A $6 MILLION centre for innovation in agriculture was formally opened at North Dandalup last week, realising a 40-year dream for its visionary creator, professor Roger Dawkins.
Great grandson of Goldfields pipeline civil engineer Charles Yelverton O'Connor, professor Dawkins, who is an internationally recognised immunogenetics researcher turned Red Wagyu and Akaushi cattle breeder, had a dream of creating a scientific research community facility to encourage innovation and collaboration.
In 1983 he had set up what became the CY O'Connor ERADE (Education, Research and Development, Employment) Village Foundation to try and achieve his dream using income derived from intellectual property licensing and patents.
He had headed a medical foundation for almost 40 years involved in genetic research, initially related to immune diseases including AIDS and organ transplant matching.
In 1999 the foundation moved to donated facilities on a Dawkins family farm at then rural Piara Waters and in 2002 broadened its research to include genetic projects associated with livestock.
But the research centre and farm were overtaken by suburban expansion.
The CY O'Connor ERADE Village Foundation began discussions with Peel Development Commission and Murray Shire Council in 2016 about relocating to the region adjacent to an area identified in the Transform Peel vision as the Peel Food Zone.
A five hectare corner of a much larger site off Del Park Road at North Dandalup was chosen as the location for the foundation's Peel campus.
A $2.5m Federal government grant in 2019 through the Building Better Regions Fund, allowed planning to begin for the centre which was formally opened last week.
It consists of a house that was on the block and has served as a base for the CY O'Connor ERADE Village Foundation and a purpose-built research laboratory added next to it.
One of the buildings used for research at Piara Waters was relocated to North Dandalup and, along with two recently completed buildings, will form the basis of space available to corporate and other bodies wishing to conduct research or develop product ideas.
East Wickepin farmer with an interest in research to mitigate frost impacts on crops and a long-time associate of the Dawkins family, Syd Martin, was called on to cut the ribbon to declare the centre open.
Professor Dawkins announced a foundation meeting before the opening ceremony had decided the centre would be called the Marshall Agricultural Centre after his former colleague professor Barry Marshall.
Nobel Prize Laureate, clinical professor of microbiology and director of The Marshall Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Training at the University of WA, professor Marshall has also agreed to be patron of the CY O'Connor ERADE Village Foundation when current patron, WA Governor Kim Beazley, retires later this month.
"It is an honour to be asked by Roger to be patron of the North Dandalup centre," professor Marshall said.
"Science is not a democracy, you don't need approval from England or the United States or anywhere else to do something that is globally important, right here in WA," he said, after outlining his research connections with professor Dawkins who he described as his "mentor".
"Of course, we all have to eat, so agriculture is wide open (for research) and usually not enough is spent into that area, so hopefully we can change that."
Professor Marshall, who also has a medical research laboratory in China named after him, explained research did not have to be hugely expensive, harvesting the innovative ideas in the first place was important.
"If you've got a bunch of smart people, they don't use many resources, they are thinking about stuff, coming up with ideas and then maybe they might need a little instrument to test the ideas or they collaborate with somebody," he said.
"Once you've got the smart people, they'll find answers and important questions to resolve."
Professor Dawkins invited farmers, scientists and family friend quests at the opening ceremony to "help us find those uses (for the centre) and the wonderful young people we will need to see success in the Peel region".
"We have a lot of challenges ahead which is, of course, what we like," he said.
"(But) if there is one shared lesson from CY O'Connor, Kim Beazley and Barry Marshall, it is we must treasure independence, self-belief and persistence."
Later, professor Dawkins said the foundation would like to hear from and maintain contact with farmers who have a particular project or agricultural interest they believed is worthy of further research.
Professor Dawkins' son John told guests the Dawkins family paddock-to-plate operation, Tillbrook Melaleuka Group, which has cattle properties at North Dandalup and Waroona, a processing facility and five taverns and a burger bar, would be first tenant of the new centre.
The group "will do all our innovation and training" in one of the new buildings, he said.
"The main objective is to improve what we are doing in paddock-to-plate, but to expand into what we call farm-to-table because we want to expand into beverage production and other things we are not doing now, such as (producing) vegetables and bakery goods," Mr Dawkins said.
Part of the innovation plan was to establish a distillery in the building to produce gin and rum using "local botanicals", as well as a kitchen and bar for staff training, demonstrations and producing marketing videos, Mr Dawkins said.
The foundation's laboratory has been involved in research on fat marbling to improve meat eating quality and also lower melting-point fat in meat to provide health benefits.
Intellectual property on haplotyping - a group of genes that are inherited together from a single parent - has been licensed by the foundation to a group of US farmers and it is developing a DNA testing instrument for a biomedical client.