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

New Goverment

New Government

In April 1982 John Cain took office at the helm of the first Labor Government in Victoria since the one led by his father 27 years earlier. He was subsequently to win two further elections, eventually resigning in late-1990 to make way for Joan Kirner. Like Gough Whitlam ten years previously, Cain and his Party had been preparing for Government for several years. During its first term it was to carry out many reforms, particularly in the areas of education, environment, law, and in public administration more generally.

From the perspective of the State’s forests and woodlands the two initial most relevant Ministers were to be:

  • Hon Roderick A Mackenzie MLC: Minister of Forests, Minister of Lands (to 1 September 1983), Minister of Soldier Settlement (to 21 December 1982), Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands (from 1 September 1983) and,
  • Hon Evan Walker MLC: Minister for Conservation, Minister for Planning (to 1 September 1983), Minister for Planning and Environment (from 1 September 1983), Minister of Public Works (from 8 September 1983).

In his detailed analysis of these developments Brian Doolan5 describes the Cain government’s reforms as being:

" ..firmly wrapped in an economic management program based .. on greater control over government resources and activities to fund the implementation of an ambitious social, economic and environmental agenda. Initially described as ‘corporate management’ and .. later ‘managerialism’, the approach was based on a number of elements: clarity of accountability, central co-ordination rather than autonomy (followed later by the opposite principle of ‘subsidiarity’), transparent objectives and plans, program budgeting aligned to objectives, quantitative targets for the economic return on public investment, commercial accounting and active financial management, increased public consultation, and a service orientation in public sector operation .. "

The first Cain government saw the number of Ministries ultimately reduced from thirty one, to around twenty.

Ministerial Review Team

The new Minister for Forests, Rod Mackenzie, moved quickly to establish a Ministerial Review Team, under the auspices of the Public Service Board, to analyse the workings and structure of the FCV. The Review Team’s* members were David Yencken, John Mant, Peter Ellyard and Faith FitzGerald.

*D Yencken: Concurrently appointed as Secretary (Chief Executive) of the Victorian Ministry for Planning. Previous roles had included Member, Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate established in 1973 by the Whitlam Government; and Chair, Australian Heritage Commission 1975-81.
J Mant: a lawyer and planner. He had been a Ministerial Adviser and had worked in several federal, state and local government departments. During the five months leading up to the dismissal, in 1975, of Gough Whitlam's government Mant had been the PM’s principal private secretary.
P Ellyard: Following the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 was appointed Chief of staff of Environment Ministers, being a major architect of the first national environment laws and policies until 1975. In 1976 he became the foundation CEO of Papua New Guinea’s Environment Department. Between 1979 and 1983 he was CEO of South Australia’s Environment Department.
F FitzGerald: Strategy, policy and analysis consultant. She had also been active in local government and Mayor of Doncaster, in Melbourne’s east.

To assist both the incoming Government and the Ministerial Review Team, Minister Mackenzie, in July 1982, established five internal (FCV) task forces to examine:

  • Hardwood and softwood futures (AR Eddy, IR Kennedy, PA Langley, LA Pederick, RB Smith, and KJ Wareing)
  • Relationships with other government agencies (P Sheehan with others)
  • The organisation of the FCV (BD Dexter, M Rumbold, J Lynch, and J Wright)
  • The public image of the FCV (MJ Crotty, PJ Greig, ME McDougall, and M Leonard), and
  • Fire prevention and fuel reduction burning (JB Johnston, DJ McKittrick, DW Flinn, and HG Brown)

The Review Team’s 87 page report was submitted to Minister Mackenzie in April 1983, and he tabled it in Parliament, as the basis of reform, a month later.

The Review concluded, among other things that:

" .. The Forests Commission in 1982 (had) many outstanding qualities. The competence of district forestry operations is highly respected. The Commission is an efficient fire fighting organisation. Forestry education and forestry experience have proved an admirable training in resource management, as (was) evidenced by the many former foresters who (had) moved into senior management positions in other agencies. The esprit de corps – the sense of communality of background, interest, and purpose in the Commission – is very high .. "

While acknowledging that, the Review added:

" .. There have been some significant changes during the past decade .. "

It also stated that:

" .. The Commission has, however, been faced with the need for major adjustments to meet the issues and requirements of the 1970s and 1980s. The very strengths of the Commission, its single mindedness, the homogeneity of background and training of its professional staff, have perhaps proved to be its greatest weaknesses in this time of change, and have inhibited many necessary adaptations .. "6

