Community concern as students cut from Creswick School of Forestry

Concerns have been raised over the dwindling activity at Creswick’s School of Forestry after the University of Melbourne scrapped the campus as the base for its masters students. 

Creswick's School of Forestry has been a defining feature for more than a century.

Creswick's School of Forestry has been a defining feature for more than a century.

The school’s educational output has almost ground to a halt after the university changed its Master of Forest Ecosystem Science course to a broader Master of Ecosystem Management and Conservation at the beginning of 2018, almost entirely based out of the Parkville campus.

The school originally catered for a range of education levels, but in 2008 this was narrowed to masters students with the implementation of the Melbourne Model.  Masters students would spend several two-week blocks on campus throughout the year. 

Creswick Ward councillor Don Henderson the school was a site of national significance which needed to be protected.  He said removing the school could ultimately lead the university to pull out of the region.  

“It affects all sorts of businesses who rely on people staying in the town,” Cr Henderson said.  “It has a fairly substantial economic effect on Creswick.”

The prestigious School of Forestry began operating in Creswick back in 1910 and has been a key feature of the township since.  Creswick’s entry sign’s boast of the town being the ‘Home of Forestry’.  

The 15-hectare property is now primarily used as a research facility, housing fire and ecology research groups as well as the international mathematics institute MATRIX.  

While at its height about 120 people were on campus at any given time, The Courier understands the current figure is about 30. 

Creswick Ward councillor Don Henderson.

Creswick Ward councillor Don Henderson.

Associate Professor Kevin Tolhurst, a senior fellow with the university who has been associated with the Creswick campus for more than 40 years, said “by not having students here it really reduces the viability of the place because you’ve still got to maintain the grounds and buildings”.

“It’s a reasonable conjecture that if you keep reducing the viability of the place it will eventually fall over.”  

On August 1 a meeting will be held at the Creswick Town Hall to discuss the campus’ future.  A recent petition showing support for the school’s future gathered more than 600 signatures.   

In a statement, University of Melbourne’s Dean of Science Professor Karen Day said “we are proud of our world class research at Creswick...and are committed to ensuring that legacy continues”. 

“The School's strategic planning process has identified two immediate new initiatives in which the Creswick facilities will be central,” the statement read.  “As well as the renamed MEMC, a bushfire research centre will be established to expand the School's bushfire research capability through deployment of infrastructure at Creswick and appointment of a new staff member.”