen in the East Gippsland plants. Using a microscope, he detected bacteria oozing out of a small lucerne shoot, plated out this liquid onto Petri dishes containing potato dextrose agar, placed the inoculated plates on the window ledge in his office/lab. Ten days later he discovered that bacterial colonies were growing on the inoculated plated and these colonies were blue in colour; a diagnostic feature of Corynebacterium insidiosum, the pathogen causing bacterial wilt. This pathogen had not been previously recorded in Australia. Pathogenicity tests on lucerne confirmed this pathogen caused the disease.

Taylor sent isolates to his contacts in California, who confirmed the diagnosis. He also obtained approval for the import into Australia of a number of California-bred alfalfa cultivars resistant to the disease. These cultivars were also resistant to the Victorian isolate of the pathogen. Smith and Taylor were, for a short time at least, the most famous plant bacteriologists in the country.

John Blackstock had just finished his in-service training, working on the identification of a virus that was, in fact, detected in the lucerne plants initially collected from East Gippsland.

The next phase of his training was to set up evaluation plantings at six locations in lucerne-growing areas in Victoria; the purpose to find suitable varieties for both irrigated and non-irrigated locations.

The experiment had only been operating a matter of months when two lucerne aphids, that were imported from New Zealand on lucerne brought in as fodder for race horses, spread rapidly throughout Victoria, causing serious damage to existing plantings of Hunter River, the main variety grown at the time.

Fortunately, some of the Californian varieties were also resistant to the New Zealand aphids and these were to form the basis for both replanting and for inclusion in breeding programs. To the uninitiated, it appeared as if the Department had planned for such an emergency.

Before this important work had occurred, there had been a total import ban on the introduction into Australia of any species of the genus Medicargo. Recording the presence of this pathogen in Australia led to the subsequent lucerne breeding programs that have resulted in multi-million dollar lucerne seed export industries.


Arthur Stubbs writes:

Recollections of Arthur Stubbs – Dept. of Agric. 1958-64



Joined the Victorian Department of Agriculture as an Assistant Agricultural Extension Officer in February, 1958, to serve a 5 year bond under the terms of an Extension Scholarship granted to me to complete an Agricultural Science course at Melbourne University. 

Started in the Agrostology Branch at Burnley and then stationed at Hamilton from April to December, 1958.  Located at Rutherglen Research Station between December, 1958 and April, 1960, and then returned to Hamilton in April, 1960.  Resigned in 1964 to join ICIANZ as a Nitrogen Development Officer.

I was a beneficiary of the foresight of the Dept. in providing these scholarships to bolster agricultural extension for the advantage of farmers and rural communities.  It was a very solid basis for my future career path both in technical knowledge, effective use of the written and spoken word, and liaising with country people.


Major Issues

Land development and pasture establishment in fringe regions were key issues in western Victoria at the time and encouraged by the State Government following the emerging success of the Heytesbury settlement.   

Less fertile, acid and sandy soils in scrub country in south-western Victoria through to the State border required extensive trial work with fertilizers, pasture species and establishment methods which was ultimately successful.

Pasture improvement by application of correct fertilizers and trace elements was also a focus of the Dept.’s work as was optimum pasture utilization through stocking rate, fodder conservation and related trial work, the latter leading to establishment of the Pastoral Research Station.

Sustainability was also an important issue long before the Dept. embraced this concept in its name.


The Department

My Dept. was dedicated to assisting the men and women on the land, not by dictating what they should do, but by demonstrating the difference between alternative systems and procedures through experimental work followed by extension of the results of this work.  It was a professional and caring approach rather than a “public service” approach and it appeared to be recognized and appreciated by farmers as such.  This ethos did not vary during my time and undoubtedly influenced my behavior then and in later work.

The main contrast between the Dept. and my subsequent employers, a private company and a farmers’ co-operative, was simply the broad, holistic approach to agriculture and being part of a large team in the Dept. compared to the focus on the development and promotion of a particular aspect (fertilizer use, artificial breeding) in a smaller group.  Demonstration and extension of benefits rather than any “hard sell” was common to all my employers.


Key People

My mentors, and key people to me, were primarily my fellow officers at Hamilton, particularly Stuart Margetts who was my immediate superior and still is a close friend.  His patient guidance of a raw graduate and the example he set had a profound influence on my whole career.

Others who played a significant role in shaping my development included, Peter Hyland, Max Frew, Harry Bishop, Rex Newman, Bob Twentyman, Claude Watson and Dave Wishart.  (Apologies to those I have not listed).




One of my memories was of Harold Pitman, the promoter of “Super & Lime 50/50” as the panacea for all agricultural problems from pasture establishment to animal health.  I could not quite understand how Harold, a fellow Dept. employee, got away with his evangelical crusade to advocate this fertilizer remedy for all farmers’ ills despite the lack of supportive research.  Yet he was allowed to roam the State far and wide preaching to farmers meetings, occasionally with eyes closed and apparently gazing into the heavens.  Stuart and I were required to attend a number of these meetings, whether to appear to provide endorsement or spy on what he said I’m not sure.  Nevertheless, he certainly aroused his audiences and sparked interest in fertilizer use for better or worse.





John Sutherland 1957 - 1993 writes:

Some Reflections by John Sutherland … Service spanned from 7 October 1957 to 2 April 1993

My first visit into what I came to know as Head Office for the Department of Agriculture, was for an advertised job interview. Ron Mullett, Snr Horticultural Research Officer was my only contact, first by letter dated 14 June 1957 and then at my interview, where he presented two job opportunities, one at Tatura Horticultural Research Station (fruit), the other at Glenormiston (vegetables) in the Western District. I favored the later and duly received that confirmation in the mail.

That came in a letter from Rod Kefford, Senior Vegetable Research Officer dated 10 September 1957, who advised of the (PSB) approval for me “to commence duty”. I could report for duty on the 16 September 1957 or at a time we could agree upon. We agreed on the 7 October 1957.

My one memory of either our phone conversation or of the one at our first meeting was the displeasure Rod expressed of being excluded from my interview process. That was the start of my learning, which was probably a good thing for me, in that Rod had high expectations and expected his Team to follow likewise.

Once I reported for duty at Treasury Place on 7 October 1957, the time had come for me to be initiated into some of the ways of the Victorian Public Service and of my chosen discipline. Here the high ceiling offices, each behind closed doors, the long broad passageways lined with cupboards and display cabinets, gave one the feeling there was a history of service that should not be taken lightly. I guess the dull brown lino over the floor also spoke to me that here I was in a no-frills place that had its own stern rules and regulations which were now part of my new working life.

On the Horticultural Division floor, Administration was at the front of the building above Treasury Place and as one walked away down the broad passageway in a northerly direction, it seemed that offices of Seniority (FM Read and Colin Cole) began at the head of the passage and finished pretty much with offices for the field staff and their Branch Heads.

In my short stay in HO, Senior Divisional Officers were rarely seen by me outside their inner-sanctums or they were a head and shoulders thrust around a door with a quick request or question. So, when I transferred to my intended country position on the 4 January 1958, I had had little serious contact with Divisional Leadership.

I found myself sharing desks with Tom Farmilo, Jack Collyer, Bill Martindale, Ken Stubbs and the esteemed Jack Jones (JRD Jones), which meant I needed to be in the HO library when there was a full office. A swing door in the partition led into the office Rod Kefford had to share with Peter Smith and Ted Wright.

Laurie Stafford, now living in Adelaide (2010), had a desk in the office of the Fruit Branch across the passage. Somehow we met on the first morning and he said to me, “come with me and I'll show you the cafeteria”. That little piece of humanity has stayed with me to today.

Not long after, Laurie transferred to the Mildura office and I never saw him again while he was in the Department. I did meet him again while on holiday in 1978 and we dined at his home on their citrus property in NSW. His wife Maree-Louise and I were students together at College.

Rod Kefford had given me two clear instructions from day one; read all the relevant files found in the two Vegetable Branch offices and study all that mattered in the library.

The library was in a more recent building, an addition to the old building that gave a back door to St Andrews Place. I remembered the construction of this building when as a child, I would visit my father's PMG office next door in Treasury Place. We could view the building progress on our visits and remember the stories dad brought home about the excavation of the site. He wanted to share how quickly a small dump truck of those days could be filled by the drag-chain on site.

I found the library held a great wealth of history and technical material, but my learning started as a random search with only a vague sense of purpose. This entailed much reading and noting of references – infra-red copiers or FAX machines were unknown back then - with little understanding of what might be of importance to my Glenormiston position. This large room with its open expanse of glass to the north could heat up very quickly early on a spring afternoon and not really the place to be found after lunch.

During my first week I was told I would be going to visit the Goulburn Valley with Peter Smith. Our train journey was a quiet interlude disturbed only by the fact that Peter chose to read journals from the library. That surprised me as doing business while on business travel seems to me as a bit conchie about ones work. My previous work experience had not prepared me for this new world of research and change.

My first farmers field day was probably around September. This was another new experience. It was also the first time I had felt the cold of the winds coming off Lake Corangamite. One person had found the right place, the inside of a sedan car, complete with overcoat and  perhaps we would never get to meet.

I asked questions about this person who seemed, by their sheltered position, to have more clout than Rod Kefford who was walking around in his overcoat. “Oh that's Dave, Dave Harrison from Burnley. He'll be writing down a few notes for his talk.”

Well, I got to hear Dave along with other speakers, but I'm sure Dave's talk to local farmers on a cold, windy Colac day was not at the most ideal of places.

I guess some of us never want to remember our first few talks we shared with others. I do remember my first talk to my peers twenty months later in June 1959. It was out our Vegetable Branch Conference held over five days in the hall of Burnley College of Horticulture. I sat through three and a half days listening to people, most of whom I had never met, then it was my turn to present a summary.

My voice I remember had a very strange loud sound about it as though I was shouting. I think my body was too tense to show the shakes. I can't remember anyone saying the right things to me later, so either my research summary made sense or they were all looking forward to the end of day four.

There were 17 Branch members and one Orchard Supervisor at the Conference, plus eight from the Biology Branch, later to become PRI Burnley. PR Pryke, H Nirk and LG Tonkin from Plant Breeding Branch, Burnley. GB Tindale came from cool storage research, Scoresby HRS.

Biology Branch members present make for interesting reading: DE Harrison, TW Hogan, EJR Johnston, JW Meagher, HAJ Pitman, LL Stubbs; RH Taylor, and HB Wilson.

The next Branch Conference was not until 1963. Then as time went by, they became more common. These Conferences became a healthy part of the life of the Vegetable Branch and its state wide responsibilities. As the structure of the Department evolved, so did the Branches, such as the new Vegetable Industry Branch a product of the Vegetable and Potato Branches. Later still as Branches gave way for District and Region structures, Industry Conferences were less and focused, workshops increased.

Then there was this formality about names and qualifications. In the late 1950's, an Officer would be listed as Mr VR Smith or Mr Z Brown. By the seventies the Mr title had been dropped for VR Smith. The eighties saw more first names rather than initials. Listing formal qualifications after the name was the norm through most of last Century. Now Position listing is mostly all that is used after a name.

1958 to 1962  Glenormiston

I spent my next five years at Glenormiston Estate (Glenormiston Agricultural College as it was known locally, yet that plan was still some years away). In the meantime, Glenormiston was administered as a farming project by the then Division of Agricultural Education; Noel Young was the Farm Manager.

Resident research staff from Branches in HO or Werribee were no more than six in number during my time there, though there were many more in regular visiting Officers, coming mostly from the State Research Farm, Werribee and Head Office. From time to time a local Country based officer such as a local vet or agronomist might visit from Colac, Hamilton or Warrnambool. I seem to remember people like David Fitzpatrick, Jack Makham and Stuart Margetts

Of visitors and residents, these are the names that come to mind: Bruce Allen, Ted Baker, Jack Collyer, Ken Skene the younger, Jim Harrison, Max Fielder, John Fletcher, Rex Newman, Dan Simmons, Peter Smith, Bryant Towers, Jerry Vivian, Jeff Walker, and Ted Wright. My memory also suggests Peter Debrett and Tom Patton.

Field research at Glenormiston Estate (GE) was present in Beef Cattle, Cereal Breeding, Hay and Fodder, Pasture, and in onions and processing peas.

The Victoria Friesian (Dairy) Stud had been moved from Werribee to Glenormiston Estate just before my time and was a major project concern for the Farm Manager. Fresh milk from the vat and pint or two of cream on a Friday were enjoyed by all. It was paid as a debit against the pay cheque. Although I carried a gallon milk billy inside a plastic bucket, it did not always prevent a tip-over onto the floor of the car. Drive with care!

Visiting Officers staying overnight were expected to bunk up in the old servant quarters within the grand old Glenormiston mansion, with all of its 46 rooms and six bathrooms, much of it vacant. In 1958, meals were still served in the main kitchen at the same table with the caretaker's family (the Gales), a total experience not desired by all. We paid Mrs Gale for those meals.

So there was a general shift of preference for visiting staff to stay in nearby Terang, commuting the seven miles each way to Glenormiston Estate and back. Besides, it was easier to have a drink, a meal and to meet the locals back in town.

My first Glenormiston office was in the large old dining room of the Mansion, the only single story section. We had a resident bee-hive in the chimney that meant we had some bees making office visits. Possums peeing in the ceiling sometimes had a dripping effect onto the office floor below. Bees and pee we could accept, but a dead possum in the roof meant all windows needed to be open!

While sharing office with the pasture and beef guys was never a problem, our only access was to walk through the small office of the Farm Manager. Later the vacant old Morning Room was opened as our new office with direct access to the outside and a great elevated view out over what was known as the Park paddock. This paddock had a history of limited access under the original pioneering Black family, where casual entry by one of their employers was treated as trespass. It still had that aura.

There was no such thing as a  phone on any of our desks; that was still a couple of years away. The only (house) phone was outside in the passageway not far from the front door. To make a call to HO was to first book the calls with the local PMG telephonist in Terang, then hang around in the office till the connection was made. That always took time.


A cordless switch board was installed in the Farm Manager's office around the time when our first part-time, later full-time Clerk arrived on transfer from HO Horticultural Division. He was an active person as he always gave the impression he was on a mission, given the bunch of papers or folders under his arm when he roamed the grounds. Never-the-less, he was a valued source of my learning in the ways of Departmental administration that allowed me to be quite resourceful in future times of bureaucratic demands or stone-walling, otherwise known in part as using the red-tape. I found that sometimes red tape was used as a way to defer giving a clear answer or making an on the spot decision. I often took on the challenge and we were able to keep services flowing.

I could not always accept the reasoning found within the Public Service status quo. For example, all of my tractor needs were booked through the farm Manager and these machines were an hourly debit against the Branch's Glenormiston Vote. Although this was a credit to Glenormiston Estate and Division of Agricultural Education, this transfer of funds ended up in Consolidated Revenue, a classic lose, lose result. That Division still paid for fuel and maintenance and that was the only way, I was told.

“No way” was my foolish new boy response, so I was told to put it down in writing to `go through the system' in HO. Light was seen and the problem solved when the `hiring' method was dropped and a fuel compensation plan replaced it. Every now and then, a Requisition was raised for a `44' (drum) of power kero or petrol, to the credit of Glenormiston Estate, based around tractor hours used. Another side benefit to this new process was the very much improved relationship between the Vegie Branch and the Farm Manager. Ah! Access to tractors became easier.

However, some of the pea trials were cross jingled harrowed at a very young stage for early weed control and even a small tractor would leave tyre indents into the soil. So I thought, why not use the retired draft horse in the back paddock for a bit of light work – I had learnt to groom and worked farm horses a few years earlier.