In overview Doolan suggests the report:

" .. sounded the death knell on the organisational structure of the Forests Commission, finding it to be a confusing duplication of the Minister’s powers and, as a three-man board, out of step with contemporary organisational design that located executive authority in a single chief officer. It also criticised the cultural dominance of professional foresters, and the lack of technical staff with other disciplinary qualifications, the small number of women in the workforce and the absence of any Aboriginal staff .. "7

Among its recommendations the Review proposed that:

  • There be a re-assessment/re-evaluation of the softwood planting program, current timber royalty rates, and the development of better accounting systems to identify the costs associated with timber production.
  • The Forests Act be reviewed and rewritten to ".. take account of the matters raised in the report .." (Here, presciently perhaps, the Review suggested that " .. amendment .. might be deferred .. until decisions are taken by Government on proposed restructure of this and other Government departments .. ")
  • " .. Pending a major restructuring of the department .. " a number of short-term changes to matters including delegations, reporting lines, managerial and administrative responsibilities, the organisation of field units, and the development of a greater policy capability be addressedChanges be made to Management and Forest Planning, Fire Protection Management, Research, and Education and Consultation, and
  • Finally, the Review recommended the immediate establishment of an Implementation Committee comprising representatives of " .. the Forest Department, the Public Service Board, the Review Team, and the Minister .. " to give effect to the recommendations of the Report.

Curiously, given the nature of forest care and management, and the fact that the FCV was spending around 15% of its budget directly on research and associated matters, the Review appeared to largely ignore the role of science and technology.

Further here, and surprisingly also perhaps, the Review did not report on the appropriate direction for timber harvesting, fire or other policy areas. As Doolan points out however:

" .. subsequent statements by at least one of the Review Team authors indicated their perspective: ‘Forestry interests are no longer synonymous with conservation. Despite belated attempts to project a total land management image, the harvesting of wood had become the primary purpose of forest bureaucracies and Ministers.' The historical irony of this situation is not lost on today’s forestry profession .. "8

In tabling the Review Team’s report, and the Government’s response to it, Minister McKenzie told Parliament in May 1983:

" .. The Forests Commission is a very efficient Authority which has done well whatever was required of it by previous governments. This Government of course has different policies and attitudes .. and is asking the Forests Commission to undertake different practices .. "


Community Engagement

Within weeks of becoming Minister, Rod Mackenzie announced, in a general circular to FCV staff, that he would be convening a series of discussion groups – ‘forest forums’ - where representatives of the major organisations involved in the public land management debate could gather and discuss the various policy issues of concern to them.

In explaining the purpose of the meetings the Minister suggested that forest policy in Victoria, and aspects of the operations of the FCV in recent years, had become contentious and, at times, controversial. The Minister went on to express his opinion that:

" .. there was a great deal of unnecessary and undesirable antagonism between conservation groups, industry groups and the Commission”

and further his hope that the forums would be:

“ .. constructive meetings where matters of concern can be discussed .. ”

In addition to Minister Mackenzie, Minister for Conservation Walker, and the three FCV Commissioners (Alan Threader, Gerry Griffin, and Dr Ron Grose), individuals/organisations initially invited to participate in the forums were:

  • John Brookes, Director, Ministry for Conservation
  • Laurie Wilson, Pulp and Paper Manufacturers Federation
  • Tom Brabin, Victorian Sawmillers’ Association
  • Jim Lynch, Timber Workers’ Union
  • Chris Northover, Pulp and Paper Workers Federation of Australia
  • Dr Bill Carroll, Conservation Council of Victoria
  • Chris Day, Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Mike Leonard, Victorian State Foresters’ Association
  • Ms Jenny Love, Adviser to the Minister for Conservation
  • Russell Joiner, Adviser to the Minister of Forests

At the end of the first meeting, in early July 1982, it was agreed that at the second meeting would tackle the issue of 'pines' and that prior to that meeting the FCV would prepare a position paper for distribution, and that other groups could also prepare material if they wished.9

At the second meeting (mid-November 1982) Minister Mackenzie also indicated that several other organisations had made strong representations to him to be included in the 'forums’. He made the point that he was mindful of the fact that the numbers had to be kept 'manageable’, but that he felt that the group should consider adding the ‘Institute of Foresters’. This suggestion prompted requests for the addition of several other groups by those present, and it was subsequently decided to keep the membership unchanged at that stage.


