1890 - Report of the First Conservator

Richard Rawson (bio)

George Samuel Perrin was appointed as our first Conservator of Forests in 1888. His first Report to both Houses of the Parliament of Victoria was for the year ending 30 June 1890, and it pulled no punches.

There were already good people out there doing good work, but read his report and understand how clearly he saw the issues, and set out courses of action that would have helped to ensure that we had a healthy, diverse and extensive forest estate years later. Unfortunately, it would seem he was continually undermined by the bureaucracy and the politics of the time.

While you must read the report, I have precised it so you can get the tenor of the document without straining your eyes in the first instance. The headings below are those used in the Report.

Remember that this new Forests Branch is still within the Department of Lands and Survey. Early in the Report Perrin refers to the “135 men” employed in the Department.

Ofiice, Staff, Training, Thinning

Office and Staff

“Upon receiving my appointment from you, and my instructions to organize the work of a Forests Department, considerable difficulty was experienced in the fact that the office accommodation was of such a character as to almost prevent any progress whatever during the first six months after inception to office ….”

Training of Foresters

“At present, in Victoria, it is almost impossible to obtain trained officers as foresters. They are not even to be obtained in England. In the United Kingdom, the foresters are men self-educated and practically trained in the small plantations of the old country. Beyond these their knowledge and practice rarely extend. They have no idea of the management of vast natural indigenous forests, or of sawmilling,or wood-cutting, as practised in these colonies.”

“These men would be, to some extent, tyros if placed in the Gippsland bush.”

“It will be asked ‘Where are our trained men to come from?’ The reply is "From our own colony."

“A two years' course of agriculture and forestry combined would give us annually two or more trained youths for forest work. This would give an opening for the students to enter the Forest service.”

Thinning the Indigenous Timber in State Forests

“This is the most important work done by the Forest Branch since its inception. The work was first undertaken in the Havelock State Forest, and gradually extended to the Creswick and Ballarat East State Forests.”

“In another year or so many thousands of saplings will be available for the Ballarat mines as thinnings, whilst the "high forest" will not be interfered with. This work is under Mr. La Gerche, the Chief Forester.”

“At Gunbower State Forest ….. a large gang of labourers is at work under Mr. J. W. Love, who has had large European and Canadian experience ….”

“The young seedling redgum of Gunbower for years past have simply been ruined by the dense growth, …. Now all this will be changed; acre after acre will be thinned, …. the effect of which will be that the young trees will soon recover ….”

“As soon as the necessary trained hands become available, the forest around Sandhurst (now Bendigo), the magnificent ironbark ranges, will be taken in hand and dealt with in a similar manner to the other forests.”

“A nursery has been started at Gunbower Forest, and here it is intended to grow hundreds of thousands of sugar-gums and bluegums; the former for the arid dry plains of the Avoca and Loddon, and the dry sandy mallee wastes of the north-west and northern portions of the colony; the latter for the mines.”

Samills, Planting, State Nurseries

Sawmill Areas

“Under the present regulations, a sawmiller may take out area rights at £1 per 100 acres (up to a maximum of 1,000 acres) per month. It is thus possible for a sawmiller to take up 1,000 acres - rent £10 monthly - put on 100 or more men, and cut off all the timber in a couple of months, at a cost of only £20. The sawmiller may also take out another area in another forest, and proceed in the same manner. The remedy for this is to license the fallers in connexion with areas, and limit the number of areas any firm or sawmiller may take up. The area system is not wasteful. It necessarily keeps out the splitter, who is the true and primary cause of waste …. “

“I am decidedly of opinion that the special area system is a good one, and until the "royalty" system is adopted I know of no better.”

“The cutting of piles, telegraph poles, and undersized timber generally has been stopped, excepting under special licence and the personal supervision of a forester, in all the more important State forests, viz., Gunbower, Barmah, Creswick, Wombat, Maryborough, Colquhoun, and Victoria Valley, …. “

“The cutting of the above description of timber is done under the "royalty " system, all trees cut being subject to the inspection and approval of the forester. It is proposed to extend this system gradually. During the past few months a determined effort has been made by the Conservator to suppress the sleeper hewers of Gippsland. These men were creating dire havoc in the forests of that part of the colony, and noting the terrible destruction of· timber and open violation of forest regulations, instructions were given to the local foresters to seize all timber illegally cut, and clear the State forest of the offenders. This was done, and fresh licences were refused.”