Out of the two of us, I was the only one who thought the idea had any merit. It was successful though I only tried it once. Getting the retired horse into a work mode was not an agenda we both agreed to and he had weight on his side.

The Vegetable Branch had 12 acres (approx 4.8ha) set aside for field experiments at Glenormiston. This paddock, subdivided into four blocks, was the second from the main entrance of the Farm alongside the mile-long, unmade corrugated, elm-lined driveway leading up to the grand old Mansion and Farm yards at the rear.

As no Branch red-plate ute was allocated to the Glenormiston work, my 1956 Morris Minor car was put on `Mileage'. Being quite remote from the farm yard meant that I needed a trailer for small equipment and materials, so in time with a Government order in my hand, I was able to collect a small wooden trailer from the City showroom of  `Lightning', a Company well known for their cement mixers. After my transfer back to Melbourne, our part-time farm hand converted this trailer so it could be hitched to a two-wheel garden tractor. This gave him a level of independence and made his work easier.

With tractor hiring streamlined, improved relationships, trailer, and a phone on one's desk – all was for the better. But then approval came for a 20 x 30 foot onion storage shed, built for security, ventilation and as a process work centre. A site not far from the farm yard was quickly negotiated, but the spanner in the works came with the PWD's grandiose design for a timber-framed, corrugated iron covering, gable-pitched roof on a floating concrete slab that was estimated with the first design, to cost more than double the three-bedroom house I was to buy 16 years later in Glen Waverley, Melbourne! It seems like much the same still happens in Government in the 21st Century. The shed was built at something like half the original estimate.

Glenormiston was where this City boy learned many of the new skills needed in farm life. This was long before Work Safe and licenses for this and that, like working with a tractor – we did all of our own farm work to support our field experiments. These skills included the skills of learning farm fencing and plumbing from scratch. I was even registered as part of the Glenormiston Estate fire fighting unit, an auxiliary unit of the local Fire Brigade. We attended two grass fires during my five years at Glenormiston.

I became skilled in turning the sod in straight lines with a moldboard plough, even in depth, having never driven a tractor before Glenormiston. Even more! The challenge of holding onto soil structure in the sensitive volcanic soil was a long learning curve. Much of this practical area of learning about and caring for soils came from my mentor by the name of Jim Harrison. Jim was already beyond retiring when he came to GE for the Pasture Branch. Many were my in-depth discussions with Jim, far beyond anything I had learnt or experienced in college. I well remember one of my first lessons in soil cultivation with Jim, which after times of personal application, I was then able to share with many farmers in later years.

When I came to Glenormiston, the Victorian onion industry grew something like 50 percent of Australia's crop and most of that was grown in the Western District. Chemical weed control had already been introduced to growers with chemicals such as dilute sulfuric acid, first trialed in 1949, power kerosene, sodium pentachlorophenate, potassium cyanate and from 1955/56 onwards, Chloro IPC (chlorpropham).

Chloro changed the face of the industry in Victoria more than ever before in history, but only after extensive experiment and hands-on transfer of technology to the farming community to overcome their errors. It was that critical, as selectivity was in a physical barrier of 1 inch (25mm) of soil between the chemical on the soil surface and the depth of the seed in a firm seedbed, that emerging onion seedlings were not killed..

Much of the credit for correct use of Chloro IPC by onion growers, must go to Bryant Towers, Vegetable Supervisor, who was based at Colac from 1958 till his retirement. Bryant showed great patience with growers not just showing, but making sure the reasons and methods had been learnt.

Spray equipment was upgraded. Proper calibration was a must. Then by the early 1960's, the results were  there. It was cautiously estimated that Chloro was already saving the onion industry some £50,000 each year in the cost of hand weeding labor, a huge sum at that time. That was just the beginning of a big change in cropping methods.

This success was to change over the next 10 to 20 years as two factors then saw a decline of the Victorian onion industry, disease in the soil in the form of fog or white root rot and the lack of irrigation. These crops relied on natural rainfall and in the rich volcanic soils of the Western District, but as fog rot spread, clean ground for onions diminished.

Fog rot is a disease that remains dormant in the soil for two to three generations. It is spread in normal farm activities, even on the feet of animals and on boots. However, in the new competition from onion growing  in NSW and in eastern SA, there was no fog rot. All had ample water for irrigation.

 By the winter of 1958, some 20 experimental herbicides were under trial at Glenormiston, not only with onions but also in peas for  processing. The standard with peas at that time was a horrible yellow staining toxic dinitros compound, DNBP, which had in a study with rats, an LD50 of 40 mg/kg of weight. We were, in time able to lead the processing industry away from this compound into safer and more reliable herbicides with better results.

Onions and peas were the main focus of this new era of chemical science. It took perhaps some 50 percent of my field time. Plant and weed counts were dreaded because of the high local weed density and with the number of species present. The fact that each plot was some 180 sq ft by four replications, this did not enthuse me at all when count time came around.

I also put down replicated onion herbicide field trials in places like Illowa, Killarney and Koroit, The Killarney farm was owned by Leo Crowe who, at the time, was Chairman of the Onion Marketing Board. Leo, a dairy farmer and onion grower, was a likeable innovative person. (Thirty years later, I was again back in these districts under the Onion Export Development Project, this time working with the sons of the farmers I first worked with in the late 1950's and very early 1960's.)

It was Leo who built and used the first crop flame weeder (propane gas) ever used in Australia. In a single pass over the rows of very young onion seedlings, both weed and onions would burn off to the ground; only perennial weeds and the onions would spring into new life. Chloro IPC would kill most of the emerging onions seedlings when used on the lighter soils and this was so on Leo's farm. A post application of Chloro after three true leaves was safe on most light soils, but this left a three month gap up to three leaves which was a constant and costly weed challenge.

Leo's farm had the light limestone coastal soils, very copper deficient. The Branch had helped Leo through this problem with an on-site fertiliser trial and he really appreciated the support he received. As a result, 6ozs of copper sulphate per acre in the super before sowing in the first year did the trick. This one shot of copper, enough for three onion crops before the land was returned to dairy pasture, would help to put two thick skins on the maturing onion bulbs, Without this copper, the bulbs would be next to skinless. Not only did skinless bulbs command a lower value, they were more subject to damage and to sunburn.

Back at Glenormiston around 1960, we probably had the first evidence of any dramatic change in weed ecology in Australia, through the use of a modern crop herbicide, in this case Chloro IPC. It showed very quickly how a very effective herbicide could dramatically change the spectrum of weeds present in a crop in just two seasons.

Chloro has a narrow but effective spectrum of weed control under optimum moisture and low temperatures. At Glenormiston, we had one suppressed weed that was very resistant to Chloro IPC. Chloro removed all competition to a suppressed weed within the weed ecology, allowing it in one season to quickly seed and spread to become the dominate specie in subsequent crops. - a very thick carpet of flowering weed in fact. Again I do not think we have been able to pass on this lesson effectively into current times.

And yet again, I was able to demonstrate the reasons for almost 100 percent variability of one new herbicide, from perfect in the first season to deadly in the next. The facts I had recorded from both seasons, clearly showed there was a correlation between the degree of soil and depth of moisture and of soil temperature in the first 25mm of surface soil. July rainfall was almost the same for both seasons for the onion seed sown one inch deep in the first week of July. In the first season, the rain was recorded on only three days, with a drier surface soil. Germination took 14 days. It was a moist July in the second year with mostly overcast weather. The surface soil was moist throughout and the seed took 28 days to germinate. Control of emerging weeds was nearly 100 percent in both years.

Without a record of that vital information, my colleagues would not have been able to extend that knowledge to farmers in the wake of crop losses across the Western District. Further, we were able to become more effective in the science of herbicide research and in teaching farmers.

I cannot leave this section with giving credit in part to Rod Kefford. It was Rod who asked me to set up a rainfall gauge and take daily air and soil temperatures after I arrived at Glenormiston. I choose a time of 2.00pm. Now it was some of that recorded information that enabled the Department to distance itself from a Company that had flouted regulations and engaged onions growers to lay down commercial size applications with this experimental chemical.


This Company was the Australian agent for a large American chemical corporation. In those early days there was no effective legislation in place or if there was, then somehow it was remote in nature for whatever reasons.

Companies around the 1960's were able to by-pass bureaucracy to some lesser or greater degree, without the impact of the rules and regulations and penalties that exist today. There was concern in the 1970's, when representatives of the largest chemical corporation in the world at that time, were called in to stand on the mat at Chemical Standards Branch to a please explain about serious side effects with one of their chemicals. Their penalty to a non-disclosure of a known (to them) world wide problem was really no more than a tap on the back of the hand with a paper ruler.

Serious mistakes were made by farmers or industry, once in a while even by Officers, Often these mistakes were treated as a lesson learnt and sometimes compensation paid. For example, on my transfer date to Glenormiston, 4 January 1958, I was instructed to visit the then largest onion growers in the State and to leaf-sample one of their onion crops (some 40 acres or 16ha in size). The Department needed samples for a chemical residue analysis back at the State Chemistry Laboratory, Melbourne.  A well known Melbourne chemical company of the day had mistakenly delivered Potassium cyanide instead of potassium cyanate to this farm, for use as a post-emergent herbicide! True! And it seems everyone survived without harm.

Even so, it was exciting times, but there were always the risks. While we took due care, the personal risks with handling experimental chemicals were really greater than we imagined. Looking back now, I'm surprised at how much responsibility was given to me from the very start, often applying chemical treatments when alone. Rod Kefford would arrive to review the coming season of experiments. Together we would draw up the experimental design and treatments and he then returned to HO to leave me to implement all of the projects. Wherever possible, Rod returned to get a visual fix upon the trends. The expectations were high.

Glenormiston was the home ground for the ongoing annual assessment of some 30 Certified onion seed crops. The seed was the result of an on-farm Certification process that was under the constant supervision of District Vegetable Officers like Bryant Towers, from bulb selection right through to seed cleaning, bulk-sealing of cleaned seed, through to resealing of orders packed under supervision. Each farmer with a Certified seed lot in the Glenormiston growing on trials received a personal report. The officer would also use some of this information at bulb selection time.  Australian Brown (Brown Spanish), (Alan Burns) Late Brown Globe and White Spanish were the three certified varieties.

The Department had its own variety improvement program for its Cream Fleshed (CF)  selections of  the Australian Brown and Late Brown Globe (Alan Burns) onion lines. These in time became standards for the industry seed growers.

It is easy to pick up a new task and run with it, then with hindsight of results, reflect on how it could or should have done. This happened when I was asked in my second year to see whether I could make a bulb selection for earliness out of the CF Alan Burns Late Brown Globe.

Without offers of support, I made my selections based upon criteria I set down. The result in just one generation was earlier maturity of three weeks to the day. Future generations retained this same characteristic. Then it was discarded due to the fact I had lost skins in year one. Earliness without skins  had no market value.

The lesson here was that while I had a very pure line in shape of bulb, necks and base, in size, skin and color, I failed to assess all attributes equally, even though I managed only about 18 bulbs out of about half an acre (0.2ha). I also made bulb isolation from close competition the key factor before all others.

The lessons learnt helped me to assist tomato plant breeder Helgi Nirk in her field selections, when we would discuss our observations from our side of the plant, before rejecting or marking.

Some of Melbourne University multi-podded pea breeding field work was also Glenormiston based, in hand with Jack Collyer of the Vegetable Branch. Yvonne Aitken, along with her assistant, did the actual field search and selections for multi-podded sets for enhanced yield and uniform maturity during machine harvesting. It was amazing to see these two mature aged ladies toiling all day long under their broad-brimmed hats with hardly a break. Poor Jack Collyer. He was always puzzled as to why he was the only one who needed a pee break during the day.

There was a period of 12 months while I was at Glenormiston when I did not see my Branch Head. Rod Kefford had been appointed as Secretary to the Victorian Wholesale and Retail Royal Commission (Victoria Market).  Peter Smith, Assistant Research Officer, had or was about to transfer by appointment to the Plant Research Institute, Burnley, while Mike Kinsella had or was about to be appointed as his successor in the Branch. Mike then left  for Davis, California for his Masters study.

1962 to 1971 Scoresby Research Station (Horticultural Research Institute, Knoxfield)

In 1962 I applied for transfer to a vacant Vegetable Branch position at Scoresby HRS on compassionate grounds – by then twin daughters were orthopedic out-patients at the Royal Children's Hospital. There were four children in 30 months in my first marriage.

Tragically, our fourth child Karen was killed in a very freak accident one Sunday at the Scoresby HRS while in my care. I was checking a glasshouse nutritional experiment in a hydroponic system. It was on the day of the fifth birthday of our twins and Karen's fourth birthday was to be just seven days later.  One of the worst memories I have from this tragic event is making the phone calls to police, my wife and to the Station Manager at home. Through all of this the body of my daughter lay on a desk in front of me where I had gently laid her.

My marriage did not survive but somehow I managed to face reality that Karen had been killed in my work place, while in my care. I was at Scoresby for another six years for a total of nine plus years. Ray Brough was Manager at the time, supported by Fergus Black. Richard Rowe was appointed manager after Ray Brough moved into HO Division of Horticulture..

In 1971, full time Vegetable research was closed at Scoresby in favor of greater investment in the fairly new Vegetable Research Station, Frankston (VRSF). They now wanted full-time use of the new tractor that had been bought for the vegie work at Scoresby.

I was transferred to Melbourne to work with Mike Kinsella in support of State wide research. Shortly after the move, I became engaged to Richard Rowe's laboratory assistant, Cheryl.  The main focus of vegetable research at Scoresby was a sixteen year old Cabbage Rotational Trial, which was in it's fourth cycle when I arrived. It was one of the first experimental field plots and hence was always owned by the Station. When Vegetable Officer Ted Hawksworth took up duties at Scoresby, the day to day running of the Trial came under his care. When Ted left, John Richards split his time between the CRT and Fruit research.

At the end of the sixteenth year of this Trial, I presented a case that there was an experimental design  weakness and the work should not be committed for a fifth cycle of four years. Sanity prevailed!


This decision allowed for a broader experimental program in vegies at Knoxfield. The largest Brussels sprout growing area in Australia at that time was in the Coldstream, Ferntree Gully, Lysterfield districts. The soil at Scoresby was similar to those districts mentioned; an ideal soil to support this special industry. The eastern districts were also home to the fresh tomato industry in the sixties and again Scoresby was an ideal site to assess the advanced fresh tomato breeding lines.

Plant breeder Helgi Nirk had an extensive range of material from her very successful, if not somewhat controversial (method) tomato breeding program. Helgi was an innovative plant breeder and a member of the Plant Breeding Branch based at the Plant Research Institute, Burnley (PRI).

Most of Helgi's research was for the tomato processing industry and soon evolved into a  joint tomato breeding exchange program with University of California. Later this work was extended into Queensland in order to gain the benefit of two cropping seasons in each year.

I always enjoyed working in close harmony with Helgi, a refuge I believe from Estonia, who was ready to share whatever was needed. I was proud to be able to support her research, which saw the release of her new fresh market tomato varieties; Burnley Fortune, B. Surecrop, B. Bounty, and B. Metro. Burnley Gem was released with processing and fresh market qualities.

Tomatoes were the first crop to be introduced to a section of the old cabbage rotational site after two years of pasture. It was the pattern of a disease throughout the trial that first grabbed my attention. Degree of infection did not correlate with any single variety. When I measured an overlay of the old rotation and repeatedly scored infection levels did the story become clear. Matching the score against respective rotational treatment showed that the lower the organic matter returned to the soil over sixteen years, the higher the disease score. Two years of pasture had not helped.

