IN an age when change is the dominant feature of many workplaces, Tocal College's departing principal, Cameron Archer, has been inclined, in his own description, to take "the long view" of things.
Having announced his impending retirement, Dr Archer is calling an end to 27 years as the principal at Tocal, having arrived there as a teacher 13 years before.
Dr Archer and his wife Jean - now retired from a head English teacher's position at Maitland Grossmann High School - came to the Hunter as "refugees from Cyclone Tracy", the massive storm that all but flattened Darwin in December 1974. Starting at Tocal in 1975 as an agronomy lecturer, Dr Archer was made deputy principal in 1985, and principal in 1987.
In the decades since then, Tocal College's reach and responsibilities have expanded substantially. On top of the 100 or so residential students accommodated at the main CB Alexander campus, Tocal has strengthened its offerings to external students. In 2006, the Murrumbidgee College of Agriculture at Yanco, near Leeton, was added to Tocal's responsibilities.
Dr Archer says the popularity of external courses and online learning means the bulk of the education now takes place away from Tocal itself.
Public interaction with Tocal has also increased over the years, with as many as 25,000 people visiting each May for the college's highly popular field days.
The rise of the field days shows the public's strong interest in Tocal but they are also, as Dr Archer has observed, a sign of the way that hobby farming has become an entrenched practice on the urban-rural fringes.
But Tocal under Dr Archer has also had a weather eye on the future demand for skilled practitioners in various commercial agricultural fields.
Speaking recently to the Newcastle Herald for Tocal's 50th anniversary, Dr Archer said the college needed to keep up with emerging trends in global agricultural practices if it was to "remain relevant".
As the only educational college run through the Department of Primary Industries, rather than the Department of Education and Communities, Tocal is in an unusual position administratively, but its success under Dr Archer shows that this is an arrangement that appears best left in place.
Turning 65 in October, Dr Archer hopes to see his successor appointed before Tocal's foundation day on the first Friday in November. Whoever is trusted with the job will find themselves with sizeable shoes to fill. But in the same way that Dr Archer took inspiration from his three predecessors, so Tocal's fifth principal is likely to keep an eye on the past while forging a new path to the future.