A Foresters' Life
Material provided by Roger Smith
Frank was, at age 15, the youngest student ever to enter the VSF, and when he retired in 1974 he would become the longest-serving forester to be employed by the FCV. You will see that he had a long career working in both plantations and native forests, and a very strong connection to the Otway forests. The Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) that were established in the Aire Valley Plantation in the 1930's, and are now inside the Great Otways National Park, are an important component of his legacy to forestry in Victoia.
Both of the letters in this article below are published with the permission of his son, Roger.
Letter of 8 March 1925
8th March 1925
Most of the other new boys arrived on Tuesday afternoon , the other 3 on Wednesday afternoon. There are only 8 of us 1 didn’t come. I think it was the one from Broadmeadows . The first part of our initiation was to sing and recite some poetry. I did this part before the others arrived.
On Thursday night however came the great initiation lasting from about 8.45 till 12.30. We were done in batches of 4. The gymnasium – they have got a good one here, was all decorated up for the occasion with cypress boughs etc. There was a throne erected for Queen Matilda to sit on. Firstly we were blindfolded and with one of the old students to take each one by the hand we were run all around the grounds up banks down slopes through pools of water etc and then to the gymnasium where we had to sing songs etc. We were given a hair cut with a pair of shears, having the top of our head cut short and jagged. We were also given a shave with tar as shaving cream and with an old piece of tin nailed on a stick as a razor. We then had a shampoo with Neatsfoot oil. We also had the hose turned on us and had to bow before the queen during which we received a bucket of water over us. We then had various races with prizes such as daubs of tar etc. We then took the oath as fully blown students of the Forestry school. We then had a hot bath to remove the tar which took several days to wash off. After this we had a banquet which consisted of soft drinks, tarts, biscuits, buns and pastry etc. We then received brands with silver nitrate a chemical which turns black in the sunlight & will only come off with wear. We received an arrow on one cheek & a crown on the other. These brands however did not come out very well. The next day we received very well got up certificates of initiation which are of great value, they being the only means of receiving admission to the Old Boy’s Society. Of course Mr Carter knows all about the initiation he giving some of the time off & allowing us up till after 12. He also lent the hose. The old boys were dressed up as clowns, pirates etc & looked very good. Needless to say our towels and pillows were in a terrible mess being covered in grease, oil & tar etc out of our hair, but this is only taken as a matter of course by the maids etc they having seen it every year. All the people in the town too are used to seeing the boys going about with jagged hair & brands on their faces etc.
I have had to pay for some books so that has taken about 7/- & extras such as rulers pencils rubbers etc. I still have about 8d or 9d left out of the 10/- note Aunty gave me .The other books I will get will be booked & will come out of the 3(pounds) . There are several expensive things to get such as a bow pen about 8/- or 9/- which I think is the dearest item. We have started work properly now. In botany we do mostly microscopic work there being about 4 microscopes worth about 20(pounds) each. We look at various bacteria etc under the microscope. We did some surveying the other day under the tuition of Mr. Ferguson. We surveyed the cricket & football ground & had to draw a plan of it at night. Mr Carter invited us to attend cricket practice with the Creswick team on Friday night with a view to discover any talent. He like “Jack” is a good all round cricketer making most of the runs & capturing most of the wickets. He is captain of the Creswick team who play Wendouree & other Ballarat teams. The other Saturday he made 65. How many did Jack make in the Bank Match? I wish I had a tennis racquet. Most of the boys have them. I have had 2 or 3 games & find that I am improving being just as good as some boys with racquets. Couldn’t you send Jack's up till Easter? The school tennis team journeyed to Ballarat on Saturday afternoon & beat the Ballarat High School even though they didn’t have their best team in.
Most of the new boys are Presbyterians there now being 5 out of 13 boys at the school Presbyterians. The others are Church of England & Methodist. I went to church last Sunday night on my own. There were not many there. Mr Eastwood is a fairly good preacher. Mr Carter and Mr Ferguson also attend the Presbyterian church so we are well represented. I found my garters all right & got the trousers & the Advertisers. Some of us went for a swim on Saturday in a big dam. It is a real good place for swimming it being clean and fairly deep. It is the recognized bathing pool of Creswick it being provided with several spring-boards, bathing boxes & shelters etc. Another boy brought his bike up with him but there is not much use for a bike here. Allan arrived on the Tuesday night by the 9 train. He is liking the place alright. Owen Jones was over at the nursery one day when we were there, but I did not know him till one of the men said afterwards that that was him. He does not look like a commissioner not being flashly dressed or anything like that. About the only things they will not wash here are white trousers & stiff collars. I saw Alex Peacock’s residence on Saturday but it was not very grand, just a fairly plain white weatherboard house with not very big grounds at all. There are several houses better than his in Creswick. Mr Tidd’s the chief forester's is better I think. The work at the nursery is still going on all right. I have done many jobs such as sieving, shifting pots, hoeing, watering, chipping paths, & on Saturday morning I was gathering pine cones in the forest. The men climb the trees & knock the cones down & we have to put them in bags. They use the cones to get seeds from.
It is very cold up here at times. I think it is something like 1600ft above sea level. On Saturday night we went for a walk down to the station & afterwards to the library but we had to be home by 9 o’clock ie the Juniors. I am sorry I did not write during the week but I was waiting for a reply from my last letter & it did not come till Saturday. We do not get much time for writing letters either except after tea from 6 till 7.30 & then you do not feel like sitting inside writing letters, as we do not get extra much time off. However I will make up for it by writing a long letter to you today. I may write to Allan this afternoon sometime I get time. I thought Lancy & Stower would soon leave. Perhaps Belle may have to leave too as Mr Charles might not have an honor class with only one in it . I think I am the only new one who has got Leaving but most of them have passed 3 or 4 subjects. The subjects we do this year are English, Chemistry, Botany, Surveying, Mensuration, Geology. One of the things you have to learn here is to be able to print well, print script being used a great deal. We get very well treated here getting excellent meals etc. We nearly always have fruit for tea pears, apples or bananas, very nice jam, melon, plum, very nice marmalade & blackberry ,jelly & honey sometimes.
We always get eggs & toast or rissoles for breakfast as well as porridge and we always have a hot dinner washing days being no exception as I think they have a char-woman to do the washing. Well I think that is all the news at present.
Your loving son
P.S. These letters have to do for the whole family as I put all the news into one letter not having time to write more than one.