If you look through FCV Annual Reports prior to 1944 you will often see reference to the FCV's involvement with Bush Fire Brigades. How did that come about?
In 1937 the then Chairman of the FCV, AV Galbraith, published an article about the FCV's involvement with these Brigades, which was stimulated by the impacts of the 1926 fires. The extracts below are from his article as published in the Empire Forestry Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1 (July 1937)
Following on the calamitous forest fires of 1926, the Victorian Forests Commission, having obtained the co-operation of the Country Fire Brigades Board and the Lands and Police Departments, undertook an extensive campaign to stimulate public interest and to encourage the formation of fire-fighting units. Delegations to all country districts were arranged and such success attended these efforts that the number of fire-fighting units or brigades increased by leaps and bounds. By 1931, 220 units had been organized in country centres throughout the State and at the present time the effective strength of the movement is 320 brigades.
In order that the efforts of independent units might be co-ordinated and methods of fire-fighting standardized, an Association of Bush Fire Brigades was formed in 1926. In recognition of the invaluable work of the brigades, the Forests Commission provides the secretariat of the Association, paying all incidental expenses connected therewith.
The movement now embraces approximately 13,000 members and it must be emphasized that the organization is wholly a voluntary one. Each member gives his service without any hint of obligation. He pledges himself to assist in fire-fighting whenever called upon and in the majority of cases each brigade arranges for the provisions of its own equipment, fire-fighting appliances and transport. Absolutely no governmental financial assistance is provided with the exception that where a brigade's district includes or adjoins forest reserves the Forests Commission donates portion of the equipment in return for the brigade's assistance in suppressing fires which may be burning in or threatening Crown reserves. The spirit of mutual self-help is thereby engendered and encouraged.
However, the establishment of brigades was not always without critics.
"It is unfortunate that in a few instances the formation of brigades was strongly opposed, grazing interests being strong and not in favour of any movement likley to interfere with their annual burn-off." Handbook of Forestry In Victoria - FCV (1928)
The recovery program managed by the FCV after the 1939 fires was massive in scope. This article will continue to expand as new information is collected and added. However, it is hoped that, even at this early stage, it provides a reasonable insight into what was probably the largest forestry operation in Victoria's history.
After the 1939 fires the FCV recognised that it needed to act quickly to recover as much timber as possible. Perhaps more importantly, it also needed to ensure that the fire-killed forest regenerated satisfactorily, either naturally or, if necessary, with assistance particularly in areas that had been harvested, and previously and recently burnt by wildfire in 1926 and 1932. It is also worth remembering that this program had to be initiated at the same time as a Royal Commission was unfolding, and that Inquiry would criticise the FCV for at some of the inadequacies that became apparent during the fires. The FCV needed to respond to those criticisms, while concurrently gearing itself to handle responsibility for fire over a vastly increased forest area, by implementing measures across the board to improve its fire prevention and suppression performance. And World War II was just a few months away from placing more urgency on all of these activities.
The new Government elected in Victoria in April 1982 was to intensify the questioning of Victoria's current approach to forest management. On 9th July 1982 the Minister asked the FCV Chairman to establish a number of Task Forces consisting of Commission Officers, to examine:
In his Memorandum to the Chairman, the Minister made it clear that the Task Forces exercise was designed to show a new sense of purpose, support from the Government for the Commission to encourage staff involvement, and to open up alternative options each of which he wanted to see fully examined. And later in July 1982 the Minister asked the FCV to establish a Task Force to "report on wood production (hardwood and softwood) and the timber industry in Victoria and to list options for the Government". The specific terms of reference for this work were set out in considerable detail.
On 30 September 1982 the Task Force presented its report to the Minister and the Ministerial Review Team. Due to the comprehensive and detailed nature of this document, the Task Force was asked by the Minister to comment on its preferred options for future wood production.
The Task Force then produced a supplementary report to the Minister in October 1982. This report was titled "Preferred Options for Future Wood Production in Victoria" and added to it in this online copy are the Terms of Reference given to the Task Force, and the Minister's letter outlining the approach to the work that was to be adopted.
Adding to this knowledge base, there followed a lengthy period of inquiry and consultation leading to the Timber Industry Inquiry commencing in 1984. As part of this process the FCV established a task force to update and expand on these earlier reports. This new group of FCV officers, comprised of middle level managers, finalised its report in July 1984 with yet another comprehensive document titled "A Discussion Paper to Assist the DCF&L Prepare a Submission to the Inquiry". While we hold a copy of this document it is too large to make available online in its entirety at this stage, but extracts will appear on the site as we work through the content.All of the above work helped shape thinking about how our forests should be managed that was to flow into the Timber Industry Strategy of 1986, as described below by David.
The Victorian Government released a Timber Industry Strategy in 1986 (TIS 1986) to provide a framework for the development of sustainable and competitive timber industry with improved environmental outcomes and including public involvement in forest planning and management. The Strategy was comprehensive covering native forest and softwood forest management, environmental protection and greater public involvement, and included a number of major initiatives. The Strategy was a prototype for similar changes in other States and for the 1992 National Forest Policy.
The Government established a Board of Inquiry in 1984 to make recommendations on future directions for the timber industry. The Inquiry proactively sought public input into the review and its’ report largely informed the Strategy.
The native forest management initiatives represented major changes or evolutionary steps at the time. Detailed description and implementation was often complex and difficult requiring extensive training of government officers as well as contractors and timber customers. The native forest management changes were seen as disadvantaging some timber customers whilst others were advantaged. The initiatives covered implementing regional sustained yield, multiple use management, changes to silvicultural practices, issuing long term supply arrangements with payment of licence fees and public tender processes for sale of uncommitted timber.
Changes for state owned softwood plantations included issuing long term licences and agreements with payment of licence fees, plans to expand plantations and cessation of clearing native forests for establishing plantations.
Initiatives covering both native forests and softwood plantations included managing the businesses as commercial enterprises ensuring at least four per cent return on invested funds in timber production, environmental protection measures, assisting and encouraging private forestry and reforestation, and effective processes for public involvement.
In the bush the Strategy foreshadowed a significantly upgraded focus on occupational and safety issues, prior training and accreditation, and a licensing system for ‘forest workers/operators’.
Timber industry issues had been stridently contested for more than a decade and a half at the time so stakeholder acceptance of the Strategy was challenging. The Strategy sought a reasonable and pragmatic balance on between social, economic and environmental issues and was accepted by the opposing parties at the time, at least in the short term. The native forest wars re-ignited during the Labor Government’s fourth term several years later, with conservationist campaigning for new national parks and anti-pine groups campaigning against plantation expansion.
Overall the Strategy represented the first comprehensive ‘triple bottom line’ approach to forest management in Victoria and included a number of far sighted initiatives. The Strategy is judged to have been successful in largely achieving its’ objectives in the short term and laying down positive new practices, a number of which endure.
Forest History in Victoria: A Guide to Government Records 1836-1994, Heather McRae, Conservation and Natural Resources (1994)
This guide directs readers to relevant publications, libraries, archives, and organisations for further information, and covers original unpublished records such as files, volumes, index cards, maps, plans, photographs, films and computer records, with a particular focus on records of the former Forests Commission of Victoria, 1919-87.
This record series constitutes the general correspondence registered by the Department of State Forests (Forests Commission) during the period 1920-1983.
Alternatively a spreadsheet listing correspondence files is available for viewing and download, along with instructions. The content of these documents was sourced from VPRS 11563 by Amy Young (1998), and recently updated by Paul Barker (2020).