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Tree of Knowledge

Mt Helen Campus

Known at the 'Tree of Knowledge' or 'Big Tree' the Eucalyptus globulus subsp. or Tasmanian Blue Gum was chosen as the central focus of the Mt Helen Campus. When the site was purchased in 1966 the architects and planners inspected the site and decided the 'Big tree' must remain as a central landmark in preparing the layout of the Campus amenities. The tree is on the National Trust of Australia (Vic) Register of Significant Trees (number T11430).

Situated in the main courtyard, many would be surprised to learn that the tree is not a local species, but a Tasmanian Blue Gum, a species widely planted throughout the world for shade, fuel, timber and their stately appearance. It was planted as a seedling on Arbor Day 1896 by Mrs Elizabeth Downing who lived on the farm that was originally on the Mt Helen site. Mrs Downing raised her large family on this site, which included an orchard and milking cows.

The Downing farmhouse is situated in the vicinity of the present Administration and Art 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 Union building. As it grew to maturity, it was used to hang a meat safe after sheep had been slaughtered for the family table. Actually two trees, the trunks have fused together over time, and there is further evidence of fusion.

Some years ago, when the foundations were being dug for the Electrical Engineering 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 by the College in 1966 as part of a 241-acre site for the new tertiary institution for Ballarat. When the architects and planners inspected the site, they decided that "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. 

Tree of Knowledge, Mt Helen Campus, July 2006

Tree of Knowledge, Mt Helen Campus, July 2006

Earthworks at Mt Helen Campus, 1971. Tree of Knowledge on the right hand side

Earthworks at Mt Helen Campus, 1971. Tree of Knowledge on the right hand side. (Cat.No7267.1)
Mt Helen Campus showing Stage 1 buildings on left hand side. Taken from the site where the 1st student residences were to be built

Mt Helen Campus showing Stage 1 buildings on left hand side. Taken from the site where the 1st student residences were to be built. (Cat. No. 7266.1)

Mt Helen Union Building under construction, 1972. Builders cars are shaded by the Tree of Knowledge

Mt Helen Union Building under construction, 1972. Builders cars are shaded by the Tree of Knowledge. (Cat.No.7273.5)
Mt Helen Campus, c1975. Tree of knowledge in centre of photo

Mt Helen Campus, c1975. Tree of knowledge in centre of photo. (Cat.No.5136)

View of Mt Helen Union Building featuring the Tree of Knowledge

View of Mt Helen Union Building featuring the Tree of Knowledge. (Cat.No.7139.6)
Mt Helen Union Building, including Stage Two additions, on the left hand side of the Tree of Knowledge, 1979

Mt Helen Union Building, including Stage Two additions, on the left hand side of the Tree of Knowledge, 1979. (Cat.No.7270.1)

Tree of Knowledge, mid-1990s

Tree of Knowledge, mid-1990s. (Cat.No.4572)