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JAMES LESLIE PROVAN, PRINCIPAL, DOOKIE AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE, VIC.

This unpretentious cover had a roller cancel of a boxed MELBOURNE/ 3.15 AM/ 1 MAR/ 1949/ VICTORIA with the obliterating slogan CHECK ADDRESS/ IF INCOMPLETE/ ADVISE WRITER which cancelled the red 2.5d KGVI stamp.  It was addressed to Mr. L. Provan, Principal, Dookie Agricultural College, Dookie, Victoria.  The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

Dookie Campus is Victoria's oldest agricultural college and Australia's second oldest. Dookie's association with the University of Melbourne began in 1910 when Bachelor of Agricultural Science students spent a year at Dookie as part of their degree studies. The Dookie district was surveyed in the early 1870s and Dookie campus was one of four sites reserved in the Benalla district in 1875 for the purpose of an agricultural college and experimental farm. Dookie was chosen as the optimal site because it was 'sufficiently extensive for a full-blown college', and contained the greatest variety of soil types.

Dookie Agricultural College commenced operation on 4th October 1886, and was managed by the Council of Agricultural Education following the implementation of the Agricultural Education Act 1884. The first course offered was of two years duration, and students were to be male, at least 14 years old, and have satisfactorily completed State School education. In 1911 the three-year Diploma of Agriculture was introduced, and in 1923 the entry requirements were lifted to a minimum age of 15 and passes were required in specified Intermediate Certificate subjects. During this period Hugh Pye was a particularly distinguished Principal. Pye was initially science master and then Principal at Dookie Agricultural College for 22 years from 1895. While Principal, Hugh Pye gained world wide recognition for his pioneering work in wheat-breeding and established Dookie as a research centre of national importance. Pye was also a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society of England, having been nominated by his friend and distinguished colleague, Baron von Mueller. A picture of the College is seen in Figure 2.

In 1945 control of the Victorian Agricultural Colleges moved to the newly created Division of Agricultural Education within the Department of Agriculture. From 1910 to 1922 and 1943 to 1963 the University of Melbourne sent its Bachelor of Agricultural Science students to Dookie for the second year of their degree. Dookie was a centre of rural training for returned servicemen following both world wars. In 1946 the Commonwealth Government established the Rural Training Centre for ex-servicemen at Dookie. The centre offered both the two year Diploma and eight week short courses until 1950 when its resources were taken over by the Victorian Government. The map shows Dookie, Victoria, its proximity to Shepparton and to the New South Wales border (Figure 3).

James Leslie Provan was born in relatively humble circumstances in South Melbourne in 1904 and was only four years old when his father died. He was brought up by his aunts in Canterbury, Victoria and attended the local State school, before going on to Melbourne High School where he completed his Intermediate year. He went from Melbourne High to the Burnley School of Primary Agriculture and Horticulture (1922-3) and graduated as Dux. His Certificate of competency in Horticulture won him a job as orchard supervisor with the Horticulture Division of the Department of Agriculture. In 1926 he applied for leave without pay to study agricultural science at his own expense at Melbourne University. At the end of the first year he was granted a free place, reputedly the first awarded by the Department of Agriculture, and completed his honours course in 1930 as a salaried officer. As a graduate officer he worked with the Horticulture division at Irymple, Murrabit, Warby Ranges, Harcourt and Doncaster-Templestowe, Victoria. During this time he understudied with Francois de Castella in viticulture and wine-making, which gave rise to his wine-making hobby. In 1934 he was appointed Senior Horticultural Instructor and eight years later (1942) became the Principal at Burnley.

James Leslie Provan's 23 years as Principal saw Dookie College cast off its 19th Century form and take on the appearance of a modern institution. He was the first Principal to have been born this side of Federation and he was the first of four (so far) consecutive Melbourne University BAgrSc graduates to hold the post. To most students Provan was a closed man, distant and aloof. His deputy G. T. Levick and Farm Superintendent G. D. Brooke seemed, to the outsider, to administer the College and farm respectively with apparently minimal input from Provan. His 23 years at the helm is a record not likely to be broken and his achievements during that time had the whole-hearted admiration of men such as I. S. McMillan who was not known to suffer fools or feeble effort gladly. 

When Provan took up duty as Principal at Dookie College in March 1946, the first major task confronting him was an administrative one; how to cope with the enormous influx of returned servicemen expected under the Commonwealth's Rural Reconstruction Training Scheme. It is hard today to visualise the difficulty of getting things done in the immediate post-war era. There were chronic shortages of materials, skilled tradesmen and money. A booming black market meant that goods and material despatched, seldom reached their destination intact. Nevertheless on October 1, 1946, one year after general demobilisation was commenced, the Rural Training Centre at Dookie College opened its doors to 102 returned men embarking upon a Diploma course designed to compress the usual three-years into two. A picture of the crest of Dookie Agricultural College is seen in Figure 4.

 

 

 
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