The Otway Forests
The forests of the Otway Ranges have a story that is at least as complex as any in Victoria - from the early days of sleeper cutting in blue gum forests around Apollo Bay, to the inroads and uses, and misuses, by encroaching settlers, to a sawlog harvesting history of more than 150 years, to inappropriate and disastrous settlements inside the forest boundaries, to plantations developed on failed settlements and, in common with all of Victoria's forests, repeated and damaging wildfires.
This article is an attempt to provide the tools to let you begin to explore that story. It is based on the early records of visitors and government agencies, but the greatest input comes from publications by Norman Houghton and Roger Smith, and videos produced by Jim Speirs.
A map of sawmill sites, tramlines and other features is also available via the link below. It brings together the maps in Norman Houghton's books - Sawdust and Steam (2011) and Choppers and Chippers (2018). There is also a timeline map of sawmills present by 5 year periods. Neither map would be available in this form without Norman's initial work, but also his significant work to attribute dates to the occupation of the sawmill sites.
The table and other information below is taken from:
The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges. Roger Smith. 2015
"Of the 350,000 hectares of native vegetation that covered the Otways 150 years ago, only 160,000 hectares of public land remain as native forest. And of the 160,000 hectares of public native forest that exist today, almost all of the merchantable eucalypt forest has been logged over at least once, sometimes more often. The only exceptions are two small patches of Mountain Ash, one in the West Barham River and the other in Olangolah Creek."
"When the hands and feet of European man made their mark on the wet mountain forests, the changes in the way the forest was used to benefit the incoming communities were profound. These changes, over a period of 175 years, are summarised in the following timeline."
1 The Black Forest of Victoria. Extract from Vol 1 No 3 of "The Australasian Magazine, published on 28 April 1851 by John Pullar of Melbourne.
2 Cape Otway State Forest. Extract from Papers relating to Forest Conservancy Published by Dept Crown Lands, 17th Dec 1874.
3 The Otway Forest - Its Resources, Management and Control.Fifth Progress Report of the Royal Commission on State Forests and Timber Reserves. 1899
4 West Otway Plantations. N Houghton (2014). Newsletter No. 62, Australian Forest History Society Inc.
5 Choppers and Chippers. A History of the Timber Industry in the West Otway Ranges. N Houghton. 2018
6 The Redwoods of The Otway Ranges. Roger Smith. 2015
7 Sawdust and Steam. A History of Sawmilling in the East Otway Ranges. 1850-2010. Norman Houghton. 2011
Timber Prodcution in the Otway Forests. LB Williams. Abt 1976