"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.

ME Carver's View

Maurice Carver was a clerk in the Forests Department, and in the late 1920s he compiled an extraordinarily detailed history of Victorian forestry up to 1919. His history comprises a number of volumes and, at the start of Volume E, he provides his own summary of the period which extends over more than 160 pages. The first two pages of his summary are reproduced below. There is a link below to enable you to access all Volumes.

In 1851 Victoria was a pastoral settlement, with a population of 77,345. In June of that year gold was discovered near Clunes and a sudden large influx of population began; in 1854, three years afterwards, it had increased to 231,925; and in 1857 it had reached 410,766.

The Government of the State was conditioned to the needs of the mining industry and as timber was a necessity to enable that activity to function practically no restrictions were placed in the way of its easy and cheap procurement. No value whatever was set on the forests and wooded areas adjacent to mining operations soon were denuded of merchantable timber and it was only because of the necessity of going further afield for pit props, laths, and other wood necessities for the mines that any thought was given to the conservation of forests.

The spirit of forest destruction engendered by the mining community became a State characteristic.

When land settlement proceeded forested areas were frequently made available to settlers and clearing operations were carried out mainly by the use of fire which, more often than not, was not restricted to the land owner's property but allowed to spread to adjoining forests. The settlers were permitted to obtain timber for their own use free of charge and this concession did little to instill a forest conscience in the community.

The forests were controlled by the Lands Department whose primary function was to provide land for settlement and this activity coupled with the area system of timber licensing and by general lack of appreciation of forestry hastened the denudation of accessible forests.

In opposition to this national policy of forest destruction there was always a small persistent band of forest coneervationists, the first of such being the Surveyor General, C.W.Ligar, Assistant Commissioner of Lands and Survey, Clement Hodgkinson, the Secretary for Mines, R. Brough Smythe, who in 1865 were acting as Commissioners to enquire into applications for land under the Land Act and in the course of their activities they realized there was "rapid, and unnecessary destruction of forests". They recommended the extension of forest reserves in the vicinity of certain mining centres and the planting of trees.

In 1871 a Commission appointed by the Governor of the Colony expressed the opinion that prompt and decisive action should be taken to end the wasteful practices of timber cutting.

Also in 1871, William Ferguson, Inspector of State Forests, reported on the destruction of forests in the vicinity of the goldfields.

The first Conservator of Forests, Mr. G.A. Perrin, whose activities were greatly restricted within the Lands Department, following his appointment in 1886 fought strenuously for a proper system of forest control.

Acting Conservator A.W.Crooke in his report for 1905 doubted if there was any strong popular feeling for systematic forestry. The cry from municipalities was - "This forest pays no rates - cut it up and have settlement on it".

In his 1906 report, however, he indicated that there was a more general readiness on the part of timber-getters to work smoothly under the prevailing regulations and conditions.

Alienation of forested lands continued. Ministers of the Crown and members of Parliament were constantly faced with petitions and appeals from electors to open more land for settlement and this appeasement further reduced the area of forest reserves. It was because of this that forest conservationists frequently in their solicitations stated "trees have no votes".

The Forests Act 1907 established the first Forest Department and made it possible to inaugurate a system of sound practical forestry.

The Department was succeeded in 1919 by the Forests Commission constituted under the Forests Act 1918.

Both the Department and the Commission were handed a legacy of denuded forests and usually insufficient funds were provided to permit the implementation of a sound, scientific, forest policy.