When I discussed these findings with pathologists at the PRI, the response was almost of indifference. I guess the lesson that came for me out of that exercise was, sometimes we need to believe in ourselves and follow our own hunches. Even then, we could be moving against the flow. Perhaps that was my turning point, but it was most likely the low organic alluvial soils around Werribee South that triggered me into action. In the 1970's and 1980's I preached what I wrote and mentored those who were willing to learn more. Productivity increased as did incomes of many Werribee farmers.

While at Scoresby, I was asked to coordinate experimental herbicide research data and supply of product State wide. This entailed liaising with companies with promising formulas. ICI Merrindale Research farm out on Dorset Road in Croydon had glasshouse and some field trials of which I became an observer. Vegetable crop weed research became a State wide function with the appointment of Alex Morgan, who was based at VRS Frankston. Prior to Alex coming on board, I had initiated herbicide evaluation trials at Scoresby and the sandy country SE of Melbourne for green beans, crucifers and carrots.

As the weed control trials at Scoresby moved to other locations, new variety programs took their place. One such program was Brussels sprout varieties that may be suited to mechanical stripping as once over destructive harvest. A manual feed stripper was borrowed for this work.

Scoresby became the home and centre for the first scientifically known research into drip irrigation. Drip irrigation began in the drought summer of 1967/68, but the basic research behind all of this had already begun with testing the hypothesis of how to maximise fruit production when water was always a limiting factor around Melbourne.

Fergus Black was the lead researcher and the neutron soil moisture probe was brought on board as a research tool. The research results produced by Fergus Black, Dennis West, Peter Mitchell and Peter Newgreen and others, produced a platform upon which drip irrigation was able to be turned into a science for the world.

Research into drip irrigation began at Scoresby when water restrictions were imposed as the 1967/68 drought took hold. As there was an urgent need for experimental data from science-based drip irrigation system, a cucumber variety and mulching trial was tooled up to a `Daily Flow' drip system, instead of sprinklers. The results were far beyond our expectations and this success was featured on ABC TV evening news. After that, `Daily Flow', a name applied by the Fergus Black Team, became the standard method for all vegetable crops at Scoresby.

Bert Gretton, the vegetable Supervisor for south east metro district of Melbourne, brought to me a puzzling problem, which later became known as The Case of the Toxic Fowl Manure. My initial glasshouse studies showed we had a very soluble, toxic substance within fowl manure delivered to certain farms. Later on, reports started to appear around the world of a similar problem.

I used Fergus Black as a sounding board as to where my next move should start. This led onto the formation of a multi-discipline team of David Jones and myself from Scoresby teaming up with chemists Ian Minchinton and Joe Sang from the State Chemistry Laboratories. Our results attracted world-wide attention.

The complex contaminant was revealed as a metabolite of a manufacturing impurity within a drug used in the broiler industry around the world. This impurity changed inside the bird to a toxic metabolite that was found `closely resembles very closely that of a molecule called picloram, which is one of the most potent herbicides made.'

Bert Gretton took a close interest in my industry learning and maturing process, by taking time to exposing me to the real world of farming and business. Sometimes I would find myself at the lead in conversation with growers with few words coming from Bert . Later I would apologise to Bert for assuming control of a discussion. My new mentor just smiled back with encouraging words and say, “That is what I want to see you doing, part of the reason for our day out together.”

The one time Bert and I disagreed was when he would say on such visits; “You would make a good adviser.” To which my response was always something like; “No way!”

It was a sad evening for me when I learned that Bert had died from a heart attack after lunch that day. As I look back, I have come to realise that perhaps Bert was the only Adviser that truly believed in me and treated me like an equal. I am thankful for that and for the fact that he initiated our field visits.

On the day of Bert's funeral at Springvale, we crossed paths at Springvale with a private funeral, that of retired Jacky Jones. Jack Jones was the home garden expert after George Hyam had retired, a position later taken up by Rod Cantrill. Some of Jack Jones country service was as a Vegetable Supervisor at Colac from 1949 to (1956?).

The death in retirement of Jack Collyer was in ways, very similar to that of Bert Gretton. Both dropped to the ground in their backyards. Jack Collyer and myself followed our team work at Glenormiston with the expanded tomato breeding trials at Scoresby. Between Jack Collyer, Bert Gretton and Jim Harrison, I began to mature as a farmer and that set me up for the technology transfer aspect of my career that was yet to come. Bert probably understood that possibility more than anyone else.

1971 to 1993  Division of Horticulture, Queen St, Melb & 166 Wellington Pde East Melbourne

Inner Melbourne Region, 176 Wellington Pde

Western Region, 176 Wellington Pde


My transfer into the Melbourne office (first to 131 Queen Street then later to 166 Wellington Pde), into the broader research agenda of the Vegetable Branch, brought me into close liaison with other sections of the Department.

My next move, again not by choice, was into Extension in the western metropolitan district including Bacchus Marsh, Keilor and Werribee. It was in this role that I remained for the next 20 years until my departure from the Department in 1993.

The Department moved into a governance of five regions. I guess this was the greatest change to affect my career and the way we functioned. All of a sudden there was this break away from State Branches and for myself, from the VRS Frankston. Regions it seemed were to be self-functioning. Vegetable Officers in each State Region were in a sense, now on their own. We seemed like five sub-Departments of Agriculture.

Thankfully, it was different with my contacts in and with the PRI Burnley in so much that they were as much a service group based around their research and pool of expertise. I would say we were less on protocol; more about inter-action and exchange.

When the demise of the Inner Melbourne Region came, my line of management had been through George Duncan and Stuart Margetts. My home in the Eastern suburbs so it was assumed by many my next move would be to Burnley or Knoxfield.

Bruce Muir, Regional Manager for the Western Region once expressed that very thought to me. Looking Bruce straight in the eye, my response was clear and measured; “Not necessarily so, Bruce”. “Oh that wouldn't work John”, was his quick reply. We paused and just looked at one another. Then Bruce slowly said, “Maybe it would. Put it on paper for me.”

That is how I became attached to the Western Region with my line of management to Bruce through  Warren Straw, District Manager in Colac. My office remained at 176 Wellington Pde shared with the Livestock Improvement Services, till my last day with the Department. At that time, I believe I was the only District Extension officer left in HO at Wellington Pde.

My line-of-management move into the Western Region was a productive one. The content of the note I received Bruce Muir at the time of leaving the Department confirmed as much to myself and I am truly thankful to Bruce for expressing his thoughts to me.

Vegetable Extension

Out west of Melbourne in the early seventies market garden farming units were small, many were in the five to eight hectare size and family owned. Most farms only managed an average of 1.5 crops per year, but as change occurred over the next 20 years, the average increased to two and to four crops per year. Average farm size also increased to over 16 to 20ha.

Many market garden tasks were still heavy on manual labor. Flood irrigation was time consuming needing a constant watch to prevent water-logging.  The challenges were varied, not the least being the alluvial, low organic soils of Werribee South. Farmer education was basic and language sometimes a problem in part, though not a barrier. Getting the technical message accepted by most was where the challenge often lay. Often finding the family connections helped but not always enough..

My strengths in chemical weed control and in the practical aspects of soil management helped to build strong early relationships within the ethnic groups. Trust was earned, it was not given freely. I sought to use every tool in the book, but even more, wanted to always link my full name (inc. John) to a portrait of myself, when producing a newsletter or the like. That is so important if you want a connection with the message.  They may not remember your surname, but may with your first name; even better with your portrait. First impact may be the only chance to connect or have them read on, like in the next story.

There was a time when I sought out David Wark in the Dept of Labour & Industry for a series of stories on farm safety. We added a very graphic coroner's photo to one farm story, which spared little for the imagination. The editor in HO thought the black and white print would stand out more if a pinky-red screen filter was used for the print copy.  Well, as it can happen, I was with one farmer when the Digest with this photo and story arrived in the mail. He chose to open the Digest while I was there and as he flicked through the pages, stopped at the place with this photo and story. It impacted him so quickly that he exclaimed to me, “... and look at all the blood”.   A good place to begin.

I brought specialists to the coal face, diminishing the distance between the laboratory and the paddock. We reviewed matters together and involved the growers. Together we all moved forward.

In particular from the Department of Agriculture: Terry Piggott, VRS Frankston; Ron Garrett, Peter Merriman and Ian Porter, PRI Burnley; Bruce Tomkins, Knoxfield (formerly Scoresby HRS); Ken Peverill,  Austin Brown and Doug Crawford, State Chemistry Laboratory; Bram Bakker, Irrigation Branch, State Research Farm, Werribee; Ken James Agricultural Engineering, SRF Werribee. From LaTrobe University: Terry Price.

A few choose to ignore or reject the need for the local officer and it was not always easy to receive feed back from farmers on trials or visits by such officers. I never had this experience with PRI Burnley until one officer decided it was not in his best interests from his perspective to work with the local officer. The problem was not mine.

There was a new generation of growers now on the scene, who like their fathers, had not stayed in school longer than was required. They had grown up on these farms, working and using farm equipment from a young age. While they were looking towards new technology, their success still came back to hard work. Indeed it was a challenge to partner these guys. Finding their leaders within their ethnic groups quickly was helpful, but sometimes it came through satisfaction and trust.

Almost no one had any computer knowledge, so I found a way to start an introduction to computers course during the mid-1980's. It was an informal evening course managed with a private consultant using the Institute of Institute of Dairy Technology classrooms.

I made good use of family net-works to build in-home discussion groups, often dragging along the new medium of video player and monitor. These proved so effective – the suppers were always great - that post-midnight journeys home were a sleepy delight. (I was in danger sometimes of meeting other growers on the Geelong Road on their way to trade at the Wholesale Market in Footscray.)

Another time, I took a bus load of Werribee and Bacchus Marsh growers HRI Tatura and to the permanent bed research of Harold Adem. Never had I seen such an active group of farmers as they talked with Harold, eye to eye. They were into everything, not missing a thing. (Some of the soils found in the Goulburn Valley are similar to those found in parts of Werribee South.) They were so pleased with the day that the bus load of growers agreed it was well worth a special stop in Nagambie on the way home.

My interest went beyond the local scene initiating and organising the First Australian Garlic Industry Workshop to a sell-out group from Queensland through to South Australia. Income of some $15.000 dwarfed our budget. The success of this workshop with a key-note speaker from NZ was the direct cause for new R & D, including the first virus-free garlic program in Australia. This program advanced to where it was sold by the Victorian Government to a private company.

Brian Hanger, PRI Burnley and a speaker at this garlic workshop, agreed to take up a quiet project on the side to examine tissue culture of garlic. Later he had two LaTrobe students join him so they could develop some of their skills in this area. Failure was possible as garlic is a very dirty plant for tissue culture.  Multiplication increased and soon management needed to recognise the back-room project. The project became a success with the first virus free garlic in Australia. The virus free garlic varieties were commercialised with the Department's role in tissue culture and in virus testing of the mother material.

The very successful project failed when DARATECH sold their remaining share in the business to this private group composed of accountants and a solicitor. The new owners locked out everyone outside of the group (commercial in confidence), including myself and engaged a learning garlic grower as their field consultant! The whole project really imploded and money ran out. End of a very promising commercial project and total loss of hard-won material.

One morning, I arranged for a group of growers to meet at Fawkner and to be taken inside of an international packing technology plant. Inside they were presented with and allowed to examine new technology in barrier (multi-layered) plastic bags, vacuum packaging and gas flushing of fresh produce. They had brought samples of some of their own crops along and were able to experiment with the technology. Success was more about exposure rather than in the adoption! My purpose was to open their thinking to new concepts - to think more about how to market rather than how to sell more.

I became more involved with post-harvest technology and marketing. I liaised more and linked in to the post-harvest group at IHD Knoxfield. We started to think about a commercial trial shipment of broccoli by sea-container to Hong Kong, a key export market for Australia. But first we needed to prove the protocol within Australia and so came the birth of a multi-team post-harvest project group that involved HRI Knoxfield; CSIRO Plastic Division, Clayton (Monash University); CSIRO Post-harvest Technology, North Ryde, NSW; Australian Shipping Line; Selected broccoli growers in Werribee South; and myself.

Once the project was under way, pre-dawn starts on the farm were the norm for myself. We needed to keep the respiration rate to a minimum by controlling sharp rises in field temperatures post-harvest. We built a crude hydro-cooler (showers of super cooled water created by adding flaked ice and salt) in a farm packing shed, dropping field temperature rapidly to below 50C within 60 minutes from harvest. This was followed by force air cooling in the cool room to further reduce core temperature to 00c.

Once stabilised, the broccoli heads were packed in the normal way except the carton liners were special barrier bags and there was no added ice. Back to the cool room then into a refrigerated sea-container and road shipped on power to a static site at North Ryde. This was to simulate travel and time in a sea journey.

The detailed measurements needed to be taken inside the refrigerated sea-container. For three days, we rotated our time working inside the container, where it was still 00c. Then we repeated the exercise, but on a commercial scale for export. We aborted the first shipment to the local market because the temperature gains during packout could not be lowered again back in the  cool room after pack-out. The barrier bags were proving to be a good insulation against cooling and increased respiration inside the bags.

We learned from our mistakes and a 20 foot container arrived in due course in Hong Kong, to be met by Bruce Tomkins and others for out-turn. The sea-journey took six weeks, twice as long as planned, yet all the broccoli was sold on the HK market. We had achieved a first in sea-shipped broccoli without top icing and trebled the post-harvest life of market broccoli to six weeks. The industry now had a cheaper option to air freight and still maintain the cosmetic quality value.

One serious aspect of the Department's post-harvest research was the shortage in the research dollar for nutritional values. I for one had serious concerns that there was never enough money to measure the nutritional out-turn value of the fancy looking products we were promoting. Even now we still do not have enough produce bench marked for nutrient values at the consumer end of the market. If it looks good, it will sell! And we still have a growing nutritional and health crisis within our communities.

I had a long liaison with Agricultural Engineering that developed through the eighties. Two engineers from this group became part of the “O” Team, a multi-disciplinary team that launched the funded Onion Export Development Project that I had initiated.

About this time, the Food Research Institute was being formed at Werribee with the Ag Engineering group part of the nucleus staff. In time I became if you like, a casual in-house consultant for fresh product and also used the FRI myself in liaison with Australian exporters and overseas importers in product development. These links were sometimes tied in with our own Rural Policy and Marketing Branch and with the Victorian Office of Trade and Investment.

As the FRI grew there were more commercial-in-confidence projects so there were of course, more restrictions. However, once again I was concerned about what we were doing to our food chain and the scant concern or even understanding for nutritional values. Today I am more aware that enzyme changes are likely in any form of processing and stated nutritional values may be quite different to the  nutrient values that can be absorbed by the body.

While this may not be critical factor for fresh produce, nutrient degradation is of concern with aged or any post-harvest method. I believe this factor is still not rated high in the research dollar. It is of real concern with any fresh produce taken to the next level of process such as disinfection, heat, cold, slice, dice, mince, gas-flushed and so on.

At this time, my time with the Department was drawing to a close, though I had no idea it would be sooner than I had believed or as sudden by nature. So, while I had expressed interest, when it came it was somewhat of a surprise. My post-harvest connections with the Department were to be severed but my interest and concern in what we do not consider with human nutrition and health, would one day surface again through a chance encounter in the world outside of the Department.

The “O” Team, a nickname for the Onion Export Development Project Team, was born from a passion in my own heart that Victorian and Australian onion industry needed to become more competitive through innovation and improved quality standards at out-turn in northern hemisphere markets.  I was challenged to spell it out and so in time I tabled an internal report, which was used as the foundation document. The Report reviewed the onion industry within Australia and around the World. It also dealt with marketing facts.

