Dr John Cooke

My journey with La Trobe started in 1979 when  Milton Whiting, Member for Mildura in the Victorian Parliament, and Member of La Trobe Council mentored me on the importance of tertiary education. His advice and guidance, led me to enrol for a Science Degree, although at Melbourne University.

At the completion of the Science Degree, I joined the then Soil Conservation Authority and started to focus on the prevention of water erosion on cropping soils north of the Great Divide in Victoria. I was soon out of my depth.  I was introduced to Dr Robert Dumsday, then an Academic at La Trobe University, who led me to focus on the importance of economics when dealing with changes to farming practice.

Dr Dumsday brought together four other researchers in a team addressing the importance of economics in understanding the causes and rehabilitation of  land degradation in Australia.

In my case, the science underpinning soil erosion was equally important and I enrolled as a PhD student with Dr Dumsday and Mr Steve Willatt, a soils expert at La Trobe University, as joint supervisors. I graduated in 1985.

My career since graduation has never strayed far from the theme of my thesis which was the importance of balancing the economic drivers with a solid understanding of the physical sciences that underpin agriculture and land protection.

With time, I came to recognise the importance of social matters when dealing with farming communities. The one constant in Australian Agriculture is that the adoption of new technology generally leads to an increase in the size of farms and hence less farmers and farm workers are needed to work the land.

Less farmers and farm workers need not lead to less employment in rural communities such as Mildura, as there are increasing opportunities for employment in transport, processing, packaging  and sales of agriculturally derived products. Education is the foundation for change, not just for those directly employed on the land, but their families and the wider community.

I was appointed to what is now the Regional Advisory Board for the Mildura Campus of the University, and later became the Chairperson of the Board.

In 2015, I was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa)  by La Trobe University for my contribution to the field of natural resource management, leadership and community service. The award also recognises the substantial contribution that La Trobe University has made to Northern Victoria over the past 50 years.