Historical information

Federation University Mount Helen Campus was open to students in 1970. In that year Mr Dowling as photographed beside a big Tasmanian bluegum which was used a the centre Mount Helen Campus concept plan, and later became known as the Tree of Knowledge. Mr Dowling watered the tree after it was planted by his mother, Elizabeth Downing, on Arbour Day 1896. Mrs Downing raised her large family on the site of the Mount Helen Campus, which included an orchard and milking cows.

The Tree of Knowledge is actually two trees, the trunks have fused together over time, and there is further evidence of fusion.

The Downing farmhouse was situated in the vicinity of the present Administration and Caro Conference Centre buildings and the tree was planted beside the "dunny". It was carefully watered by the nine Downing children from a brick-lined well situated under what is now the Albert Coates Building. As the tree grew to maturity, it was used to hang a meat safe after slaughtering a sheep for the family table.

Some years ago, when the foundations were being dug for the E-Building, an old rusted percussion pistol was found. One of Mrs Downing's sons, at that time well into his nineties, remembered getting into trouble for playing with it without permission, and losing it.

The land was purchased in 1966 as part of a 241-acre site for Ballarat's new tertiary institution. When the architects and planners inspected the site, they decided "The Big Tree" must remain as a central landmark in preparing the layout of the campus amenities.

In 1982, the spread of the tree was 36 metres, girth 7 metres, and height 36 metres. By 2003 the spread was 39.5 metres (N-S) and 35.5 metres (E-W), girth 7.75 metres, and height 42.5 metres.

Physical description

A man in overalls and jacket stands beside the Federation University Tree of Knowledge. Stage one buildings on the Mount Helen Campus are evident in the background.