Like some of my interstate research and extension colleagues from Tasmania; John Salvestrin (NSW) and Trevor Twigden (SA and now Consultant), I was attending every quarterly meeting I could of Onions Australia, an industry association. I was encouraged to do this by Les Giroud, a Werribee vegie grower and former a chairman of the Victorian Vegetable Growers Association. He was their long-time delegate to Onions Australia. It was of immense value in gaining an accurate understanding of the onion industry in Australia and NZ and in international trade.  Another aspect of value was getting to know growers and exporters from around the Country and in NZ, beyond my previous contacts. One piece of research I was following through was a bold plan outlined to me by an exporter. His plan was to bulk ship into a Trade Free Zone in Southern Europe for re-processing, then move by road over the mountain ranges into Germany and Holland. This would shorten the time needed with the normal sea route and would also help to minimise spoilage often an increased product of wet ships. Even drive-on, drive-off ships designed and built for the onion trade (including forced-air ventilation), had condensation problems with a fast journey to the equator from the southern latitudes.

The “O” Team believed there was real value in such a concept for the Australian onion industry (we were already working across State borders), however we were forced to shelve our research when Austrade warned us that the Balkans might erupt. A trade-free zone in Yugoslavia through Genoa was then the best option. War closed that option so we focused on the traditional sea routes.

Those who were part of the “O” Team were Warren Straw, SDO, Colac; Bruce Fry, Seed Certification, Colac; Susan Godfrey, Quality Assurance, Knoxfield HRI; Ian Gould, Hort Engineer, AEC, Werribee;   Caroline Konza, Industry Development, Colac; Andrew Patterson, Farm Management Economist, Hamilton; Ian Porter, Pathologist, PRI; Peerasak Sanguansri, Food Engineer, AEC, Werribee; Georgie Tutt, Market Advisor and John Sutherland, Melbourne;

A political decision at the Directorate level required Leadership of at least SO5 level for all specially funded projects. Handing over Leadership to my line manager at Colac was not a bad thing, as I had more time to lead and to keep the Team on focus. Most Team members had no real background in the vegetable or onion industries, but their expertise and teamwork was critical to the objectives.

Our biggest and most frustrating hurdle occurred when budgets to all of the Projects under this special funding were pruned at the direction of the then Minister. In essence the Onion Project was hobbled and objectives pruned or stopped. Being acknowledged as one of the successful Projects was not the same as having also covered all of our objectives with success for the Australian Onion Industry.

During the Onion Project, I was asked by Ian Gould if I could give some support to a visiting Consultant to the Department, Prof John Young from USA. John's brief was to report to the Department on the subject of Chemigation and how this applied to Victoria. This subject was close to my heart for many reasons and experiences.

We were good value for one another, often wrestling with matters of technology, application, spray deposition, the environment, and so on. John has a career background in entomology. He worked too in the area of Chemigation research where he developed insecticides formulated in oils, which would be more efficient during transport in irrigation water.

I well remember pulling the car off the Calder Hwy one day so we could focus more upon our discussion, when suddenly I had one of those light-bulb moments when my mind slipped into gear with that of John Young. It was a turning point and he had my total support.

Regrettably, I believe the Department, and Australia, did not receive full value from John Young as he did not complete his report while in Australia. This report did not translate into a document of significance when the final version, edited with Helen French, AEC, Werribee, was printed. It was, in a sense meaningless to most people in Australian Agriculture.  Never-the-less, all was not lost, I hoped, as I submitted my application for a Churchill Fellowship to study the research, design, pesticide registration policy and extension aspects of Chemigation. It would have taken me through seven key American States and their EPA. John Young was my resource person.

Not only was age was against me, but also the flavor of the month in Blue-green Algae, the winner. The chemical environment was not as high on the local agenda or at least in the minds of the judges, maybe for good reasons too.

My close ties with Agricultural Chemistry Branch enabled me to access their files for subject research with ag-chemicals from time to time. There were many challenges with existing registrations and the changing Legislation and instructions from the Department.


I had one problem where we were trying to achieve clearance for synthetic onion oil to be used as a soil treatment before sowing of onions. Peter Merriman, PRI Burnley had initiated this unique research, starting with simple test plots at Werribee South. Experiments had proved the value of onion oil against onion white root rot. This disease had removed huge tracts of farms from onion production for 30 years and more.  We could not access the technical data as our need of the oil was different to the formulator, Bush, Boake & Allen, a supplier to the food industry. Our trial results were not enough, but we never gave up.

The solution came in a very unusual way with no formalities of a meeting or formal minutes.  One morning I was talking with Don Matthews in the foyer of State Chemistry Laboratories at Macarthur St, when Chief Bob Belcher walked in the door. Don explained how yet again we were discussing onion oil, when Bob, after a pause said, “why don't we list it as a food compound under miscellaneous”, like a product of historical use. There were already a small number of products in this category. Problem solved and Gazetted. Growers now had access to a powerful treatment against the disease.

Late in my career, we had problems with the often reckless use by farmers of the soil fumigant metham sodium. They had moved from spray application to the soil to putting it through the sprinklers. Chemigation! It was hazardous in the still, night air, even more so to neighbors and others driving past these farms. Local member Dr Ken Coghill, MP and the then City of Werribee became involved.

Once again I had a need or concern passed back or over to me for action. Ron Amor, of Ag-Chem asked me to rewrite the National registration label for metham sodium, so as to define approved use and  application methods. This required State by State negotiation but in the end, a consensus that could be submitted to Canberra, together with a complete mock-up of a new label. Approved! And probably a first in Australian system of registration.

What better way than a high point like this to finish 35 years with the old Department of Agriculture – or was it? No, too many changes for me to remember now as to who we were and to what we were called at that time. To most of us today we were still part of the old Department or Dept of Ag.  M'mm. I like that familiar old name of meaning, history, science, learning and grass roots action.

Anecdotes from the Fields


●There was this part-time onion crop grown by the resident researcher next to his rented house … and then sold!! I know because I was being asked for advice!

●The naming of a Stud calf after another resident researcher, much to his dismay … a change from a farm manager dreaming up names of the like of Victoria Hansel and V. Gretel ...

●The Branch Head who loved a bit of after-hours paddock Hooning in a Government ute … could be said it was a bit harrowing for the pasture ...

●The visiting photographers who enlisted the support of a couple of Terang girls (friends) to grace parts of the old GE Mansion in an after-hours photo-shoot of historical interior. Then the discovery next morning of blue (bubble bath) water by the caretaker with a hangover. For the Caretaker, this was like seeing a blue-elephant problem with the critical management of GE's water supply. (The bubble bath was a spirited threat by the boys which yielded the desired response of protest from the girls, but much more serious response from the Farm Manager ...)

●The single-spinner red-plated Ford ute that lay disused in the garage of a GE residence, all for the want of a new battery and some maintenance. Always wondered what happened to the repeated requests for the weekly logbook reports?

My Friend Rod Kefford:

●As I have said else-where, I believed Rod expected his staff to match his expectations, an impression I took on board from day one of duty. However, it was not very long before the man revealed a glimpse or two of humanity.

●The Vegetable Branch had an red-plate (a V 00000 type number), FJ Holden allocated to it and it was this vehicle that Rod ask me to drive him part-way home after a two-day field day at Warrion, on the east side of Lake Corangamite, near Colac.  We were driving down a narrow lane (road), covered in fine gravel. Rod settled back with his copy of the  Age newspaper that had not been opened till then. The message was clear, if not verabalised as such, don't talk unless I speak to you; I expect you to drive in a manner that allows me to enjoy my reading, and so on. There was a very sharp left then right curve ahead, the only wriggle in what was a straight road. The loose road surface had over time moved first towards the right side of the road, then the other; a surface not to be flippant about. I was enjoying this lane-way driving when all of a sudden I was not slowing fast enough coming towards this zigzag. The tail of the FJ flipped around, the Age crunched into the lap and then somehow I had control again. Nothing was said – words weren't needed. The Rod Kefford look I received said it all and a rookie staff member squirmed, checked the speedo and eased off the speed till a change over of drivers was called closer to Geelong.

● In the Spring of 1957, two car loads of Branch members were touring the South West from Terang to Portland with field reps of the food processor, Birds Eye. We pulled into Warrnambool for the first night to the pub of that name. We all needed to shared a room, but when it came to the last two Branch members, Rod Kefford and Snr Vegetable Adviser, Tom Farmilo, all the rooms had been allotted except for the Bridal suite, complete with double bed. Nobody, but nobody dared to say a word or crack a smile, well at least in public!  Late the next day we took the back roads home to Glenormiston. We came to a tee intersection and stopped. Driver Jack Collyer asked Rod, “right or left?”. A pause then Rod said, “turn left”. A moment or so later we were driving through a small hamlet with a house here and another there and another with the words Post Office.  There was an old red telephone box out front and that was about it! Rod asked for Jack to pull over on the three-chain road reservation, looked all around him and said, “no wonder I couldn't find this place on a night-time air-navigation course!” Apparently the RAAF pilot or the OIC had asked Rod what town were they flying over at that moment.

Rod was relaxed and in a talking mood so we felt free to add our own comments to his honest disclosure – well, not me, I was still the new kid on the block!

●When Rod visited Glenormiston, matters moved quickly. For example, if Rod wanted to see a trend in some trial results before he left, then we would sit side by side for some rapid mental arithmetic adding columns of figures. It was as much a game for Rod as to seeing a trend through some of the results. Rod wanted to see if this new kid could (almost) match him in the task, while making it clear that this senior officer could set a standard for any member of his Branch team to follow, well … for certain Branch members! It could be said that Advisory group in the Branch (former farmers) did not always see eye to eye with those in research and vice versa.  On the matter of mental arithmetic with Rod, I learnt to be quick, but always just that tad behind my boss.


●When Rod Kefford was appointed Secretary to the Victoria Market Royal Commission, that was pretty much the end of my contact with him at Branch level for a while. There was this 12 month gap when I did not have any contact with him at all.  In time, acting Branch Head Peter Smith moved on to PRI Burnley, his long-term goal and Mike Kinsella came on board briefly before leave-of-absence for a Masters study at the University of Davis, California. Rod was back in the chair in September 1962, to confirm my transfer to Scoresby HRS. I do not recall the date/month when he received his promotion to Principal Executive Officer


Scoresby Research Station later to be known as Institute for Horticulture Science, Knoxfield:

●Scoresby was the home to a number of characters and their personal stories abound. Peter Mitchell was perhaps the hardest person to really get to know, even though we shared office space. He was a talented, focused researcher, who could be seen as a loner if you did not get to know or understand him.  Peter would arrive at work in the warmer months often before sun up, sometimes in his Holden, but more often on his bike all the way from Croydon. He could be found before dawn, torch in hand, shifting irrigation hoses in his peach experiments. Or, he may be bailing out the Lysimeters he had throughout his trials – a two gallon plastic bucket trailing behind him on a piece of string. The bucket use to bounce behind him into his office, where he placed the end of the string from his pocket to the desk top, like hitching a dog to a post. Nobody would knowingly dare move that bucket.

It was not unusual for a message to come from the Accounts Branch, asking for Peter to cash his pay cheques. Sometimes they had in time, simply fallen behind the dresser at home, to be forgotten.

People had to get to know Peter and when they did, their respect of him grew. Peter was never known as a classy dresser – why should he when most of his time was hands-on field research.  Going to Burnley to deliver a student lecture meant leaving the soil for a short while to return later. On one occasion, Peter faced some students who found it hard to believe this was to be a serious lecture, when he shuffled in wearing slippers and an undone fly! They soon learnt this was not only a serious lecture, but also who was in control.

When he transferred to Tatura Horticultural Research Station, he was their gain and our loss, but I'm sure, a great asset to the Goulburn Valley Fruit industry.


●The late George Tindale (read also the George Tindale Garden, Sherbrooke), was perhaps the father of serious cool storage studies in Australia. In the days before Scoresby, George and others had their research pad within the old Government Cools Stores on Victoria Dock. Moving in 1956 to the new refrigerated Sir George Knox Laboratories research complex at Scoresby, was a giant step forward for pre- and post-harvest research. He was joined in this work by Ian Peggie and Colin Little.

At one time, this not so young and single man took his annual leave and surprised everyone by returning with a wife. Even greater the surprise when his new wife turned out to be much-loved graphic artist Ruth Adam, who was based in HO. Ruth out-lived George and their beautiful garden started in 1958 is now in the care of Parks Victoria. Rod Cantrill formerly of Garden Advisory Service, Burnley and his wife are some of the dedicated carers of this gem today.


●David L Jones, writer and also researcher in fruit, berries and ornamentals, had, along with his wife Barbara, a passion Australian flora and fauna. David's idea of annual leave was to go bush, deep into the rain forests of East Gippsland, researching, finding and naming new plant species.  He left Knoxfield for the Botanical Gardens, Canberra and to continue his research for new books. Today, the blue berry industry in Australia owes much of its beginning and success to David's research at Knoxfield.

●Cheryl Finger was employed as a technical assistant to the new Manger At Scoresby, Richard Rowe. Dick Rowe's main field of research at the time was in water-logging of peaches. He had these large mist tanks in a glasshouse from which Cheryl would harvest some of the peach roots under direction, for gas chromatography studies.  As Dick's management tasks increased over time, he passed much of the day to day research over to David Jones. Not long after, the toxic fowl manure project arrived and David and myself (John Sutherland) joined forces. Cheryl's technical support came into the project and later this team was expanded to include two Chemists from SCL.

We worked well as a threesome, but then there came a time when I thought three was a crowd, so I married Cheryl and six months later she resigned. Today we are grandparents. I still joke over how we met over, well – the subject was chook manure!


●Office and lab space was always a problem at Scoresby until the new two story building was built, but that was long after my move into Melbourne. One aspect of that building I am pleased about were the design changes I drew up to the early plans, which were accepted by the PWD. It was built with these changes and have added to the comfort of the staff in the warmer months.

Our Admin officer at Scoresby, Syd Hayes, was a great scrounger of second hand furniture and other materials in PWD store. These items helped the budget as they were only a note of transfer for the station. Believe it or not, one such item was a desk that was once designed for former State Premier, Henry Bolte, complete with secret push button used by Henry to signal staff in the outside office when he had finished a meeting. Fergus, Richard Rowe and others each used the desk at some time, but refrained from using a secret message system.

Time has moved on and the metro area has long since passed the Institute that was once a lunch expense claim away from HO. Gone are the fruit and vegie farms that once led research at the post World War 2 research centre. Soon, memories will be the only things to remain with the imminent closure of the Institute. Stories that cannot be told here will remain, but even they will fade with time.


Queen Street & Wellington Pde:

●One memory I will always carry with me was the decision I made on the day before the Great Bookie Robbery, to work at home next day to complete some reports instead of the Queen Street office.  The Divisions of Agriculture, Dairying and Horticulture were spread over the top floors of the Victoria Club Building. The old two story building with its very high ceilings, had new floors added in 1956 and the Department had the top three floors.  The fire escape stairs around the lifts were like any other building until one reached the Victoria Club section. I think from memory there was a double circuit around the lift shaft for both floors, due to the high ceilings already mentioned.

The lifts for the new section were slow and unreliable. Lunch time required patience if you wanted to go out. I would take to the stairs rather than wait and would delight in reaching ground floor before any lift. I had learnt in my previous employment to run up and down stairs taking great leaps. Going down was easier and I could at great speed, leap down across five or six steps. It was all about speed, a good eye and confidence.

As I said, I did this at lunch time and that was about the time the armed Gang broke into the Victoria Club from that very stairwell. I have wondered what would have happened if the Gang had suddenly been confronted by the high speed maniac charging around a corner just metres away?