The Victorian State Foresters’ Association

While more details of this group are to be found elsewhere on this website, in summary the VSFA, by the 1980s:
  • Represented over 400 technical and professional staff of the FCV, or well over 90% of those eligible
  • Had, in effect, existed for over 50 years, evolving an internal form of governance that served well its widely dispersed and often isolated membership
  • Managed funds, generated by the membership, that supported:
    • An annual travel award that provided for study tours in forest management to destinations both interstate and, in later years, overseas
    • A Provident Fund, established well in advance of most similar funds, that provided immediate assistance to the families of deceased, or those members in difficulties
    • A regular, informative and frequently constructively controversial Newsletter
  • Had a fine, but by no means perfect, industrial record that saw long-time active support to, and from the then VPSA
  • Had, for much of its history, and certainly in its latter years, the positive support (although not always agreement) of successive Forest Commissioners.
At its Annual General Meeting in mid-1986, the VSFA agreed to wind-up, in part as a show of support for the new CFL Departmental Section (of the VPSA), donating its not inconsiderable remaining funds to CFL for the continuance of an annual forestry-related travel award.

Regrettably, in the current writer’s view, and in the view of the then VSFA, only three meetings of the forum were held and only limited progress, beyond the ‘getting to know you/your views’ was made. The initiative represented a unique attempt to explore, beyond the rhetoric, the views of groups who, in their own ways, cared passionately about the State’s forests and woodlands.10

In December 1983 a Board of Inquiry into the Timber Industry of Victoria was announced by the Government. Professor Ian Ferguson, a resource economist, of Melbourne University’s School of Forestry and Agriculture, was appointed in May 1984 as the one-man Board tasked with providing options for a long-term strategy for the development of Victoria’s timber and forest product industries. Alan Eddy was one of three Technical Advisers who assisted the Inquiry. The Inquiry’s final, two-volume report was delivered in July 1985.11

FCV Reorganisation?

FCV Reorganisation?

In the wake of the report of the Ministerial Review Team, in April 1983, the FCV, with the Minister’s support, moved quickly to implement the Report’s final recommendation to establish an Implementation Committee comprising representatives of:

" .. the Forests Department, the Public Service Board, the Review Team, and the Minister .. to give effect to the recommendations of the Report."

A Working Party on the Reorganisation of the Head Office and Field Administrative Structures of the FCV was established in early May 1983 and tasked to, within two months, finalise its key recommendations. The Group was chaired initially by VP Cleary, until his retirement about a month later, and then by JR Channon. Its other members were FCV officers Dr PJ Greig and Personnel Officer RM Rumbold, and CF Lloyd of the Victorian Public Service Board.

The FCV provided fairly strong guidance to the Working Party, the latter generally meeting its brief and delivering its 170 page report in October 1983. Among its recommendations were to:

  • Implement an earlier announcement by the Minister to Parliament to create three Head Office based ‘Directorates’, viz Land Management / Forest Service / Policy and Planning;
  • Reduce the number of Forest Districts to 23, down from 43 (and from 56 in 1957); with District Foresters to report directly to Head Office, and District classifications to be spread across three grades; and to
  • Create seven regions, with Regional Foresters performing an inspectorial and mentorial role, and acting as the Commission’s representative within the region.

Four into Two

Four into Two

In late May 1983 the State Government announced its intention to create two new agencies:

  • The Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (CFL) - replacing the Lands Department (which had existed in Victoria since the mid-1800s); the State Forests Department (which had evolved from the Lands Department in the early 1900s, and which had been managed by a government appointed Commission since 1919); and the bulk of the Ministry of Conservation, which had brought together several agencies in the early 1970s (most notably the National Parks Service, the Fisheries and Wildlife Service, and the Soil Conservation Authority). The new agency was to comprise some 4,600 staff, about 50% being VPS, and 50% being State and Federal Award staff. At the time some 70–80% of agency personnel were located outside Melbourne.
  • The Ministry for Planning and Environment (MPE) – replacing the Department of Planning (whose responsibilities until then had not included to any degree the public land estate), and the remaining elements of the then Ministry for Conservation, most notably the broad-scale environmental planning and impact assessment groups, and the Environment Protection Authority.

This decision of government became known as the 'four into two exercise’ and the rationale included ‘ .. to make better use of existing resources in order to improve community services and the management of public land and resources .. ’

The change process to implement CFL that was subsequently followed was to be comprehensive, consultative, and in fact extended over more than two years. Working parties were established, Union representation (then VPSA and AWU primarily) was sought, and new organisational arrangements slowly emerged.

