Local History – It’s marvellous what’s uncovered - Number 3

By Leo Billington

I recall, from many years ago, there was often a passing reference to “the college”.

Map showing the Grand Ridge Road, Budgeree Rd and College Creek

Those who related this memory were born long after 1899 when on Thursday, May 25, the Morwell Shire Council received a letter from the Department of Lands and Survey. It was in reply to Council’s enquiry about providing, or considering, a site in the Parish of Jumbuck to be made available for an Agricultural College. Councillors were told the idea had been referred to the Secretary for Agriculture.

The Minister of Agriculture at this time was John Taverner. He was a stock and station agent, mainly working as an auctioneer. He later went on to become the Victorian Agent-General in London. Reading his biography, it appears the Minister’s main focus during the late 1890’s was as President of the Board of Land and Works, Commissioner for Crown lands and survey, minister for health, as well as for agriculture. He was mainly remembered for advocacy of water storage systems and railway facilities in remote parts of Victoria.

Obtaining commitments from government is challenging, and the Morwell Shire Council was informed in March 1901 that their enquiry via a letter “has been brought under the notice of the Council of Agricultural Education and that members of that Council would soon inspect the reserve as soon as possible.”

From here on, the sequence of correspondence becomes clouded, almost to a mere trickle. It is apparent the Morwell Shire Council was becoming frustrated although there are only oblique reports indicating councillors were not rushing to inspect the selected area either.

Council did receive correspondence in November 1913 from the Agricultural Department mentioning blackberries on “the College Reserve” and that eradication might be an idea.

A section of the Grand Ridge Road, with forest at the side

Back in Melbourne, John Taverner, now as Minister for Lands, on April 3, 1903, “threw open 9,000 acres in Gunyah Gunyah” promising to introduce a bill for settlement. However, there was initial opposition to this idea from Thomas Livingston, the Victorian Legislative Assembly member for Gippsland South. Livingston wanted provision in any settlement planning for a railway.

Let’s think about this for a moment - a railway line from Yinnar to Boolarra and then onwards through Budgeree and south to wherever. There are records of locals meeting in the Ryton Hall lobbying for the railway.

Also, Gunyah Gunyah is quite a distance from English’s Corner. Today, the Grandridge passes the site, although these days extensive softwood plantations obliterate whatever semblance of real dairying and grazing once existed.

John Taverner was appointed Victorian agent-general in London in 1904, a position he retained until 1913. He remained in London until 1922 and died in December 1923.

He was no sooner overseas than changes were made to any of his ideas as a Minister. He never returned to Victorian state politics.

Blackberries remained a problem so it seems. The Morwell Advertiser in September 1913 made mention of this weed. This editorial referred to “the Agriculture College.” Earlier editorial in August 1890 from our newspaper referred to the “Agricultural College Reserve.”

In 1908, The Argus, February 14, 1908 referred to the Gunyah Gunyah Agricultural Reserve being on fire.

Back to the College Reserve, as many knew it by, at a public meeting in Yinnar on August 29, 1890, chaired by Mr George Firmin, those in attendance were resolute in wanting a railway line constructed from Yinnar to the Agricultural College. This meeting campaigned for a parliamentary visit to inspect the site.

From here, any idea of pushing ahead to establish an agricultural college somewhere near English’s Corner, along today’s Grandridge Road, disappeared. Authorities in Melbourne certainly knew exactly where the site was.

The site was clearly defined in the Agricultural Colleges Act 1915, an Act to consolidate the Law relating to Colleges of Agriculture, September 16, 1915.

Under a heading Site for Agricultural College Gunyah Gunyah and Jumbuk, the description was worded - “Two thousand five hundred acres more or less, county of Buln Buln, parishes of Gunyah Gunyah and Jumbuk : Commencing at a point on the eastern side of the road from Yinnar to Toora where the road to Yarram Yarram diverges therefrom ; bounded thence by lines bearing respectively east about twenty chains, north one hundred and sixty chains, west one hundred and sixty chains, south one hundred and sixty chains, and east about one hundred and forty chains to the point of commencement.”

The detail was important - because irrespective of what John Taverner wanted to do in 1903, on May 2, 1913, Mr J T Purvis, the Secretary of the Council of Education within the Department of Agriculture Melbourne advertised for tenders to lease “the Agricultural College area” in the Morwell Advertiser.

Lease terms mentioned 30 years for “agriculture or grazing or both.” Successful lessees were required to clear all scrub and fallen timber during the first seven years. The tenders were advertised again in September 1917.

Ironically, the tenders were advertised many years before. The 1915 Agricultural Colleges Act underscored these advertisements, so it was all important. Settlers were wanted. Tenders were advertised locally in March 1929. One keen speculator advertised land adjoining the College Reserve, for sale, describing it as “having been well cleared, securely fenced with posts and rail and wire, sown with cocksfoot and rye grass. It is good for dairying and fattening land.” Morwell Advertiser, March 1917.

Forest Road in the district

Victorian state government ambitions to establish Agricultural Colleges at Bullarto, Dookie, Longerenong, Krambruk/Mount Sabine (in the Otway Ranges area) and at Gunyah, or sometimes called Gunyah Gunyah, then Grandridge was a response to aid in the development of Victoria’s rural industries.

There are various conclusions to draw from the above - “we” did not obtain an Agricultural College; there was confusion about a location - Gunyah or Gunyah Gunyah or Jumbuck, once it was even called Yarram; to consider a railway line was crazy if readers know the terrain; a distinct lack of knowledge and common sense prevailed.