●I was asked to take Rusty Steel, one of our photographers, to the Goulburn Valley to get some action shots of machine harvesting of processing tomatoes. It was a successful day and one colored photo became the cover picture on a future issue of the Journal of Agriculture.  There was one problem next day. Rusty had somewhere on our travels, lost a very expensive telephoto lens. We can only work it out that he must have placed it at the base of a tree in a paddock, but even Rusty could not be sure of that.  There were heaps of casual workers on these machines, so any one could have picked it up. I believe there may have been some thought at one time that I still had it in my posession.


●Mike Kinsella once went to the roof of 166 Wellington Pde to view construction progress of 176 next door which had reached equal height with 166. But he found the door to the stairwell had locked behind him when he had stepped out onto the roof. Trapped!   It was a good story he had to share later about how he legged over the wall onto the roof of 176 and of the stares he had at his blue suit and no safety helmet, as he made his way slowly down to the footpath outside of 176.

●The Department moved into 166 Wellington Pde in stages as Divisional floors were fitted out. Horticulture Division was one of the first. Before the fit-out had been finished, we had experienced fire and flood and so we were waiting for famine next, like in a heavy cut to the next budget.  The small fire was caused by a worker on the second floor who lit a cigarette while using a solvent. The flood came after a four inch supply main burst in a service shaft next to the lifts. It burst above an air conditioning duct between the seventh and eighth floors, which then carried the water to the centre of the building, before soaking over the weekend through each floor through to the lower car park basement.  Carpet, furniture, papers were ruined. Floors needed to be stripped and refitted with new carpet. That meant we were moved around the building while this work was done.

I remember arriving at work with Mike Kinsella on that Monday morning, finding water in the foyer and the lifts out of action. Walking up the stairs we opened the door to our floor and I found I needed to walk on my heels to get to my desk. As it would be, my desk escaped the water deluge; others near by did not.



●There was a vegie Adviser who was helping a grower calibrate his spray rig some time in the sixties, when all of a sudden, a very potent insecticide was spilled on him in some way. The story is that there was a sudden dust trail between the spray rig and the nearest flowing irrigation channel. He was a good swimmer even in all of his clothes.

●Another extension and seed certification officer was renowned for being exact. Once he was known to have swum across a local river, tape measure between his teeth, to work out if there was the minimum distance between like crops.  This letter of the law approach soon led to a transfer to the other end of the State. Even the local Member's farming families can have influence in the right quarters.

●At my first Branch Conference, a Divisional senior revealed in answer to a question, how he handled one piece of red-tape in his country based years. In the story he relayed, he said that he wanted to travel over the State border in the course of his duty. So, he sent a telegram to HO requesting approval to the travel.  Knowing, in those days, a refusal would be certain, he sent another telegram after a delay, knowing that the first message would still being processed within the HO system. The second message went something like this; “... as I have not heard from you, I presume that approval is given. Am leaving now for … and will be away from my office till ...”. M'mm. Didn't stop promotion in later years into senior positions!

●The first combined Conference of the former Vegetable and Potato Branches was held at Warburton in 1983. There were Officers present from other sections of the Department. For me there was one special memory I can share.  Pathologist Dave Harrison, we were told, was about to return from the International Potato Research Centre in Peru and we were very much in anticipation for his update. A couple of days went by – no Dave.  Then Dave walked through the door and the mood of the room changed. All of a sudden, the dry, drawling voice of George Duncan spoke above the chatter with perfect timing, “Where's your Yak ... Dave?” The result was this uproar of laughter. Dave took it in his stride.





Bob Taylor 1950 - 1986 writes:




B Agr Sc Melbourne 1946-50

Plant pathologist, Biology Branch (PRI) 1950-

Principal Plant Pathologist Victorian Plant Research Institute 1969

Chief Biologist, VPRI 1975

Assistant Director D of A 1975-86 (Plant Services Corporate Planning, etc)

General Manager, Corporate Service, Health Commission Vic 1985

Consultant to horticultural industries 1987-2002




                         Then will he strip his sleeves and show his scars

                         And say “These wounds I had on “Crispin’s day”

                         Old men forget; but all shall be forgot,

                         But he’ll remember with advantages

                         What feats he did that day”.

                         (King Henry 5.)




Given the period of interest (1945 to 1996), what was the time span of your career? What were the major issues during that time?


1945, the start of a new era. Although WW2 and the depression cast long shadows a new generation backed by many who had learnt fast in the forces and were looking for a new challenge were an inspiration to non ex-service students. One, the late Lex Goudie who helped start up Tatura RS was a bomber pilot who had a “rather opinionated” Gough Whitlam in his crew. I was one of 3 non ex-service in the 1946 Ag Sc intake. Sadly, now the last one standing.

The Department already had a solid reputation in regulatory work and, field research and experienced staff who were willing and motivated to mentor the rapid build up of new staff in the next 20 years.

We should pay homage to those who fought, for example Phylloxera of grape, rust and smuts of wheat and “Pleuro” phenomena of cattle. They were dedicated to sound field inspectorial activity and experimentation based on the Rothamsted statistical methodology.  They were ably supported by service divisions such as the Biology Branch (disease and pests) and The State Chemical Laboratory (soil surveys and analysis).

In particular I mention George Tindale the lone cool storage expert. He was later joined by Ian Peggie and others to develop controlled atmosphere storage of fruit which has had a major impact on extension of the quality fruit season.  A visit to the Tindale Gardens, George’s gift to Victoria in the Dandenongs, is worth while.

Accommodation was primitive and equipment minimal. Thus field work was the order of the day and this built good relationships with the farming communities and fellow district staff. The local knowledge and help of inspectorial district staff was a feature of the early times.

The parochial attitudes of the States was beyond belief.  Permission from higher up to travel over state boarders typified this. However at the borders this was often honoured in the breach, both ways.

Travel was by train and taxi hence slow and tedious. The advent of ‘private mileage’ and the gradual provision of cars, utes etc was a step towards rapid efficient transit.

Adequate equipment was slow coming, but by 1964 the Plant Research Institute at Burnley Gardens installed the first electron microscope in any State Department in Australia. There were only 5 in Melbourne. Such changes were to rapidly accelerate across the whole organisation. We no longer perceived ourselves to be second rate scientists.

Firstly, the CESG funds fostered by senior agricultural scientists and John McQueen, Deputy Prime Minister (Country Party) and secondly, later the joint Commonwealth & industry RIRF funds changed the State Agriculture Departments to well equipped services with a powerful blend of Extension, Regulatory and Research which compared favourably to the more limited services of CSIRO and Universities. The Veterinary staff in turn benefited greatly by its strong Regulatory and Research build up based on such activities via Commonwealth  funding for the historically amazing success of TB and Brucellosis eradication.  

Overseas travel was rare until a few broke the mould via Commonwealth Scholarships, Nuffield Awards etc. The benefits gradually were appreciated.

The Sabbatical leave of colleagues in the Universities was envied.  All barriers to be overcome and the challenge met by upward pressure and supportive leadership.

CSIR (CSIRO) was also envied, but it was proved to be the excellent yard stick many measured themselves by and often cooperated with increasingly over the years.

The ongoing argument between the Agrostologists who followed the official super phosphate policy and one man, HAJ Pittman who was known as “super and lime Pittman” was an interesting and public affair. “Pitto” was “confined to barracks” at PRI Burnley for his pains.  In retrospect I believe that on acid sands eg. Inverloch area Pittman had a point. Acidification of soils by our fertilisation practices and ley farming which were for years a great success, but   in the long term caught up with us and resulted in a reappraisal of our farming systems.

The move from traditional interstate parochial quarantine inspectorial measures to science based quarantine; (now called Biocontrol) was a long, emotional and tedious process.  It was typified by the fruit fly saga which for years was based on border inspection of a flying pest!  Mike Kinsella won the battle by the process of early detection and on site outbreak control based by the biological studies of Geoff O’Loughlin.

Locusts were a different proposition and Tom Hogan, Head of Entomology at PRI was a major player in the establishment of the Australian Plague Locust Commission. The transfer of staff from PRI for weeks of aerial spraying sites was frequent. (To Hay Hell and Booligal and home for the Xmas party. ) Finally science prevailed and studies of the biology and breeding habits of the pest plus strategic spraying of egg beds in the outback has met most challenges to date, but 2010 indicates we cannot be complacent.

The greatest issue of my times was the “pesticide transition” from the era of “squirt gun” pest and disease control to the present more sustainable methodology based on integrated pest control, and computerised on farm warning systems was based on a long years of biological of research. This commenced early in the era of this history. The first success was with the wasp predators of red scale of citrus which was endemic and all citrus fruit was wet brushed to remove scale before sale. The only alternative was tenting trees and fumigation with cyanide.  Rupert Johnson who did the early work was legendry for taking a breath and inspecting the Cyanide bombs under the tent Sadly Rupert has long since gone - Died at 90+.  The predatory wasps, imported from California, were bred at Irymple in a so called insectary ie. a shed. This led to the establishment of the HRS Irymple which serviced the Sunraysia area often in cooperation with  the CSIRO Merbein, which was founded and led until 1951 by Bill Lyons a local High School Teacher, and interestingly just predated CSIR.  Bill always called me “Gracies boy” ( My Aunty Grace was  a one time  girlfriend of Bill).  I gave my first grower talk at Bill’s retirement field day.  He researched Black spot of grapes unsuccessfully in 1916 with the brilliant Charles Brittlebank of the Biology Branch.  In 1950-53 with the assistance of the new fungicides then available the disease was eliminated. More recently climate change has kept up the good work. Pliny was the first who wrote about this disease.  It is ironic that much of the technology which underpinned the wine boom of recent times resulted from the Soldier Settlement driven earlier research on dried fruit; the poor cousin of the grape industry.

After WW2 we thought we were in a golden era where, cometh the pest, cometh the new pesticide controls.  A golden era for aspiring Plant Pathologists:- wet years, lots of fungal diseases and previously unheard of control materials.  Then the health hazards and the persistence of such materials as DDT and Dieldrin in the soil and water environment became common knowledge. An extremely difficult mind set had to be negotiated personally and organisationally by people like me who had built a reputation to a large extent on the magic chemical disease control provided by chemicals many of which were soon to be banned on health and environmental grounds.  Finally the Dieldrin legal action against the DSE (settled out of court) had a major adverse influence on the ability of the organisation to make recommendations, much to the chagrin of those we felt we served.  As an expert witness I knew that this court action had the potential to impact severely on the funding of my old organisation for the long term.  The timely OH&S programme led by the Don Matthews of State Laboratories was very helpful in this case.

An unspoken policy of the Horticultural Division was that we did not work on the wine industry (the four penny dark days) or the city based nursery industry, (hence the irony mentioned above).  The wine industry was yet to re-emerge from phylloxera and the nursery industry was “not quite” agriculture.  At that time Rutherglen had only 700 acres of wine grapes left of the 30,000 of its glory days.

Don’t forget the rabbits, (Agronomy), salinity (Gyn Jones), the droughts( District staff) and the bushfires (particularly the tasks of Vets.) 


What was the Department like when you joined. What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

The Public Service and its limited vision lagged behind the science based staff, many of whom never saw themselves as Public Servants but as scientists who served the interests of Victorian agriculture. As Sir Ron East of the SR&WSC observed “you can have the PSB or you can have good management but you can’t have both”.  Fortunately the D of A attracted many good Administrative people who did their best to handle an unwieldy administrative system. The Brand Report ca. 1975 was a turning point for the admin. staff who from then on often had tertiary qualifications.  In saying this I do not intend to demean the solid core of admin. officers who had come up the hard way and knew the Public Service game far better than scientists. They all knew “The Act” - a document that most scientists have never even opened. The one piece that I can quote is “the Crown is vicariously liable for the torts of its servants”.  Comforting in later years when litigation became more frequent.

I name one Administrative officer, the quintessence of the old timers group.  Bill Young an ex-navy man was our admin. member of the Directorate.  Experienced but with no legal qualifications, he was known as one of the best lawyers in the service and was widely consulted by legal and regulatory sections of the Service and was at times co-opted to the PSB.  He steered the Department though the “Kangaroo meat” Royal Commission. I well remember his instruction to Brian Williams, Head of Administration the afternoon the scandal broke. “Lock all the meat inspection files and bring me the keys”.  His trust in the Department was underlined for me when I had the priveledge of sitting next to the Royal Commission Sir Edward Woodward for an evening dinner. We talked about expert witnesses and the meat scandal. To my great satisfaction he said to me: “Your department was one of the few that came out of that one without a blemish.”  In passing I add, he had a very low opinion of expert witnesses.


In the 1970’s a career path for scientists was won after a long battle with the PSB to bring Department scientists more in line with CSIRO. Otherwise good scientists could find themselves as frustrated administrators in their efforts to get reasonable salaries.

Our early days were the last era of the Mandarins. It was said of our Director of my early times that Hubie Mullet was not a member of the (national) Standing Committee on Agriculture, he was the Standing Committee. To us new boys he was a remote figure up there somewhere close to God.

Stan Fish the Chief Biologist of the Plant Research Institute for 36 years was much loved as a visionary administrator.  He often remarked that he got his early promotion to the position because his betters did nor return from WW1.  No proposition was too large for him to contemplate in his quiet retiring way. He had a great belief in scientists finding their own niches. This laissez faire attitude was a feature of much early research in all organisations of the day.  However it encouraged much mentoring of new staff by their seniors and most of those of us left now believe it was superior to formal education.  

 There was a change for the better though when induction programs and in-service      

 training became the order of the day.

The Universities recognised the quality of departmental research by granting   external M Agr Sc’s and DSc’s. However this did nor apply to PhDs (money in them for professors!) When Lionel Stubbs became Professor of Agriculture we arranged for some of his old colleagues to go back as mature Ph D students; to the advantage of both organisations. His colleague Professor Derek Tribe had similar arrangements for the animal industries.  Both were always closely associated with their mature students who were all long above PhD status and they must be remembered for this.

It is difficult to select people who had a major influence to me; many were contemporaries or loyal team members, however Lionel Stubbs stands out.  He recruited me when I was on a vacation job as a temporary bean inspector and mentored me for the rest of our long association. He was perfectionist who always had a new hypothesis on his current project, often discarded on a weekly basis. He had contacts world wide and his trip to California in 1966-7 resulted in our long term relationship with Californians to the benefit of both parties. In particular his work on the eradication of the seed borne lettuce mosaic virus in Swan Hill crops led to an export industry to Californian markets. The return visit of Ray Grogan from UC Davis in 1969 who supported the lettuce work and helped sell it to Yates Seeds played a significant part that helped this venture   Ray’s visit was also a high point in my career as we worked together on tomato diseases. This led to my work in California in1962-63. A high point for both of us which further cemented our relationship.

Three Californians also had a major influence on my career then were:

Professor Ken Baker of UC Berkerley who authored Manual 22 “The UC System for Producing Healthy Container Grown Plants” This remains the largest selling manual of the UC.  He had to fight the UC to get it published (Too popular) and also to retain the long title.  This manual changed the nursery industry world wide and particularly in Australia where Baker was the hero of our nursery industry. The Australian industry arranged another print run of his book. As Baker wrote “The mind is like a parachute .It functions best when it is open”

This era also saw the change to Baker “steam air sterilisation technique of nursery soi” that was introduced even ahead of the US in Australia. This led to soil-less mixes based on composted pine bark’ again led in Australia by David Nichols and David Beardsell of HRS Knoxfield. This solved the soil depletion problem and helped to establish the composting company Debco.

Professor Ray Grogan, as mentioned above, who introduced me to electron microscopy and serology of plant viruses. His dictum was “to be successful in research you needed five irons in the fire, every now and again one runs hot.  Then you take it out and beat the Christ out of it”.

