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End of an amazing journey

Thursday, 19 December 2019

With his time at Wodonga TAFE drawing to a close, much loved Horticulture teacher, Alister Rhook reflects back on his time and how the Agriculture & Horticulture Department has grown and some of the biggest changes since he began.

In 1987, Alister along with Jean-Luc Schmitt started at the Wodonga College of TAFE, leaving their roles at Collingwood TAFE to begin the development of the Horticulture Department. In early 1988, due to illness, a seasonal teacher was brought in to cover for Alister, this teacher, Deb Delahunty is still teaching at TAFE today, and has been an influential part of the department ever since.

The three of them continued to develop the department at the original Kendell Street Campus, with a couple of buildings hired to teach from, establishing some garden beds and a small greenhouse (igloo). Due to a lack of storage at the site, Alister turned his own garage into a glasshouse and propagation station, which was the beginning of the TAFE plant sales.

Later in 1988 the Horticulture Department was moved to its current location, just off University Drive. The current Horticulture office was starting to be built, a portable building was brought in to teach out of and an iconic red machinery shed had been assembled.

In 1989 Ron Cullinger joined the department, and the first classes of Sports Turf Management were able to begin. The department at this time was teaching 1st, 2nd and 3rd year Parks and Gardens apprentices, with one group coming up from Gippsland. This year also marked the start of Adult Trade, which was training for mature age students to gain formal qualifications in their occupation, outside of their working hours.

The early 90’s was a period of establishment and growth, with the Advanced Certificate of Horticulture (equivalent to a certificate IV) and Certificate in Horticulture (Occupational Studies) (now equivalent to Cert II). During this time classes became more established, this included having 1st, 2nd and 3rd year Sports Turf Management students and a group coming up from Gippsland, as well as the Parks and Gardens apprentices and the introduction of short courses, which helped make accessing horticulture training easier for the public.

In the late 90’s the department was into full swing, with training expanding into Mt Beauty and Corryong through the Certificate II class. Programs were run with the inmates at the Beechworth Correctional Centre, completing some units from the Horticulture course. The 90’s was also an exciting time for the olive industry, Alister was fortunate enough to have been invited to join the Australian Olive Association to learn more about the olive industry across Europe. This was around the same time that Wodonga TAFE had planted the first olives, and would directly help increase the quality of workers within the Australian olive industry, by teaching paddock to harvest techniques. To ensure students got the full wealth of knowledge and experience, Alister took them across the state to learn from other olive producers.

In the mid to late 2000’s the Diploma of Horticulture and Sports Turf Management were introduced. Arboriculture began around this period too, with the training occurring from Mildura down to Gippsland.

The past couple of years has seen more on-going changes to the department, Free TAFE has increased the accessibility of Horticulture to the public and has given people the drive to pursue interests. The Certificate III class ran two full separate classes in the same year for the first time, with some fantastic students and outcomes occurring. Finally, the field nursery was turned into a market garden, which will be used for years to come.

It’s hard to imagine someone being a part of so much development and change through one organisation, let alone one department, that’s why the team, and the whole TAFE are going to miss your contributions. Alister, enjoy your retirement.





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