"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.

Forestry Organisation - After the FCV

Mike Leonard (bio)

The Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War Two were defining events in recent human history.

By the 1960s however, certainly in Australia, economic activity had rebounded and, in many parts of society optimism was in the air. It was also a time of increasing social change. An influx of people from other nations was helping shape the way Australians lived, and major attitudinal changes were emerging across many areas of society.

Concurrently, a long-running war in Vietnam was escalating following the USA’s involvement; a commitment that was to be followed by Australia.

More generally, large-scale protests and public demonstrations became prominent, particularly in larger cities, opposing recently reintroduced military conscription, the Vietnam War, and established rules and restrictive morals. Campaigns included those for greater independence and equality for women in the workplace, fairer wages, a free accessible system of education, and the recognition of, and a struggle for, the rights of Indigenous Australians.

In 1966, Robert Menzies retired after 18 years as Australia’s Prime Minister. His successor, Harold Holt was to be a very different style of leader. Following Holt’s subsequent disappearance while swimming, John Gorton and then William McMahon were to lead the Federal Government during a period of increasing instability.

As Australia continued to urbanise, a modern environmental movement also began to emerge, as in other parts of the world during the 1960s. Somewhat critical to the evolution of this social movement was the publication in the USA in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. The book helped galvanise community concerns, internationally, over the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health.

Meanwhile, the term ‘gross domestic well-being’ was joining ‘gross domestic production’ in the popular lexicon.

As the environmental movement grew, so did its greater formalisation. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was established in 1966. Peak conservation councils were also founded during this period in most States and Territories.

In the 1960s and 1970s, campaigns were to lead to the protection of some of Australia’s unique and special natural places. The ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the late 1960s to prevent the destruction of Tasmania’s Lake Pedder was followed in the 1970s and 1980s. for example, with successful opposition to the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. Tens of thousands of Australians mobilised, achieving not only protection of the Franklin, but of most of South-West Tasmania.

Politically, at the federal level, the Labor Party had entered opposition in 1949. A Liberal/Country Party Coalition was to govern continuously for the next 23 years. Gough Whitlam was elected Labor Party leader in April 1967, and led his Party to victory at the 1972 election.

On assuming the Party leadership, Whitlam revamped the Party’s platform and, on coming to office, change was quickly implemented across many areas of Government. While social justice and cultural matters featured prominently in the new Government’s agenda, so too did the environment.

Initiatives included the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, which required the Commonwealth Government to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments on projects under its control, or undertaken using its funds; ratification of the World Heritage Convention; creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; passing of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, establishing a professional service to manage federally-controlled National Parks; recognition of the land and water rights held by Indigenous Australians; establishing the Australian Heritage Commission; ratification of the RAMSAR convention, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In late 1975, during on-going controversy, the second Whitlam government was defeated by a Coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser.

The incoming Government maintained many of the social reforms of the Whitlam era, but sought to introduce increased fiscal restraint, while being less active on environmental matters.

In 1977 a Liberal minister, Don Chipp, resigned to form a new social/liberal party, the Australian Democrats. This development, and a concurrent proposal to dam Tasmania’s Franklin Dam mentioned previously, are considered by many to have contributed significantly to the emergence of an influential and more organised environmental movement in Australia.

Fraser was to govern until early 1983 when Bob Hawke led the Labor Party back into office.

In Victoria, Liberal Party Premier Henry Bolte had been in power since 1955.1 He liked to be seen as a simple farmer, but he had a shrewd political mind. Helped by a split in the Labor Party in the mid-1950s, he was to be re-elected six times, his popularity peaking at the 1967 election. By the early 1970s however the State Government realised it had to broaden its appeal.2 In August 1972 Bolte resigned, arranging for his deputy, Dick Hamer, a somewhat more progressive Melbourne-based politician, to succeed him. Hamer was to win three further elections.

Hamer moved to modernise government in Victoria: environmental protection laws were greatly strengthened, the death penalty was abolished, Aboriginal communities were given ownership of their lands, abortion and homosexuality were decriminalised, and anti-discrimination laws were introduced. And by the mid-1970s Victoria had been christened ‘The Garden State’.

In 1971 the Land Conservation Council (LCC) was established, replacing the Land Utilisation Advisory Council (LUAC), which had been formed in 1950 (at the same time as the Soil Conservation Authority - SCA). The LUAC's functions had been to define catchment areas and advise the Minister and the SCA on land use in any catchment area. In 1966 the LUAC had been charged with recommending the best uses of Crown lands in Victoria. However, there was no provision for public participation in the process, and as a result of public interest in land-use management, and in particular a controversy over the future of the Little Desert, in western Victoria, the LCC was established to carry out investigations and make recommendations " ..on the balanced use of public land.. " throughout Victoria.3

Politically, by the late 1970s, Victoria was experiencing increasing economic difficulties, rising unemployment, and industrial unrest. In mid-1981 Hamer resigned, and was succeeded by Deputy-Premier Lindsay Thompson. At the election the following year the Liberals were defeated after 27 years in power.