Planting Operations, Macedon State Nursery

“The total number of trees raised during 1889-90, including seedlings (one year and two years old), is at:

Macedon State Nursery (approximate) 700,000
Creswick (one year and seedlings) .. . 100,000
Havelock (seedlings) 64,000
You Yangs (seedlings) 20,000
Total number of trees available for this and next season's planting - 884,000"

The State Nurseries

“The State nursery at Macedon has, up to season 1888-9, supplied the want of
public institutions.”

“Finding that one nursery could not keep pace with the constantly increasing demand for trees, a second nursery was established, early in 1888, at Sawpit Gully, near Creswick, under Mr. La Gerche, the local forester.”

“At the same time Inspector Blackburne started the nucleus of a nursery at Havelock, and Mr. Young, a nurseryman of experience, was appointed to take charge.”

“At Gunbower State Forest an important nursery has been started under Mr. Love, superintendent ; Mr. Patterson, late foreman at Macedon, taking charge of nursery operations.”

Revenue, Mining Timber, Fire


“The receipts from all sources, excepting those derived from grazing, amount to £16,202, whilst the expenditure is placed at £15,218, leaving a balance of nearly £1,000 in favour of the Department.”

The Supply of Mining Timber

“Foresters are stationed in the neighbourhood of nearly all important mining centres, and exercise strict supervision over the forests under their charge.”

“In all large mining centres it is of the utmost importance that the most thorough protection should be afforded the young growing timber, and this can only be given by constant and energetic supervision.”

“One of the most important axioms of forest conservancy is rest and quietude, i.e. freedom from trespass either of man or beast, and this is absolutely essential to rapid forest growth. This is where grazing, except under certain conditions is so injurious.”

In arguing that the Colony's forests should be fenced - “It’s idle to expect that a forest open to traffic on all sides, to trespass from cattle and their owners, to raids from wood-cutters, &c., can possibly continue to produce timber ad libitum. The results of such treatment are now to be seen all around the great mining centres of Victoria.”

“The miner of Sandhurst, Ballarat, and other important centres must divest himself of the idea that the forests are created solely to cut and slash about for his convenience in the present.”

Fire Protection in State Forests

“The proper protection of State forests from fire is a duty which must of necessity force itself upon the notice of a properly constituted Forest Department. It is the first duty of a forest officer to study the best means of fighting the greatest enemy the forests have to encounter.”

“In this universal carelessness with regard to fire lies the secret of the immense destruction of our forests.



“The present system of licence is a wasteful one and leads to constant abuse. The anomaly must be apparent of allowing a splitter the right to cut down trees for a period of three months for the sum of 5s. For this amount he can cut down trees 300 feet high, and if one does not suit him he can leave it, or select another, or take out one length and leave the rest to rot …. “

“The royalty system, under which each tree is bought from the forester in charge, who marks and values it upon a royalty basis, at so much per cubic foot (no one being allowed to touch a tree unless marked and branded by the forester for that purpose) is the only remedy for the waste caused by the splitter and sleeper hewer.”

“The sleeper hewer should be excluded from the forests. His trade is to select young timber, which in three or four years would become fit for the sawmillers, …. “

“The area system has its abuses, but the principle is a good one. A sawmiller may take up 1,000 acres as a special area; no one else has any right to cut over this area; no splitter or hewer may enter thereon. For this privilege, the sawmiller pays from £5 to £10 per month. If this sum were paid all the year round, there would not be much cause for complaint but, …. they are generally held for a few months only and then abandoned, to be again taken up at some future time.”

“Next to the royalty system the special area licence is undoubtedly of value, but, in order to prevent certain abuses, it is requisite that licences should be issued to the fallers employed on these areas, because under existing conditions there is nothing to prevent a sawmiller putting on 100 men to fall all the timber in a few weeks, and then abandon the area, and thus escape the rental of £5 or £10, as the case may be, per month.”

“The number of fallers should be restricted and licences taken out for each in addition to the area licence fee. This would stop the grabbing of timber and yet give a fair chance to every sawmiller, who would then cut his timber as required, and not·race his neighbour to see who could secure the most timber.”

“There should also be a time limit in the occupation of the areas, and a sawmiller should be compelled to clear off every matured tree which would cut up into timber before being allowed to abandon the area; when abandoned that area should be closed for a rotation of years, say, 5, 10, 15 or 20, according to the growth:of saplings upon the area at the time of abandonment.”

“The greatest importance must be attached to the question of closing the redgum areas for a certain number of years, in order to let the forest produce matured timber.”

“The closing of timber areas (for a period) worked over by sawmillers should become the fixed policy of the Department.”