In parallel with the organisational issues, a ‘battle for hearts and minds’ was to develop. Several of the pre-CFL agencies had long histories with shared traditions and ethics, and many staff exhibited strong agency loyalties. (The staff ‘turnover’ rate in a number of these agencies was amongst the lowest in the VPS). Similarly a number of the former agencies identified closely with various community and/or industry based client groups.

 By November 1983 an inaugural Director-General was in place, Tony Eddison, a former Professor of Urban Studies at the University of Bristol, who had previously been employed in Victoria on several specific projects.

The newly created CFL was to be responsible for 38% of Victoria's land area and, in its first full financial year of operation (1984/85) was to have a budget of $154 million. By then just under half of the staff of CFL had come from the FCV.

Design the Future

Design the Future

An Implementation Task Force, headed by Alan Clayton from the Public Service Board, was quickly formed with Peter Ford soon joining it as the VPSA’s representative.

A Corporate Management Team was also established comprising the Director-General and, initially, representatives of the following entities.

  • A State Forests and Lands Service
  • A National Parks Service
  • A Fisheries and Wildlife Service
  • A Land Protection Service
  • A Regional Management Service
  • A Corporate Services Division
  • An Economics and a Policy Coordination and Strategy Division
  • A Survey and Mapping Group

It conducted its first meeting on July 4th, 1984.

By May 1984 the Regional Boundaries and Centres Working Party – comprising Bob Moodie, John Cunningham and Ken Harrop – had delivered a report. The Minister and Director-General subsequently announced the establishment of 18 Regions across the State, with three – Geelong, Horsham and Bairnsdale - to be set-up as initial ‘trials’ from November 1984.

The first of several, subsequent Regionalisation Working Groups was then established.

In April/May 1984 ten Director positions were advertised nationally and by July/August that year eighteen Regional Manager appointments had been made. The remaining 15 Regions commenced operations in May 1985.

From a policy perspective the initial priority focussed on the design of both the State Forests and Lands Service (SFLS) and the National Parks Service (NPS). In July 1984 two Working Parties were established:

  • the NPS Working Party comprised Ross Guymer, Arnis Heislers, Greg Mundy, and Ian Nisbet, and
  • the SFLS Working Party was to cover the inclusion of much of the policy and research components of the FCV, the National Herbarium, the Royal Botanic and Provincial Botanic Gardens, and the Crown Lands Management Group from the Lands Department, into the Service.

The remainder of this article will primarily focus on the formation of the SFLS.


The SFLS Working Party commenced its task on July 16th 1984.

While not all in place from the outset, the Steering Committee was to comprise: H Bucknall (Director, Human Resource Management), A Clayton (Implementation Task Force Co-ordinator), P Ford (VPSA representative), G Griffin (Director, Regional Management Division), R Grose12 (Director, State Forests and Lands Service and Steering Committee Chairman), K Harrop (Regional Manager-Alexandra); R Rawson, (Staff representative), and D Saunders (Director, National Parks Service).

The Working Party was led by Dr P Rudman, its other members being B Dexter, M Goode, S Wales, and M Leonard. Its brief, as established by the recently constituted Corporate Management Team, was to:

" .. consult widely to ensure that its proposals for an effective and efficient new organisational structure .. took account of the views of staff and those community and industrial groups which have an interest in the Division .. "

In a sense the review wasn’t starting with a ‘blank slate’. Since the mid-1800s a Lands Department, and from the early 20th century a Forests Service had been evolving in Victoria. The latter, by the 1980s, and while not without fault, had developed a deserved national and, to an extent an international reputation, particularly in North America. Strong links had also been forged across the Tasman.

The advent of CFL however meant, among other things, that land and resource management would henceforth be conducted as part of a larger arm of Government. What expertise should the SFLS embody, and what could, or should be done in other parts of the emerging organisation?

In time the Working Party was to form the view that its recommendations should embrace, in a policy sense, the spectrum from relatively pure science (disciplines such as entomology and pathology) through to a capacity to support the informed decisions and compromises that inevitably form part of the political process.

Also identified were a number of ‘initiatives that needed to be noted’ in developing a new organisational structure. These included:

  • Policy and program development capacity
  • A clear focus for both community groups, and for industrial/commercial client groups
  • A multi-objective, multi-disciplinary approach to planning
  • Adequate scope to develop staff to assume more senior roles
  • A greater emphasis on ecological conservation strategies, and enhanced ecological survey capacity
  • Strategies to encourage staff interchange between regional and Melbourne-based positions
  • A greater focus on research priority setting, the application of research findings, and on research collaboration with outside bodies
  • A need to place a greater focus on, and provide support for, the large number of neglected regional botanic gardens.