Professor Bill Hewitt who was the dominant scientist in the field of grape virology world wide for 40 years. In that era the CSIRO and the D of A imported  over 400 elite varieties of grapevine which fortuitously coincided with the boom in wine grapes.

The basis of this work was to subject plants to near death heat and propagate from tips. A tedious process calling for much week end work. My daughter when asked what  did your Dad do said, “He waters plants at Burnley.”

Rod Kefford, Deputy Director in particular but all the members of the assertive Directorate of 19785-85 (led by Dave Wishart) had a vital influence on my management development.

Rod was a restless, relentless change merchant His character was epitomised by his common comment  “the courage to confront for the  constructive resolution of conflict”. He certainly was capable of this [confronting]. To me he was a kind and sincere friend and mentor who aimed to have the Department become the most progressively managed of all government Departments. Our friendship went back to the Dookie days and ended with his death in 1986.

He helped me often but particularly by supporting my inclusion in course 50 at the Australian Administrative Staff College, Mt Eliza. An example of the foresight and generosity of the Keffords of our Department and such QUANGOS as the SR&WSC & SEC.

Bob Jardine our remarkable statistician, guru on management philosophy and just about everything else was a major influence on all of us. His immortal  minute to Kefford and me  regarding the Directorate’s latest reorganisation  should be recorded. (see Gallery). He wrote in his usual terse and clear words “I have never underrated the ability of the Directorate of this Department to stuff things up, but this time you have done it for fair”. Luckily we heeded him.

Another example- when the Agricultural Education Division requested Jardine as the one man committee on Calculating Machines to provide a calculator for every student, he minuted to Dave Wishart, the Director at that time “I think someone, perhaps the Director, should tell this Division to stop writing bullshit”. Eventually that minute was enjoyed by Gilbert Chandler our Minister and Sir Henry Bolte. Different times different days; it was not regarded as “cabinet in confidence”!  Jardine had grown up with the development of the Computer and was perhaps the only Public Servant in Victoria who could understand the maths involved.

 My tenacious collaborator Hamish Russell deserves a mention as the first Public      Servant of the times to get a PhD in Communications. This led to the documentation of the work of the Department in an unwieldy system VAMIS (Victorian Agricultural Management System)   but it was outstanding in that it was the first of such an attempt in the Public Service. Again Jardine was an advisor and stern critic. Staff at the coal face found it something of an imposition and it was referred to as the “infamis vamis” or vamoose. But pioneers are not necessarily folk heroes.

My long term mate from Dookie days was Lindsay Cozens who presented as a perpetually perplexed manager. This was a mask for his next difficult question. In response I once asked him to define politics. His one word answer was “Vote’s “    Sadly I am sure he died wondering. He and his ever  sharp compatriot, economist Harry White (Lindsay flew bombers, Harry Spitfires-a metaphor for the two of them) together gathered a team of economists which was widely seen as the best team in Australia. They certainly challenged the scientific persuasions in such areas as the economics of production and marketing, the benefits and dis-benefits of irrigation and many such complex areas. Many of the economists went on to significants appointments.. For example - Mike Taylor as Head of two Commonwealth departments and Professor Julian Alston, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics - University of California, Davis. David McKinna who established the “Fresh concept for Safeways.

  That just to names a few.

Much of the management changes of later the later part of this era followed the report of Lord Rothschild of the UK on Relevant Research epitomised by his credo “He who pays the piper calls the tune”.                  

This change which was vigorously opposed in the UK and elsewhere was highly contentious. However that was long ago. My own judgement is that it all went too far and in the long run tended to favour the mundane and inhibit brilliant freelance scientific pioneers. Set milestones, the order of the day now, tend to inhibit the explorations of the roads less travelled by the greats of science. On the other hand they are a guide to those who work on more immediate problems and may have served applied research reasonably well.

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

What approach, ethos or philosophy did you aim to employ in your work and to foster in others?

The Department was our calling as Agricultural Scientists based on the quotation by our Professor of Agricultures Sam Wadham (from Johnathan Swift 1667- 1785). “ And he gave it as his opinion, that whoever could make two blades of corn to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together”.

This sums up our early ethos. Our clients were the farming community and allied industries by definition. And our objective and prime ethos was clear cut.

However the flip side is that many of our activities were so successful that in the short term they produced gluts and considerable need for difficult industry readjustment. The need for marketing was highlighted by economists such as David McKinna a highly successful marketer who as a consultant later introduced the “Fresh” concept to Safe ways (Woolworths).  Later “if you cant sell it don’t grow it’ summed up the philosophy of many who had once been hard nosed technocrats.

Furthermore we did not necessarily have sustainability and environmental issues explicitly built into our objectives. However the rabbit and other plagues and the effects of floods, droughts and bushfires on our environment were seared into our souls. Weep for the vets who had to shoot and bury all those sheep! Such facts are often over looked by our city critics who know little about those we served. I also remember my colleague Bob Brown who when asked to report the results of his year’s field work said, sadly, “The mice ate my plots.”

As the years went by the need for greater sustainability was accepted - hence the work on salinity and farm forestry etc. The introduction of laser levelling and water recycling of irrigation agriculture was an outstanding development. 

It is timely to recall that in the early 1980’s. A team of [the Departments of] Agriculture, Health, The Dandenong Water Authority and Fairfield Hospital successfully studied water reuse under the auspices of the Recycled Water Committee. As I recall it the main outcome at the time was that Rosebud golf club used recycled water from the S E Outfall sewer!

In the main we saw the department as our job for life. This engendered a spirit of fellowship and membership of a team.

The dangers of the “job for life and superannuation to follow” concept was very much alleviated by the team spirit of our Divisions and an internally competitive rivalry both between divisions and externally with organisations such as CSIRO and ultimately, as overseas visits and educational opportunities arose with our global connections.

The pride in “knowing the literature” was a strong element in our development. A prime example was our great crops Agronomist, Harry Sims who was a world authority on the grain  industry. “And still their wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew.”

The days of the great single researcher were fading, although there were a few who were effective lone workers. One was C R Millikan who researched the effects of trace element deficiency in crops and discovered the negative impact of Zinc deficiency in Wimmera soils. However the breadth of many projects led to a team approach within the Department and with CSIRO and other states.

In my own case I was lucky enough to work with an excellent Plant Pathology team at the University of California and on return home to cooperate with all other states on the introduction of new technology in virology: now completely out dated since the advent of molecular biology and the wondrous DNA. The impact of molecular biology and in particular on younger scientists turning to it in droves was a great concern to older general practitioners like me. We took great pride in the art and science of diagnosis particularly by field observation. In the event we were more wrong than right.

Agriculture was a travelling life and the value of long car trips with colleagues which build close friendships and knowledge exchange.

One of my greatest pleasures was to be mentored by more senior staff and in turn mentor younger staff and to see them grow in their science and take over increasing responsibilities often in senior management. In particular the intake of about 20 new graduates in 1983 and the appointment of two capable senior supervisors for each one with the instruction that we wanted the best part of a Masters degree from them in their first year and the later successful careers of most of them stands as one of my proudest achievements.

The leadership of the Department in  others in areas which fostered  staff development not only in disciplines but in the art of management. This engendered cohesion across disciplines and across Divisions. This cooperation was apparent in the Plant Divisions. For example the development of Clean Planting Stock Certification schemes was driven bottom up but executed with great top down support at all  levels by Plant Research Laboratory and the Horticulture Division.

This was more common as the years went by.  The feeling that our superiors were comrades in arms was a morale boosting feature and gave unspoken support for younger  officers to take calculated risks in their work knowing that they worked in a forgiving climate where information was rarely not shared.

This attitude was not necessarily always the case in the early years as there was elements of typical public service micro managing in some areas of the department in my early years. I note one nameless senior manager who rang up country research stations, often daily, to check on the cropping research program.

However the freedom to be critical but loyal summed up the attitude of many of us.

This freedom tended to arrogance which as the political climate changed finally was the undoing of the Department of which my contemporaries and I were so proud.

What did you see as different or unique about the Department, compared with your experiences with other organisations?

Principally, the close knit nature of the staff and their pride in their organisation. This lingers in the number who have kept in contact and participate in reunions and I imagine exercises such as this History.

 The attention to staff development. I was appalled when I went to the Health Department to find they had no specific staff development budget. At that time Agriculture had a budget of over one $ million. This did not include the overseas experiences paid for from industry funds and by overseas organisations.

 The professionalism both in normal activities of all staff but more particularly in management which was seen as a type of human science and research.

 The long hours committed to travel - early starts, late finishes.

I rest my case.

What were the key challenges and opportunities you faced – and saw the Department as facing?

Relevance to industry was an issue in research. We were essentially an applied science organisation and the demarcation between basic and applied research was debatable both for the person and the organisation.

In later years the commercialisation of research was an issue. The department staff thought they had many areas of work which would make money. A government “Biotechnology Committee”  sorted through hundreds of proposals and ended with about ten prospects. McKinsey Consultants repeated the exercise and at great expense  arrived at the same conclusion. Two projects from the Department were selected for state seed funding . As a consultant after I left the public service I worked on both of them. The result was the excellent canola breeding project and the interesting Calgene project. The latter the only private GM project in Australia. This company sought to breed a blue rose and failed .A more or less blue carnation was bred but by then carnations were out of fashion. Both of these projects attracted international funding : the French firm Limogrin for canola and the Japanese Suntory took aver Calgene.

(NOTE This story should be checked with Phillip Sailsbury of Crops research Horsham as my facts are pretty  fuzzy about much of the above. John Raff a brilliant scientist once of HRI Knoxfield now a director of the pharmaceutical company Starpharma (and others) should also be consulted, He was on the above committee with me and knows others involvcd. Mike Dalling ex department was CEO of Calgene This is a good story and should be included as is about the interface between our work and commercial reality. An opportunity that arose relatively late in our present story.)


The greatest challenge in my mind was to manage the interface between us and them i.e. the public servants and the politicians. This became an increasing issue world wide after such events as Lord Rothschild’s report. Who was the piper and who called the tune? 


 Coping with the Public Service Board and the associated ethos was always a challenge but in retrospect and after more experience with other organisations, it’s all about the individual. [Among] managements and overall cultures – ours was not too bad.

The problem of holding good staff and promoting the best was overcome by Dave Wishart’s initiative to do away with promoting on seniority. Unbelievably this did not occur until 1969.  I know because I was used as the first attempt much to my gratification. He took a hell of a chance. I will leave it to others to talk about him. All  I will say is that I have much to thank him for he was a decisive and a very caring leader at the personal level.                                                                      

How did the political environment of the time affect your work?

My first exposure to the political side of things was in my first year when Stan Fish called me in and said the sultana growers at Swan Hill have trouble with an outbreak of  a disease called Black Spot. He told me what he knew about it and said catch tomorrow’s train and talk to the local fruit inspector. This was a surprise as I thought I was a budding bacteriologist not a mycologist. I went to Swan Hill met Blackie Broom who explained that the local Country Party member Peter Byrnes was pretty influential, and so I became a mycologist and my life among the vines was set for years.

At that time the politicians saw to it that we responded to the needs of the farmers, particularly to soldier settlers, so I had no problems. After all I was being paid and was on an expenses allowance; life was good. My background was on a peasant farm after all.

For many years we had Ministers such as Gilbert Chandler who was powerful in the Parliament and a person who was a father figure and who seemed to know us all by first names. From a nursery and flower growing family, he did much to foster an interest in ornamental horticulture but always in an even handed way. He helped us by attending the meeting to set up an industry funded project for flower growers. 

Tom Austin was similar in his approach and we did not hold him as responsible for his forbears introducing rabbits. After all he was a fine shot and on occasions brought unplucked ducks in for the directorate in his satchel.

We saw these men as friends of the Directors of the times and part of the Department.

Things commenced to change when Ian Smith became Minister; the last of the liberals in my time.  He was the example of the new breed of movers and shakers and saw himself as the chairman of directors who was elected by the people. Early he clashed with Dave Wishart and their relationship was often an uneasy one. He heralded the end of the Mandarin era.

However by and large he related well to the Directorate and held informal weekly meetings with us. When he backed an idea he fostered its delivery. His was quick to detect agendas of those who lobbied him in various devious ways. In tight corners he backed his officers and surrounded himself with his officers as necessary: [a ploy] referred to by one prominent ex politician as “the jury”. His obviously different personality from that of the then premier, Dick Hamer, probably did him no favours. Personally I got on with him well and he gave me considerable backing in ventures such as the production of Agnotes and I would opine that he improved my work.

The next minister Eric Kent was a true Labor party bushie. A likable bloke, he was probably better understood by the Department than his party colleagues; mainly city types. Then we were confronted for the first time by ministerial advisers who were seen as spies by many of us and many were detested. For the first time the department was overtly politicised and this was the start of the end for many of us.  A divide and conquer exercise ensued with  David Smith, Director General, being seconded to the TAFE system and two other seconded to The Health Commission  and Alpine resorts. (Me and Jim MacLaughlin) .

This device was legitimised by the PSB which introduced the Senior Executive Service -an arrangement whereby senior managers we seen to be able to manage anything and were moved around for political reasons. In fact this proved to be right in some cases but it was disruptive to those who that gave and those that took. Hence the politicians could manipulate the entrenched Departmental structures. In my case I was thanked by the Minister of Health  for a job well done .Then I promptly resigned on the day that 55 year

old retirement was introduced. I was 57 and then had a very satisfying time again serving the industries I had served in the glory days. A not uncommon experience. 


Who were the key industry leaders you regard as important in your era?

Henry Tankard IS. Long term president of thee Australian Dried Fruits Association.  Note the first Australian body of its type, completely supportive of the department and

still the largest grower of currants in the world. An international figure and described by John Kerin as the best industry leader he dealt with.

Richard Johnstone, Henry’s hard man. A Director of the Mildura Co-op. He lectured me on the economics of the Dried Fruit Industry, We exchange letters each Christmas when he fills me in at length about Sunraysia.

Dick Wall once owner of Floriana nursery - (Now a development site) and President of the Victorian Nursery Association.  We met in1956 and both had a life time passion to grow healthy plants.  I was on his Board for 12 years post the Department.

Charlie Fryer operated the, “closest to the Town Hall”, primary Industry in Victoria at his highly efficient miniscule nursery at Hawthorn.  He worked with me and led the move to soil sterilisation by steam in Australia and on the resulting ammonium toxicity problem.

This work attracted the attention of Professor Ken Baker of UC and Charlie was the first to adopt his UC nursery system in Australia, rapidly followed by the progressives in all States. Charlie was the long term Treasurer of the Nurserymen’s Association where the account books were immaculate.  Charlie’s motto was “plant 100 seeds, sell 100 plants”. This was at a time when losses in seedling nurseries were often above 50% due to root rot fungi infections.

Bryan Tonkin, flower grower whose keen observations helped us to solve the major world tulip virus problem.

This list could go on and on but I think I have selected some good examples, the best.

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

Obviously the running start I got with my Black Spot work was a great stimulus to go further. I was the sole Pathologist working on grape diseases in Australia so further recognition was easily obtained.  Like most of the PRL entomologists and pathologists we tended too become generalists with a speciality. Such an example was Jack Meagher who worked on wheat root fungi rots but after a period of training at Rothamsted and Wageningen became a Nematologist who uncovered the biology of the cereal cyst nematode and with his colleague Bob Brown made the wheat industry much more profitable in light soils areas.  His small nematology team was a role model for others. Such groups led by Dave Morris and Peter Jenkins on fruit pests and diseases were an inspiration for many who followed on.   Jack ended his career as Chair of the International Potato Centre and then Chair of Chairs of The International Research Centres.

