"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

FCV Business and Social Enterprises

David Williams (bio)
Summary

The FCV was established by the Forests Act 1918 to protect and manage Victoria’s public forests for the long term benefit of Victorians. The primary charter provided the framework for the FCV’s many and varied activities and works over almost seven decades. The Act also provided for the Commission to undertake secondary activities which were indirectly related to the primary purpose. These non-core activities included operating business and social enterprises and ‘war effort’ programs. They significantly contributed to the Commission’s work over it's life.

Business enterprises included timber seasoning, two sawmills, a Eucalyptus oil distillery, a steel tramway, harvesting and directly selling forest products, and a one-off opportunistic export sale of hardwood poles. The primary objectives were specific to each business but the general purpose was either to:

  • Provide leadership in a new area of forest products to encourage private companies to follow, or;
  • Supplement overall production because of limited private sector capacity.

Commercial performance was a secondary objective with these businesses. Some of the businesses performed well financially including harvesting and directly selling forest products, eucalyptus oil production and one-off sale of export hardwood poles. The Erica sawmill was profitable until the latter stages of its life. The timber seasoning business returned a minor profit overall but was not a commercial success. The Erica tramway and Nayook sawmill were unsuccessful commercially.

The ‘war effort’ programs and social enterprises were not commercial businesses, and were instigated at the direction of the Victorian government. The ‘war effort’ programs of emergency firewood production for Melbourne and Geelong, and charcoal production, were both very successful. The social enterprises included 11 separate unemployment schemes and training programs. The Commission became adept at operating the unemployment schemes and became dependent of the labour to carry out much of its forest works programs. The training programs were partly successful with significant numbers of trainees subsequently gaining employment as a result of skills acquired under the programs.

Newport Seasoning Works

Best Use of Victoria’s Timbers
David Williams (bio)
Introduction

The considerable potential for Victorian native hardwoods as fine timber was recognised as early as the mid-1800’s but there was little or no inclination to develop this potential for a number of decades. The utilisation of native timbers was wasteful and the forests were extensively cleared in an uncontrolled manner. Eventually the Government established the State Forest Department in 1907 in recognition of the destruction of the forests and the growing rehabilitation liability. At this time there was also a call for the Government to support the establishment of a works to undertake research into techniques for producing seasoned timber from native hardwood species. Work commenced on the Newport Seasoning Works in 1910 with initial production in the following year.

The objectives of the seasoning works were to:

  1. Undertake research into techniques for seasoning Victorian hardwood species and demonstrate the viability of producing Victorian hardwood seasoned timber.
  2. Ensure the seasoning works were financially viable but not to maximise profits.

The FCV's Erica Tramline

David Williams (bio)

 

The Erica Steel Tramway was used to transport sawn timber from sawmills located along the Eastern and Western Tyers Rivers to a siding joining the main Moe-Walhalla rail line just south of Erica in Central Gippsland. The tramway was one of two that were owned and operated by the FCV. The second was built in response to the needs of the 1939 salvage operation and extended from the South Cascade Bridge to Little Boys Camp. The locations of both lines can be found on this map.

The tramway travelled 6.75 miles from Collins siding, south of Erica, to the Tyers Junction where three river branches meet, those being the Eastern, Middle and Western Tyers. The tramway then spilt into two branch lines – one travelling 2.25 miles to ‘Ten Acre Block’ on the Eastern Tyers River, and the other travelling 7 miles to Growlers Creek on the Western Tyers River.

The tramway operated for 22 years, commencing in 1927 and its last trip was in July 1949.

FCV Sawmills


In 1920 the FCV purchased a sawmill near Nayook

"Early in 1920 the Commission, with Government's approval, purchased a saw-mill, with the rights to a fine stand of mature mountain ash and messmate timber. Cutting operations commenced on 10th March, and after the inevitable disturbance of the transition period had been overcome, work proceeded smoothly on the whole. Truck shortage occasioned difficulties in getting timber away during the period under review, resulting in considerable stocks being accumulated at the mill, but the general state of affairs appears satisfactory for a new undertaking. Minor improvements to be effected during the current financial year are expected to increase the output and facilitate more complete utilization of the trees felled." (FCV Annual Report 1919-1920)

The mill remaind in the original location until 1922 when it was moved two to three kilometres to the east. It remained at this new site until 1930.

The FCV established a new sawmill at Erica in 1940

From 1930 to 1940 there was no State Mill, but in 1940:

"In furtherance of the Salvage Plan, the Commission established a sawmill in proximity to the township of Erica to expedite the utilization of large quantities of fire-killed timber in the Thomson Valley and at the same time assist in supplying sawn timber to fulfil urgent Defence and Government orders. An up-to-date milling plant was erected and is now in full operation. The plant comprises twin breaking-down saws, two rip benches, and a swing docker. An extension of the Victorian Railways narrow gauge line from Erica railway station was constructed into the mill yard to permit of loading timber direct from the skids into railway trucks. Logs are transported to the mill over the Commission's steel tramway, the haulage units being two Diesel locomotives purchased and operated by the Commission. The output of sawn timber during the first six months' operations to 30th June totalled 424,268 superficial feet." (FCV Annual Report 1940-1941)

Financial statements for the Mill ceased to appear in FCV Annual Reports after 1966/67 so it probably closed around that time.

Why did the FCV get into sawmilling in the first place?

"At both sites the government decided to enter the sawmilling business because of issues with the industry. However the reasons were different.
At the Latrobe River (Nayook)site the reasons were:

  • To prevent the Vic Hardwood Co holding a monopoly in the Powelltown area.
  • To ensure a supply of timber for Public Works at a reasonable cost.

At Erica the reasons were:

  • To keep up the supply of timber due to private sector failure to put in mills.
  • To exploit the fire-killed timber in the Thomson Valley before it deteriorated and became useless for milling.
So the usual reason for establishing a mill (profit) was not the driving force. In the period 1930 to 1940 demand was low and there was no need for State intervention, so the FCV didn’t operate a mill in that time." (M McCarthy, 2020)

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The State Mill at Erica
Date: Unknown
Source: M McCarthy

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The State Mill at Erica
Date: January 1942
Source: G Cleary