Author Roland Breckwoldt has lived an extraordinary life, but if it wasn't for Hawkesbury Agricultural College (HAC), there wouldn't be a book telling us all about it.
Roland left home at 16 to become a ringer in far-north Queensland, but it was the years he spent in the Hawkesbury that turned his sights on academia.
'The New Ringer' is a memoir by Roland, about his experiences on large cattle stations in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
A most uncommon stockman, Roland was born in an internment camp in central Victoria, his family having come to Australia from Germany via Shanghai.
In 1960, he travelled up north to realise his dream of becoming "a cowboy", and it is there that the bulk of 'The New Ringer' is played-out.
But writing books was a world away then and a new one opened at HAC, leading to a most unexpected path. He went on to university studies and became a Visiting Fellow and Honorary Lecturer at Australian National University and was made Fellow of the University of New England.
Roland now lives in the Southern Highlands following a career as an advisor on agriculture and the environment and said there is a growing number of jobs available to those who study agriculture.
Hawkesbury played "a huge role" in Roland's life, some of which is included in his new book.
After his first year of being a ringer up north, he discovered his mother had put his name on the HAC waiting list when he was only 10.
"They had shovelled me out of school at 14 with four bare passes in the simplest subjects - it was a wipe out. But because I was interested in agriculture my mother put my name down at the College," Roland said.
He didn't want to go but, to appease his mother, he decided to attend knowing that, given his school performance, he would fail and return to what he loved best - being a ringer.
When he arrived at Hawkesbury in 1963, initiation, called "motting", was still "very much alive and well".
"It was sanctioned, so it was all part of the way of inducting people into the HAC spirit," Roland said.
"It was pretty tough. I had done some tough things up in the Gulf but motting was tough. One of the people in our year intake, had a breakdown, and his parents made sure it was big news. The Department of Agriculture put an end to it."
A wildlife-lover, Roland and fellow student Jack Rhodes caused the first ever strike among the stewards.
One day, a newly-appointed steward who was unfamiliar with our peculiar hobby, opened the door to the bedroom and ripped the top sheet off the bed to find a large coiled up snake enjoying a nap.- Roland Breckwoldt
"We kept a couple of red-bellied black snakes in our bedroom as pets, and we jammed a towel under the door so they couldn't escape," he said.
"It may sound dramatic but it wasn't. Red bellied black snakes become very quiet and easy to handle even after a few hours. After a few days they become very likeable roommates.
"We were spoiled brats at Hawkesbury in those days - we had stewards make our beds. One day, a newly-appointed steward who was unfamiliar with our peculiar hobby, opened the door to the bedroom and ripped the top sheet off the bed to find a large coiled up snake enjoying a nap. It caused the first steward strike and we had to get rid of the snakes."
Roland recalls that students were forbidden to drink at Richmond pubs, lest they misbehave and it reflected badly on the college.
"Unwittingly to the Principal, all it did was send us to Windsor and Richmond for our robust student nights out," Roland said.
"We would pile into the cars of those who had them and be driven back by someone who should not have been allowed anywhere near a steering wheel."
Another strict rule in those all-male days was that "if you were caught with alcohol or a girlfriend in your room, you were expelled. A co-ed college was not even on the radar then".
A career was born
Much to Roland's surprise, he did "ok" in his first year at HAC, and won a Department of Agriculture cadetship. He studied at HAC from 1963-1965.
"That paid my way through the next two years of Hawkesbury and meant I joined the Department of Agriculture," he said.
"I went back to Hawkesbury as a Junior Officer on the Beef Cattle Section, and I spent a year there with Ben Andrews who was head of the section and became a mentor and close friend."
Roland returned to HAC in 1971 to complete the first post-graduate diploma in agricultural extension, for which he studied under the "remarkable" adult-educator, Graham Bird.
Roland said: "That's where I really got the taste for education and straight away enrolled with university and did a degree at the University of New England and other post-graduates study."
'The New Ringer' is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now at bookstores.