A later person of international importance was Ian Porter of HRI Knoxfield who was for a time Chair of the International Ozone Technical Committee. (NB Check with Ian for correct details)

A project that I thought was outstanding was the replacement of Hunter River Lucerne, the sole Australian variety, with Californian resistant varieties when the Alfalfa aphid entered Australia. By chance John Blackstock was investigating varieties we had just imported from California which had resistance and within 3 years Hunter River was replaced Australia wide.  This work was done in consultation with Vern Marble of UC Davis.  Yet again, an example of the importance of the earlier visit of Lionel Stubbs and his recognition by the Californians.

However, above all, I believe the outstanding and long standing success of my section of the department was the development of the Clean Stock schemes. We first called them virus free, but dropped this for legal reasons, all we could claim was pathogen tested, hence the “PT” schemes. This work was the equivalent of the control of TB and Smallpox in humans.  The driving out of disease with health.  It commenced with potatoes and strawberries and, once again, Lionel Stubbs was there.  The theory was simple, the reality complex.  In short, a small number of healthy plants were obtained by breeding, rigorous selection, chemical or heat treatments, in the case of viruses, or importation from overseas schemes, followed by multiplying them in isolation from field crops in a clean environment, often in fumigated soil and in insect proof cages.  Finally field multiplication and growth in fumigated soil and inspection led to commercial quantities of PT stock for industries.  Tissue culture was more recently used to good effect in this process. This was a long run thing. Because Lionel was ill I planted the first tested strawberry stock at Toolangi PRS in 1951.  I became the Chairman of the Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Scheme in 1992 and commenced the privatisation of the scheme, finalised by John Baker and Peter Merriman in 2010.  Most strawberry stock these days were of varieties obtained from California under licence.

In the case of potatoes and strawberries yields increased up to ten fold. Much of the increase was due to the ability to drive clean stock hard as growing technology improved, thanks to work by our colleagues at HRS Knoxfield and other sections of the department.

Toolangi was unique in the world in that we arranged for a significant area surrounding it to be proclaimed as an area prohibiting the planting of commercial crops of strawberries and potatoes to protect the schemes.  Toolangi PRS has now been disbanded and the proclaimed area is under threat; negative progress for aspiring growers of healthy plants. 

This is only one story; over the years we cleaned up all major varieties of fruit and flowers and one by one the work was taken over by the relevant industries.  There were many dramas.  The worst being the Department being sued for providing potatoes claimed to be infected by the wide spread powdery scab fungus. The litigant finally turned to another legal matter and the case was abandoned, but not until I had the case hanging over my head for 14 years due to stuff ups by the Government solicitor involved.  The case was highly political and Ian Smith gave me strong support. I was glad to see the end of it.

It is significant that the PT schemes were really what came to be known as Quality Assurance.  This concept had a major effect in reducing inspection as the onus of quality became the responsibility of industry.

Stubbs often had grand visions and proposed an Australian repository for clean stock in the Kulkine forest reserve in the Mallee.  Naturally this met interstate opposition and one of my first steps when I took over his position was to negotiate a scheme whereby each State looked after crops in which they had a special interest. This was immediately accepted and led to much cooperation between States.

In passing, I note that the Toolangi research station was selected for its isolation and low temperatures, hence low aphid populations.  It was carved out of heavily forested Crown land by Lindsay Harmsworth and Grant Mattingly. It has just been closed but remains as an example, to the credit of the people involved, who loved and preserved a sustainable environment. Grant was a strong environmentalist and an expert on native flora. He also painted (studied with Buckmaster) and when he retired he presented me with a Healesville landscape, which I treasure.

At the other climatic extreme we had Walpeup, dry land Mallee, hot and dusty;                           worse in the rabbit days, but again, well managed.  It was said that only those who had done a stint at Walpeup got promotion in the Agriculture Division.  Les Hore, Chief of the Agriculture Division (Des Hore’s father) built the Walpeup stables and out buildings from scratch with local timber.

There is a story that a Field Officer after a long hard day harvesting Walpeup plots stayed at the Ouyen pub on the way home. Dust everywhere, a hard bed, little sleep, he staggered into breakfast. The waitress came in and said “Wattle yer av?” He said “I would like an egg and a kind word”.  After a while she slammed an egg down in front of him. He said “Good, that’s the egg, what about the kind word?”  She replied, “Don’t eat it”.

Graham Bath Manager of Rutherglen RS, a superb cricketer who batted with Ponsford in district cricket, was given the choice to work at Walpeup or Rutherglen. He chose   Rutherglen as he could get the Saturday morning train down to Melbourne and the night train back after the match. Graham often talked cricket to me and told me the he made over 100 in his last match at Horsham and ended with a career average of 100. He desperately wanted this for some reason or other! This could be true, as Dave Morris, a talented athlete affirmed that Graham was the best schoolboy cricketer in Victoria.  Dave played in the New Guinea army team led by Len Barnett the Australian keeper in those days. The war got in the way of many sportsmen.



What do you regard as having been the main successes and failures in Victorian agriculture during the time of your service?


First the bad news.  Hindsight is a rare commodity.

 The department was staffed on the scientific side with technocrats who had their beliefs and culture.  I think we were slow to pick up the better vibes of the Greens. Such as our slow recognition, that the public was demanding more accountability in certain areas eg.  pesticide accumulation in the environment. This almost ended in tears in such cases of Dieldrin and DDT.   In this regard I also suspect we should have been more circumspect in our dealings with our good commercial friends in the essential area of agricultural chemicals.


The stupidity of many of our inspection and quarantine measures. Who would be silly enough to quarantine a bacterial disease of lucerne by using a line on a map called a border in the green triangle?   SA did.  We were no better.  Once when a fruit rot disease was thought to be threatening NSW, they considered banning fruit from the Goulbourn valley. Our Minister of the day minuted a note to me “I trust we will not discover this in the valley”.  I sent the letter on to Peter Jenkins with the rather silly note “In thee we trust.” Ironically and embarrassingly on a visit by Peter and me to the NSW Chief Biologist’s home for dinner, Peter discovered the disease on the alternate host Japonica in her garden.  He snuck a sample and took it to back to the lab and verified it.  Peter was not invited to Lillian’s retirement function.

The acidification of our soils as a result of such fertilisers as ammonium sulphate and superphosphate was not recognised early enough.

That great tax producer, tobacco was a contentious issue. Our TRS at Myrtleford was highly subsidised and well run by Frank French, but, should we have ended this area of work earlier?

In the late 70’s, we were half hearted about the work of CSIRO on their remarkably accurate prediction of climate shifts.  I still remember those maps with red zones over Victoria. Yet I knew that lemons which were frost sensitive and could not be grown at Mildura when I stated experiments there in 1951 but 30 years later they reappeared.  The growers noted that they were pruning iceless vines.

We had a running low level difference of opinion on water management with SR&WSC a topic which called for regional cooperation at the highest levels and yet we had three labour Governments in power in Vic., SA and NSW at a critical time. The VIRASC (Vic Irrigation Research & Advisory Committee) (Kefford again) helped but this was low key. This Committee had all relevant representatives on it including those from CSIRO Griffith.  I was surprised when the head of this Research Station thanked me sincerely for including Griffiths when I retired but it sent me a belatedly accepted message of the need for regional cooperation.

On the matter of water I note that the collection of water in farm dams for irrigating grape vines and other crops was nonsense.  As Ernestine Hill (All the Rivers Run) might have written all the little rivers stopped running.

The running, albeit low level, clash of cultures between the Ags and the Vets in general was not generally a problem but in some areas was significant.  For example one of our management consultants Roger Collins of Macquarie University refused to be involved in the Dieldrin court case because he had detected but not previously disclosed problems in this area in our dealings with him and his colleague. The issue of who managed the State Labs was always contentious. I finally did but it was not one of my glory times.   (But please put this in context in my praise of the Vets below and in particular my good friend and sparing partner Des Hore, as we agree : great fun in retrospect.

The two cultures Vet and Ag probably resulted from our separate responsibilities. The Vets had to be good at crisis management, and they were, because of foot and mouth and zoonoses such as brucellosis. This called for an autocratic management culture rather than the more democratic approach which was a feature of the Ags.  They successfully avoided most of the restructuring of the other divisions based on this argument. A tribute to their powerful leaders, Dan Flynn and Brian Rushford.

The stupidity of the Cain government in abolishing overseas travel and the myth of the brain drain.  In almost every case, as surely this history shows, those interaction between scientists worldwide were nothing other economically and scientifically beneficial. We did not have the WWW in those times but personal contact is still a wonderful thing.  A meeting of minds, I add that in my time with Health I had direct dealings with John Cain and respected him.

 I always had a feeling that the Agricultural Colleges which at Burnley were only 100 yards away from PRL would have benefited from more input from the knowledge base of the department R&D and extension and other functions e.g. The State Labs. However this was achieved only in desultory ways, often because of other interests. For example Bill Nicholls an Outdoors officer of the Burnley College came and talked cricket to Dave Morris and me.  Bill had toured before the war with a Victorian schoolboy side.  Thus he also talked to us about our work. Then he went on television as the ABC first Gardening Programme (No, it was not Kevin Heinze) and would often use information from us. His Program was called “Sow What”.  Bill had the rare skill of being able to do a complex whip tongue graft with a very sharp knife while apparently looking at the camera. His theme tune was Oranges and Lemons. I went on camera with him one night and showed how aphids transmitted plant viruses. The family watched on a hired television for the occasion. At 5 am next morning I was in Bendigo, my father had died soon after I was on air. I have a thing about that tune.

The value of much of our fruit and vegetable breeding was questionable but Helgi Nerk achieved a world first by grafting a wild tomato to a local variety and then cross pollinating and obtained an inter-specific cross.  This led to the Burnley line of disease resistant tomatoes.  GM was along way off, just a dream 40 year ago.

The salaries we paid to often highly skilled Technical Assistants and their low status were outrageous in spite of our attempts to change this situation. I cannot think of any more bitches at this point, any way I am tired of BITCH BITCH BITCH. 

 (see my little mea culpa to Cliff Richardson at the end of all this.)


The good news.   Mostly above but I will list my impressions:

 The PT or “integrity of the planting stock” work

The QA concept formalised and deregulation and inspection minimised

The change from valuable soil to a waste product -  Pine bark compost

The wide spread control of soil pathogens including nematodes by fumigation.

The reduction of diseases by timing of planting and choice of location

The introduction of integrated pest and disease control, always the result of sound biological understanding and long research with a bit of serendipity and luck. For example, on one of our lunchtime walks Stubbs noticed wasp parasites on aphids on fennel growing near the Yarra. It was the carrot aphid and subsequently the little parasite wiped out the carrot aphid which spread carrot motley dwarf virus, a virus that made Stubbs famous. On another walk with his dog he saw symptoms on sow thistle which looked like the virus of lettuces he was working on.  His brother Ken rogued all the sow thistle plants within a mile of a lettuces crop near the Frankston Turf and Vegetable Research Station. Result: - no more lettuce necrotic yellows in lettuce crops. Franski and Crowley of the Waite Institute showed that this virus had a unique structure more like an animal virus than a plant virus.  Stubbs had a sniffer dog!

On another track, Agnotes inspired by Minister Smith were a portent of the future i.e. Google. 

David McKinna’s excellent marketing was a feature of this exercise as was Minister Smith’s close interest and support. At one stage I wanted to cut a corner to save money.  As I put the phone down the formidable David stormed in and said I will tell you this and you better hear it.  “You can only sell a can of piss once”

Agnotes saw the end of the Journal of Agriculture and I guess the WWW saw the  end of Agnotes.

I have already mentioned VAMIS, another portent of the future, it set the project approach in stone.  As Jardine was wont to say “first clearly define the problem”

VAMIS was an important part of our OBMS ( Objectives Based Management System) which in turn assisted us in the process of preparing submissions to funding bodies, often for three year projects.  The first year getting going, the second doing useful work, the third looking for a job or being hopeful. Thank goodness we were well represented on funding bodies.

The day that Aireys Inlet burned, Ash Wednesday 1983.  I was on crutches and while being driven home early I heard that a string of cars was heading to Geelong.  I rang Des Hore, my emergency back up, who hadn’t heard the news.  Immediately the crisis mode of management went into action and the States vets were ready to commence the grizzly work of looking after fire damaged animals.  As usual the District staff readied themselves for fire relief and fencing issues.


Who were your role models, or who played an influential role, in your career?

Do you have a particular anecdote or experience about people or events you'd like to contribute?

See above!





The period for this attempt at history neatly spans my career. This history may be seen in context of the old Australia and the new. The post WW1 times and the end of WW2 were, in many families, desperate and often sad times and in retrospect we all have much to thank them for. In spite of a loss of manpower in WW1 and limited opportunities for employment in the depression of the 1930’s, many were determined to make huge sacrifices to educate our generation.

Thus we came to our working years with a desire to succeed and were somewhat surprised to get employment so easily. We joined a work force which after WW2 were tired of the restrictions imposed by the war and welcomed our generation gladly as the new blood that organisations needed.

As it turned out we were the lucky generation.



The influx of a large number of graduates post war to an impoverished organisation was possibly inspired rather than planned but the outcome was a young cadre who were welcomed by war weary staff who had been redeployed to essential food production areas. The country was still carrying the baggage of the depression and new graduates felt fortunate to have obtained jobs so easily. Much would change with events such as the wool boom and a rapid intake of migrants.  The can do attitude was exemplified by the boost to moral triggered by the Snowy scheme. However the Public Service was highly bureaucratic and lagged private industry in the early days. We were almost slightly embarrassed to be public servants. This was to change to pride in our organisation as achievements of international standard became the order of the day.


Initially accommodation, (tin army huts) was poor and equipment primitive.  But spirits were high and field work was the alternative to work in inadequately equipped laboratories.  Hence this generation developed an in depth appreciation of the needs of the farming communities state wide and staff members was welcomed by the farming communities.

After a couple of years the young staff in the Biology Branch huts at Burnley staged a protest. The day was wet and dreary and with the removal of light bulbs helped to make the huts more dingy than usual. A senior Public Works office man slipped over on our muddy path. Little did we realise that our supervisors were delighted as were our peers in other areas.

So commenced the building of handsome and well equipped laboratories at The Biology Branch Burnley and ultimately well housed and equipped multidisciplinary regional centres closely linked with increasingly decentralised district offices.

Travel was by train and a taxi to the field plots or to the disease or pest out breaks. This was a frustration and gradually car travel was the order of the day.

The rabbits which spread away from the train were a feature of the rail land scape. That

was a major achievement of our colleagues in CSIRO and the Lands Department. This must be rated as one of the great advance in Agriculture in our time and had a major impact on our field work.

 The field trials of the new staff were complemented by the excellent statistically designed field trials of older colleagues in such areas as plant breeding .Typified by the arms race between cereal crops and the rust fungus that mutated as fast as the breeders developed resistant varieties.

During our early days we truly were squirt gun pathologists and entomologists. If one handful of chemical was good two must be better. The chemical companies loved us.

Suddenly after WW2 we had an arsenal of new and effective   fungicides and insecticides, many extremely toxic or persistent in the environment. 

Surprisingly most of us lived to learn the error of our ways. We unwittingly were setting the future up for biological control and integrated pest management. In retrospect many now think we were slow learners and regret the environmental mind set of many of us at the time.

By and large we were self taught but were generously helped by our seniors who kindly overlooked our youthful peccadilloes and provided an excellent apprenticeship in our chosen speciality.  In this regard the competitive atmosphere provided by the rivalry between the states and CSIRO in those years, in its prime, should not be over looked.

