In the early seventies, a plot of land, of approximately 12 hectares on the north-west edge of the campus, was developed to serve the outdoor requirements of the Agricultural Sciences Department for teaching and research. This plot, officially known as the Agriculture Reserve but better known as ‘The farm’ by staff and students, served as a small but functional mixed farm where undergraduate students and research staff could carry out field work associated with animals, soils, and plants.
On the site, there were animal houses for sheep and pigs, experimental plots for grazing trials, glasshouses for growing plants required for teaching and research, weather station to supply meteorological data to researchers and to the Bureau of Meteorology, and a small vineyard for the Viticulture and Winemaking degrees. A small mixed orchard was also established together with lime plots to study long term effect of lime on soil condition.
The vineyard was planted with four grape varieties; reisling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and shiraz. The annual vintage yielded approximately 1300 bottles and was labelled and marketed as “Ralph’s paddock”. Ralph was a kangaroo which strayed (hopped) into the Reserve when the boundary fence was accidently lowered after a traffic accident on Main Drive. He became a farm pet and was frequently seen grazing with the sheep and also enjoying a green pick on the grass in the irrigated vineyard. Fortunately, he was not interested in grapes or vines. He died in 2009 at approximately 12 years of age.
A registered flock of Suffolk sheep were kept on the Reserve for teaching and training purposes. This breed, with its characteristic black face and feet, was selected for its ease of maintenance and good temperament. Several of our staff learned to shear using these sheep; I retired quickly after my first few trials. I was completely overcome by a feisty wether and finished a very slow effort almost prostrate on the floor underneath the animal – not an ideal position for shearing!
Another personal experience with animals was my attempt to guide a large sow which had escaped from its handler on route to its pen. I was shirtfronted and somehow straddled the animal backwards as it ran along the corridor towards a glass door. I thought I was in real danger of serious injury if she continued in that direction. The sow however knew where she was headed and did a quick left turn, dislodging me, and quietly entered her pen without any further coaxing. My first and only involuntary attempt at pig riding was remembered by all.
On a social note, the Reserve was an ideal venue for staff and student barbecues. The end of semester student barbecues were legendary amongst the student cohort across the University and eventually became too large and disruptive to regular farm activities.