The Working Party finalised its 71 page Report in October 1984, having developed three possible structural options. It subsequently presented the Report to the Department’s Corporate Management Team receiving, despite previously well-placed indications to the contrary, a somewhat hostile reception. (As a minor participant in that process the current writer was, along with his four colleagues, somewhat underwhelmed by the exchange, and disturbed at the number of CMT members who, whatever else, did not appear to be particularly ‘corporate’ on the day in question).

Nonetheless, the Working Party’s unanimous preference for one of those three structural options was subsequently endorsed by both its Steering Committee, and by the Corporate Management Team. The agreed arrangment involved four branches - Policy and Programming, Planning, Commerce, and Science and Technology.



The introduction of managerialism in the public sector is, these days, associated with the New Public Management (NPM) movement of the 1980s. While the term itself remains somewhat opaque, in the context of the evolution of CFL, and most certainly in the attitude of the organisation’s first Director-General, the notion embodied a belief that:

" .. management operated according to distinct and universal laws that were applicable regardless of the unique values and methodology of particular organisations. That the same principles, values and methodology could be applied to managing a university, a hospital, a TV station or an army .. "

Brian Doolan, in his Master’s thesis (particularly in Chapters 4 & 6) explores the theory, as it related to the establishment of CFL, in more detail.
A possibly related issue at the time was the role that qualifications in Forest Science had, and should continue to play in the management of the State’s public lands. Historically in Australia it had been the forest agencies that had pioneered land and natural resource management education and training, initially in-house, and then in collaboration with Universities. By the early 1970s, both the ANU and the University of Melbourne had well established undergraduate and post-graduate Forest Science courses in place, the latter also having a decades-long relationship with the VSF.

As well as bringing the largest number of staff to the CFL ‘mix’, the FCV also brought the largest cohort of senior managers and, with few exceptions, these had qualifications in ‘Forest Science’, most via the VSF route.

Meanwhile, related disciplines had been evolving but their growth and evolution, to an extent, had been retarded somewhat by the employment-related, market-dominance of Forest Science.

The need, indeed the desirability, of greater professional diversity in the emerging CFL was a matter that became part of the corporate culture. (In the short-term however the existing situation was to see, for example, 15 of the initial 18 Regional Managers having Forest Science qualifications.

Incorporated in the Report was a proposal to see the Royal Botanic Gardens developed:

" .. as a scientific and educational institution, through the location of the scientific activities of the SFLS on the site within the organisational framework of the National Herbarium and (a) Baron von Mueller13 Research Institute .. "

Following the publication and circulation of its Report, the SFLS Working Party was tasked with developing detailed:

" .. structures, functions and staffing levels for the SFLS and related details .. "

In December 1984 a detailed, 129 page report was published and circulated, and implementation of the new organisational arrangements got underway a few months later.14

And Then

And Then

The structuring of the other two Services, Fisheries and Wildlife and Land Protection, proceeded on a somewhat similar path to that followed by the NPS and the SFLS. Other Head Office groups also came into place while, and as set out above, successive ‘regionalisation working groups’ focussed on the establishment and staffing of the initial 18 regions.

By April 1984 moves were underway to form a CFL Staff Association, the initiative coming, in the main, from the existing pre-CFL Victorian Public Service Association (VPSA) sub-groups, which included the Victorian State Foresters’ Association (VSFA).15

Accommodation in central Melbourne was to prove problematic for some time. By late 1985 however most staff at Forestry House (601 Bourke Street) had relocated to the previous Ministry of Conservation headquarters at 240/250 Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, while the FCV’s Macarthur Place research staff had moved to the former Soil Conservation Authority headquarters in Cotham Road, Kew.

Forestry House had come into existence at the end of the 1970s. At that stage the FCV occupied the top two floors at 1 Treasury Place; the lower floor occupants included the Premier, and his Department! Prior to occupation, ‘601’ had been purposely fitted-out to showcase Victoria’s native timbers, the result being a credit to those involved.

In March 1985 the Cain Labor government was elected for a second term. Rod Mackenzie, who had been Minister of Forests, and then the first Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands in the Government’s first term, was not re-appointed to the Ministry, becoming instead President of the Victorian Legislative Council.

The new CFL Minister was Joan Kirner, newly elected to Cabinet. Kirner was to become the first woman in Victoria to be responsible for the State’s forests.