In our early years the parochial nature of the states was intense. We literally could not go interstate without approval of our superiors, even unto ministerial levels in some cases. Needless to say particularly in border areas this approval was honoured in the breech rather than the event. However we were to a large extent a regulatory organisation in the early days and state borders appeared to be prophylactic. For example Queensland fruit fly apparently could not navigate the Murray River.

This is probably the most farcical of the numerous state bans on the movement of produce which after heated and at times vindictive argument were found to be nonsense.

However the control of the movement of the deadly grape pest Phylloxera into South Australia and several animal diseases must be acknowledged as major achievements of control by regulation.

Until the 1960’s overseas travel was regarded as a luxury. But this changed rapidly as the benefits of international experience and exchanges became obvious. However the sabbatical system of the Universities was the envy of departmental staff.

Post Graduate Training was almost exclusively on the job, a few obtained Masters Degrees by submitting a thesis, usually to Melbourne Universities as external students. A few obtained DSC’s as a result of long term excellence in their fields. C. R. Milliken (Plant nutrition)  L LStubbs (Virology) and T WHogan  (Entomology) come to mind. All, and  particular the former, at Burnley VPRI and later also as Professor and Dean of Agriculture) mentored younger colleagues.

In the 1970’s several joined Stubbs and completed PhD’s at Melbourne University long after they were above this standard.

Finally the inspired advent of funding via Commonwealth grants  particularly the CESG  funds and later the RIRCS’s solved many of the above short comings eg staff development , overseas training and experience and inter organisational and state parochial issues.



Ken Wheatland 1969 - ? writes:

From K C Wheatland (Ken), Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs  

  I joined the Public Service in 1946. After 23 years in the Department of Health, I moved to the Department of Agriculture in 1969.

If I had been asked then to say what the Department was like when I joined, I would have said “Oldfashioned”.  The building was old fashioned and poorly maintained. Much of the furniture had been salvaged from the PWD store at Salmon Street, Port Melbourne, and was third or fourth hand. The “new” building at 11 Parliament Place had large areas of glass facing the north, but when it was built after the war, the air conditioning was not included, so that it was almost unbearable in the hot weather. Old files were stored in “the loft”( the space under the roof of the building at 3 Treasury Place), where they inevitably collected a thick layer of dust.

 I was born in 1930 and grew up in an era when a university education was out of the question except for children of the well-to-do. Entry to the Public Service required a minimum of Leaving Certificate (the equivalent of Year Eleven) and that was the standard at which I entered the Public Service. Also, there was, at the time, a philosophy that the Public Service should, if possible, provide employment for some of the people who would not otherwise have been able to obtain a position.By the time I moved to the Department of Agriculture, I had obtained a Diploma of Public Administration, but as a general rule, many of the administrative staff in 1969 would have been regarded as under educated by current standards.

 Bill Young was appointed as Secretary of the Department in the 1960s with a brief to raise the standard of administration. He was far sighted, clear thinking, lucid and logical - a natural leader and delegator. He was instrumental in appointing Senior Administrative Officers to each of the main Divisions. His leadership and encouragement, which was a major factor in developing potential and improving standards, was greatly appreciated by the likes of Bryan Williams, Brian Casey and myself.

 When I joined the Department in July, 1969, the Department was undergoing one of several re-organisations, and I soon realised that, although the surroundings might be a little old fashioned, the professional staff were enthusiastic, capable and dedicated.

What did you see as the overall ethos or philosophy of the Department when you joined, and did that change? If so, how did it change?

My impression is that the senior professional staff saw the Department as a source of advanced (and continually developing) scientific knowledge in the field of agriculture, with an obligation to make that knowledge available to the agricultural community.  There was also, of course, an on-going need to enforce statutory standards in a variety of areas, such as meat inspection, abattoir standards, milk production, eradication of fruit and vine diseases, plague locusts, and various animal diseases, to name just a few.  There would have been changes in the emphasis on various activities during the 17 years that I was in the Department, but my impression of the ethos (as broadly expressed above) did not change.  

Questions 4, 5 and 6 do not apply to an administrative officer charged with specific tasks laid down by the Minister or the Directorate.  

How did the political environment of the time affect your work?

The political environment of the time certainly affected my work in a major way, but not, I think, in the way that the question supposes. (Peter Hyland, Andrew Turner and especially Bill Stanhope would have much more interesting stories to tell about this).   I was responsible for getting the Minister’s legislative program ready for Parliament. I worked for three Ministers, and they were all different. However, the process of preparing legislation was similar, and I was not involved in implementing the legislation after it had been passed by Parliament.

Who were the key industry leaders you regard as important in your era?

I had no dealings with any of the industry leaders.  

What major events shaped your career in the Department?

There were three major events or projects that shaped my career. The first was the effect that the expansion in staff numbers had on Departmental accommodation. The second was my involvement in subordinate legislation and preparing for the Minister’s legislative program. The third was the preparation of Cabinet submissions.

 Departmental accommodation. By the early 1970s, the pressures on office space were critical. The head office was spread around several locations:  3 Treasury Place 11 Parliament Place 131 Queen Street (Divisions of Agriculture and Horticulture) Lisson Grove, Hawthorn (Economics Branch) Near the Victoria Market, North Melbourne (Market News Office) Macarthur Street, East Melbourne (Division of Agricultural Chemistry) Windsor Place (Printing section of the Information Branch)  Following representations from the Department, the State accommodation Committee recommended that the Government purchase the building at 166 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. Central Administration moved there in 1977, together with two Divisions (Extension Services and Agricultural Education). The Plant Services Division was already in occupation, having moved from 131 Queen Street due to the expiry of the lease. An integral part of the move was the provision of a complete set of new office furniture for each member of staff  which finally ended the Dickensian image that I mentioned previously. Preparing the furniture schedule was a major task, and so was the actual move.    A few years later, the remaining Divisions of the head office moved in to the adjoining building at 176 Wellington Parade which was leased for the purpose. For the    ~ 3 ~   first time in many years, the whole of the head office was in one location (except for theDivision of Agricultural Chemistry, which remained at Macarthur Street because of itsspecialised laboratory equipment).   During the course of the 1970s office accommodation was upgraded at many country centres. This program was financed by the Public Works Department. In some cases, PWD provided purpose-built offices, such as Ararat, Echuca, Horsham, Colac, Kerang and Korumburra. In other cases, commercial premises were adapted to suit our needs. This group included Ballarat, Dandenong, Leongatha, Pakenham,Robinvale, Sale, Traralgon, Wangaratta, Warrnambool, Wodonga and Wonthaggi. These offices were usually shared with the staff of other Departments, although Agriculture was often the major occupant. Planning for these moves and liaising with the Public Works Department took a substantial proportion of my time for a number of years.   The members of the Departmental Accommodation Committee were, for the greater part of time that I spent with the Committee, Bill Young (Chairman), Rod Kefford and Doug Gray. When Doug retired, Alan Barling took his place. Ian Norman joined the Committee when greater emphasis was being given to Extension Services. Bob Campbell joined the Committee at a later date, and when he moved to another Department, his place was taken by Bryan Rushford.   A separate program of building regional veterinary laboratories, with regional office accommodation included, was financed by the Department of Agriculture, and these were built at Hamilton, Benalla, Bairnsdale and Bendigo.  

Legislation Soon after I joined the Department I took part in the program of re-writing the Department’s subordinate legislation. The regulations covered a variety of topics, from Artificial Breeding to Dried Fruits. The relevant professionals naturally directed the content and I was responsible for the drafting. The result was a close working relationship from time to time with various members of the professional staff.  The work involved in preparing a Bill for Parliament was substantially different. It went through the following stages:  Consultation between the professional officers and industry leaders, leading eventually to a statement of principles that could be discussed with and agreed to by the Minister. This process usually involved a number of revisions.Detailed instructions were written for Parliamentary Counsel to prepare the Bill, and then held until approved.A detailed submission (including the draft instructions to Parliamentary Counsel) was prepared for the Minister to take to Cabinet for approval.When approved, the instructions were forwarded to Parliamentary Counsel for the preparation of the Bill.When the form of the Bill was settled and accepted by the Minister, Second ReadingSpeech notes were prepared for Parliament, and the Bill was introduced in the House.  

  Cabinet submissions  The process of obtaining Cabinet approval for the preparation of a Bill had been relatively informal for many years, but in the last few years before I retired, it had become much more structured, as set out above.  About this time, it had become fashionable to take a close interest in quangos (quasi-autonomous non-government organisations). A few of them were disbanded, but quite a number remained and the periodic appointment (or re-appointment)of members was closely scrutinised. So much so, that all of the proposed appointments had to be submitted to Cabinet for approval.  These submissions were not nearly as complex as the ones for the approval of a Bill, but they made a considerable addition to the workload because of the number of quangos associated with Agriculture, and the fact that annual appointments were needed to provide for the principle of annual retirement of one third of the members. Question 10:  I believe this is a question for the professional officers.

 So, did Bill Young succeed in his brief to raise the standard of administration in the Department? I believe he did, and with great distinction. Admittedly, there was a growing pool of better educated administrative talent to choose from when making appointments. But Bill’s leadership and his encouragement were important, and he frequently emphasised the principle that, in making an appointment, the most important thing was to select the best person for the job.  

*** *** ***   B R Casey (Brian) Former Director, Human Resources adds:   The high standards of administration established by Bill Young were readily evident to me. I joined the Department in May, 1981, and managed the Human Resource function for the Department in the 1980s. I am clearly of the view that the Department of Agriculture and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission were at the leading edge of Administration in the Victorian Public Sector at that time. If you wished to succeed in Administration in Government, you needed to have worked in one of these two areas. At that time, virtually all successful Administrators had served for a period of time in one of these two organisations. It is very clear that the reputation of the Victorian Department of Agriculture in Administration was well earned and clearly due to the efforts, drive and foresight of Bill Young.  



Max Watson 1972 - 1989 writes:

My time in the Department was between November 1972 and July 1989. This was punctuated by a period of 2½ years (September 1979 to February 1982) working on a project in Nigeria after which I transferred to Werribee.   Initially I was appointed at the Pastoral Research Station, Hamilton to work on Beef Cattle Nutrition. My recollection is that one position was advertised, but there were two well qualified applicants and an extra position was found. With the wool industry experiencing lower prices, a return to better seasons after the devastating droughts in SE Australia and the benefits of pasture improvement more widespread, this diversification for Western Victoria made sense.

I was pleased to be returning to Australia to continue my career in ruminant nutrition. I was blessed to have Harry Bishop as OIC and Roger Watson as a mentor as well. These were both extraordinary individuals. Arriving in Hamilton by train and unable to find accommodation I moved into a caravan at Huw and Angela Morgan’s place with spouse and infant children. This was something of a contrast to my arrival at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne were wife and I spent a weekend with the Dean of Agriculture in rural Northumberland before being moved into a classy house on the University farm. Knowing Harry’s background as a POW captured by the Japanese on return from the Middle East, spending time in China in the immediate post war period before becoming a soldier settler, I was aware concessions were expected. Both Harry and Roger were supportive of a large and complicated research project that was set in train. It was a time when resources were freely available.

When I joined the Department the prevailing view was that the Department was the servant of the farming community. I was never a paid up member of this faction. While the producers were through levies substantial contributors to research activities, I held the view that the wider community should be the main focus. I think over time there probably was a slow, perhaps glacial shift towards this view. The Department played an important role in encouraging producers to be more efficient and contemplate new technology. The then well resourced extension service were the key to this dissemination. With the decline in the importance of agriculture to the national economy, it is understandable how such a high level of resources is no longer possible.

When I returned from postdoctoral research some colleagues suggested I would be/was wasting myself in a State Department at a regional research institute. I never gave credence to this view. The advantages of applying some of the more esoteric approaches traditionally used in the animal house to the field situation were apparent. The environment in the Department was also more sympathetic to collaboration. CSIRO was at risk if not already had become too remote from the coalface at least with respect to animal production with notions such as protected proteins for ruminants, which the skeptics wisely described as a the “protection racket”. CSIRO also had to contend with the “develop the tropics mentality”. While producer levies were being siphoned from southern Australia, at least as an organisation the Department was relieved from this.

I have only reflected on my time at Hamilton, as this was the request. As an instance of Harry Bishop’s strong support of his staff I can relay an incident. A section head from Melbourne was interviewing Harry about a staff member (not me) which I overheard while I was in the library. This concerned a complaint made by a leading fine wool producer in Victoria Valley who had been reported to the authorities for dumping rubbish (including mail) in public land in the Grampians. No doubt the farmer had used his influence to identify my colleague. The staff member was also in the habit of making comments about land use that the complainant deemed unsympathetic to local landholders. Harry replied that the staff member was only exercising rights as a citizen and there would be no way he would countenance any action. Sadly, I suspect in the current environment the Public Service is less sympathetic to non-mainstream views than in previous eras.


Colin Webb (1938 -1979)

The following is the text of the reply made by Colin Webb at his farewell in October 1979:


One big thing I have learnt from attending more than 40 years of retirements (other peoples) is that people who are good enough to turn up to the occasion are entitled to enjoy themselves: not necessarily by

trying to look polite while the guest talks on and on and on.

Another thing which I have noticed, is that many guests choose a theme for their valedictory talk. These themes vary widely and often include reminisences which occasionally bore the audience; sound (?) advice about how the organisation should be administered after they have gone; and occasionally a side-swipe at the establishment. I respect all of these themes because they generally come from the heart.

However, my farewell theme is simply GRATITUDE - grateful thanks for many things in a most enjoyable career.

This little booklet records my gratitude in a way in which you do not have to sit and listen to it. You do not even have to read it. At least it has given me the satisfaction of writing it down. After all, I am an old mass media man.

Thank You

My first thanks are for being able to live in such a wonderful era when so much scientific and technological progress has been made. And, believe it or not, most farmers live much more comfortable lives than they did in 1938. You have only to think of mud­up-to-the-knees, hand milking and hurricane lamps to realise what conditions were like then.

Much of this earlier era was associated with muscle power in contrast to the mechanical power of today. Many people associate muscle power with those beautiful Clydesdale horses, and tend to forget the human toil of carting hay, walking behind harrows, sewing cornsacks, carting grain, lumping wheat, feeding horses at 5 a.m. and so on.

I am grateful that I participated in many of these jobs (and probably grateful that I do not have to do them now). One big advantage of them was that they were usually done in teams and I recall many

happy moments with the fellows after a good day's work, or at the wheat stacks after a socially-sterile harvesting period.

We lost a lot when those social occasions disappeared. Even shearers hop into their cars and make for the nearest town when the last bell rings these days.

I could write a lot about those wonderful changes over the years, but perhaps the following story will put them into some context. When I arrived at the Walpeup railway station on April 12, 1938 (wishing that I was not there), Les Hore, who met me, introduced me to his spindly 311 years-old eldest son Des.

Well, the advances since 1938 can be compared with Des Hore's great development in statue and stature during the past 41 years.

I am grateful, too, for the great opportunities which I have had during this period. Early in the piece, I was very fortunate to be on the spot when Barrel medic and lucerne took off in the Mallee. I was also there when all of the Insignia wheat in the world could be held in a 4-gallon tin, but I was not quite as closely associated with this as I was with the medics. Nor was I as close to Orient oats which Harry Sims promoted so successfully, although I provided some of the muscle which was needed to hand-sample his plots.

Those were thrilling days. No-one can ever take away from me the thrill of seeing a good pasture of Barrel medic in the Mallee or of a sand hill which is capped with lucerne.

My period with the Weekly Times was a wonderful experience which I wish that other journalists could have. It is a pity that there cannot be a well planned exchange of officers in the Public Service with their counterparts in industry. In addition to other benefits, it would help to develop much-needed professionalism in many Goverment information services,