Growing up on his family’s one-hectare property in the South Gippsland town of Meeniyan, Charlie McInnes always loved being around animals. Though his parents weren’t farmers, there were horses and cattle at home, and pets were a constant fixture of his childhood.
“I’ve always been fascinated with animals, just from having been around them from a young age,” he says.
So, when a friend mentioned plans to study at the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus, the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences’ 2440-hectare learning facility in the Goulburn Valley, it piqued Charlie’s interest. He enrolled in the campus’s Diploma in General Studies, and after completing that year-long course, applied for the Bachelor of Agriculture – which includes the option of a residency at Dookie for second-year students.
For Charlie, living, studying and working at Dookie has been a revelation. It introduced him to the sheep industry – a field he plans to work in when he graduates – as well as a supportive coterie.
“I’ve gained so much from being up there,” he says. “Because you all live together, it becomes like a small community; everyone knows each other and gets along really well.”
Despite these advantages, moving to a new campus can be financially prohibitive for some Bachelor of Agriculture students. Realising this, the University created the Dookie Scholarship Fund. The fund, which has already attracted gifts from a number of generous donors, helps cover accommodation costs and enable those undertaking the degree to reach their full potential.
A Dookie Fund recipient, Charlie says the scholarship has been “a huge help”.
“From home to Dookie, it’s four-and-a-half hours, so it’s not an easy trip,” he explains. “Getting financial assistance made that move a lot easier and allowed me to focus a lot more on studying.
Fellow student Kate Methven agrees. Hailing from a small property in Tuerong on the Mornington Peninsula, she says the scholarship has helped her in more ways than one.
Because you all live together, it becomes like a small community; everyone knows each other and gets along really well.
“It’s benefited me by helping with living expenses, but it also gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without it, like attending industry events and being able to try different things.”
Like Charlie, Kate found herself drawn to the sheep industry. While at high school, she began showing sheep and her interest in agriculture grew from there.
“I like that you get a bit of everything and it’s quite varied and hands on,” she explains.
Just one subject away from graduating, Kate says Dookie’s rural setting makes it the ideal place to study and get practical experience.
“Being on a farm, you are able to live in an environment that the industry is based around, see what is happening and get a sense of what people are doing for a living.”
Having recently started a full-time position with the Australian Wool Network, Kate is thankful for her time at Dookie and knows that she will miss the close-knit campus when it comes time to leave.
“Everyone knew each other and it was really, really friendly,” she adds. “The staff were great; they were always helpful and wanting the best for me. I was definitely a name at Dookie, not just a number.”