The second Cain government also saw CFL’s Survey and Mapping’ group moved to the Department of Property and Services, and the Commercial Fisheries group move to the Department of Agriculture.

Within weeks of becoming Minister, Kirner was involved in controversy following the removal of the inaugural Director of the SFLS, Dr Ron Grose.16 Ron was highly regarded across the State’s public sector, having been Chair of the Mt Buller Committee of Management for 15 years, and a Government Member of Victoria’s Public Service Board. Across the FCV Ron was seen as both capable and popular, and was viewed widely as being well-placed to help avoid the ‘forests-baby’ being thrown out with the ‘bath-water’ during the formation of CFL.

 On April 3rd 1985 Joan Kirner told the Legislative Council that Ron’s removal had been an:

" .. administrative action that was taken by the Director-General of the Department .. in consultation with the Public Service Board .. "

Kirner added that the arguments for these actions ‘were compelling’. Ron went on to serve at senior levels in Government, eventually heading the State’s Alpine Resorts Commission for several years.

A subsequent Public Service Board review of CFL which reported in October 1986, saw, among other things:

  • The National Parks Service become the National Parks and Wildlife Division
  • The SFLS rebranded, to become the Public Lands and Forests Division
  • A separation of the position of Deputy Director-General from that of Director, Regional Management
  • From February 1987, the number of Regions being reduced from 18 to 16 with Wodonga and Wangaratta becoming the North-East Region, and Warragul and Traralgon becoming the Central Gippsland Region.

In August 1986 the Premier launched a Timber Industry Strategy.17 In June 1987 a Conservation Strategy was released (it followed earlier ‘Economic’ and ‘Social Justice’ Strategies), and in 1988 a Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was passed by Parliament. In May 1989 a Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production was ratified by both Houses of State Parliament. (To be followed, in 1995, by Victoria publishing Australia’s first 'Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land’.)

In November 1986 CFL’s Director-General, Tony Eddison’s tenure was abruptly terminated, and Eddison returned to the UK. CFL’s Minister, Joan Kirner, appointed the Director of the Regional Management Division, and former FCV Commissioner, Gerry Griffin as the Acting Director-General, a role Gerry was to occupy for a lengthy period. Len Foster, who had been a lawyer with the State Electricity Commission, was eventually to become Director-General.

On July 1st 1987 the CFL Act was proclaimed which,among other things, abolished the Soil Conservation Authority, the Vermin and Noxious Board and, after some 68 years, the FCV.

After CFL

After CFL

Nearly a third of Victoria that is publicly-owned, and which largely comprises diverse ecosystems of forests and woodland, much of it rugged and remote, continues to attract talented people to its care and management.18 Organisationally however, and after several decades, from the early 1900s, of relative stability, change would now seem a characteristic of the landscape. Since the creation of CFL in the mid-1980s, organisation evolution has continued. CFL and its successors-in-law have been subjected to considerable and on-going ‘minor-tweaking’ and, at the time of writing, major upheavals associated with the creation of the Departments of:

  • 1990: Conservation and Environment (DCE)
  • 1992: Conservation and Natural Resources (CNR)
  • 1996: Natural Resources and Environment (NRE)
  • 2002: Sustainability and Environment (DSE)
  • 2013: Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI)
  • 2015: Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)

And further, related changes have included:

  • In 1996 Parks Victoria being established to manage, on behalf of the then NRE, National Parks, conservation reserves and related assets.
  • In 1998, 0.2 million hectares of publicly-owned plantations being sold to Hancock Victorian Plantations Pty Ltd (HVP). While the Crown retains ownership of the land, HVP has the right to harvest the trees on that land.
  • In 2004, VicForests being established to manage commercial timber harvesting on public land.
Looking for More?

The most comprehensive treatment of the matters summarised above, together with much else of relevance, can be found in the work by Brian Doolan.

As Doolan summarises in his ‘Abstract’, he set out to understand how ‘……non-Aboriginal Victorians… (came)… to terms with a new environment….’ examining ‘…. that process, in the period from 1900 to 2010, extending existing scholarship beyond the mid-twentieth century…..’ Doolan further analyses how and why Victoria’s forest institutions were established and/or modified and, importantly here, he examines the tension between institutional continuity and change. Finally he explores ‘…the paradox between the long-term objectives that have been established for Victoria’s public forest since the 1980s and repeated short-term changes in the organisations responsible for pursuing those objectives….’


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.
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.