And in the Forests

On September 3rd, 1939 Australia entered World War Two. In January of that year the most devastating bushfires Victoria had seen since European settlement swept much of the forested parts of the State. Some 1.5 million hectares were burnt, 650 homes and businesses, and 69 timber mills were destroyed and, tragically, 71 persons lost their lives.

The Royal Commission that followed the fires, which at the time of writing remains one of the stand-out Inquiries of its type that Australia has seen, was to result in a much greater focus on forest management in Victoria in general, and on fire management in particular.

For the then FCV there were to be increased powers and responsibilities, improved budgets and resources, and at least for a time, increased political influence.4



1.  Intriguingly perhaps, it was the first, short-lived Hollway Liberal government, which took power in 1948 that created a Ministry of Conservation in 1949, the first Minister being Henry Bolte. The Ministry remained a feature of the Cabinet until the conservatives lost power in 1982.
2.  Bolte’s Liberal colleague, Bill Borthwick had, by 1970, developed a commitment to the conservation of the natural environment. He was the driving force in the creation of an Environment Protection Authority, in the establishment the Land Conservation Council to bring a stronger conservation perspective to public land use, and was the architect of the then government’s commitment to at least a five-fold increase in the area of national parks.
3.  The Little Desert controversy was, among other things, to see several students at the Victorian School of Forestry join the protests about the proposed alienation of sections of the public lands estate, with a jointly-signed letter to The Age newspaper.
4.  See Doolan BV (2016).
5.  ibid pp. 65 -66.
6.  Yencken et al., Forests Commission Victoria: Report of Ministerial Review Team (Melbourne1983). p 3
7.  See Doolan BV (2016) p 66
8.  Ibid. p. 67
9.  Softwoods in Victorian Forestry. October 1982. Available elsewhere on this website.
10.  VSFA Newsletter. No. 54  pp 10-15
11.  See also: ibid - VSFA Newsletter No. 58 pp 33-37 and VSFA Newsletter No.59 pp 17 - 18.
12.  The then Chairman of the FCV, A J Threader, had retired in late May 1983. Dr Ron Grose then briefly fulfilled the role of Chairman, Athol Hodgson becoming the third Commissioner. Following his appointment in late 1983, Tony Eddison, among other statutory appointments,became Chairman of the FCV; Ron Grose and Gerry Griffin then being the other two Commissioners, while Athol Hodgson became CFL’s Chief Fire Officer.
13.  Von Mueller had, in 1853, become Victoria’s first Government Botanist, adding Director of the Botanic Gardens to his roles in 1857. He was a seminal scientific figure in the Colony and, particularly in later years, a somewhat controversial figure also.
14.  VSFA Newsletter. No. 59  pp. 22-29.
15.  A Fraternity of Foresters
16.  Ron Grose, as Director, SFLS was initially replaced by CFL’s Director of Fisheries, and eventually by Dr Bob Smith, a senior executive from the New South Wales Forestry Commission. See also: VSFA Newsletter. No. 59. pp 3-16.
17.  The Timber Industry Strategy.
18.  The area of national parks in Victoria was to grow from approximately 800,000 hectares at the beginning of 1982, to more than 3.4 million hectares in 2010.


See Also


Ajani, J. (2007). The Forest Wars. Melbourne University Press. 362 pp.
Cain, J. (1995). John Cain's Years: Power, Parties and Politics. Melbourne University Press. 323 pp.
Doolan, B.V. (2018), Natural Order: An Institutional Survey of Victoria's Forests 1900-2010. 205 pp. Background Paper for M.A. Thesis. Clayton: School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University. 
Frankenberg, J. (1971). Nature Conservation in Victoria - A survey. Victorian National Parks Association. 145 pp.
A Fraternity of Foresters - A History of the Victorian State Foresters Association.
Johnson, R. (1974). The Alps at the Crossroads. Victorian National Parks Association. 208 pp.
Legg, S.M. (1995). Debating Forestry - An Historical Geography of Forestry Policy in Victoria and South Australia, 1870–1939. Ph. D. Thesis - Monash University. 389 pp.
Moulds, F.R. (1991). The Dynamic Forest – A History of Forestry and Forest Industries in Victoria. Lynedoch Publications. Richmond, Australia. 232 pp.
Pyne, S.J. (1998). Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia. University of Washington Press. 521 pp
Routley, R. and Routley, V.C. (1974). The Fight for the Forests: The Takeover of Australian Forests for Pines, Wood Chips and Intensive Forestry. Canberra: Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 407 pp.
Smith, L. (published 2016). Building a National Parks Service for Victoria 1958 – 1975. Published on the VNPA website. 220 pp.
The Age - May 1983
Youl, R., Fry, B. and Hateley, R. (2010) Circumspice: One hundred years of forestry education centred on Creswick, Victoria. On-Demand Printers, Port Melbourne, Victoria. 278 pp.