This article is based on notes prepared for a tour of the Toolangi FCV District's forests by a group investigating the relationship between forest management and water supply.
When the Forests Commission was formed in 1919, it was required to take in hand vast and inaccessible tracts of unprotected forests, the management of which had been subjected, before and after the turn of the Century, to all the disadvantages of loose, changing and divided control, together with a lack of information, finance and facilities. In consequence the forests close to Melbourne and large country centres were in a deplorable state, due to the combined effects of stagnation, ruthless exploitation (indiscriminate and highly selective cutting) and repeated firing. This meant that the accessible forest fringes were virtually ransacked of sound mature timbers, and due to careless and excessive use of fire in land selection and improvement, most remaining timbers deeper into the forest, whether mature or overmature, were extensively fire damaged and often diseased.
While the heavy demands of the State's development necessitated the continuation of sawmilling and associated timber getting, and this was affected, with the gradual introduction of more complete utilisation, the Commission concurrently set about a program of rehabilitation. This program was twofold in character based on protecting the forest from fire and disease and secondly, to improve the establishment of regeneration and accelerate forest growth. The program proceeded slowly for some 20 years, due largely to restricted finance and the necessity for augmenting the FCV's scientifically trained personnel. However, a major setback in the tragic and devastating destruction wrought by the fires of 1939 also brought an awakening, and coupled with the demands caused by salvage of the fire killed forests, and such major events as WW2 and its aftermath, gave Victorian forestry a much needed impetus. It was at this stage that development of Victoria's forest estate really got under way.
The broad basis of the fire protection and utilisation of the forests, has been the development of a network of roads linked with the public roading system. There are now some 250 miles of forest roads in the Toolangi District. The standard of roads vary from all-weather timber extraction roads to unsurfaced patrol roads for fire protection purposes. The road network is supplemented by a network of firelines, particularly on ridges and along forest margins, and disposal of inflammable material by burning along road margins and in other vulnerable locations. Fire towers are located within the District and these together with towers in adjacent Districts, provide complete detection coverage. Fixed, portable and mobile radio sets, as well as telephone lines provide essential communication. Earthmoving plant, tankers, pumpers, transport and other equipment are available for suppression operations. Access is provided to permanent streams, dams are prepared where water is lacking along roadsides. Dugouts are provided for refuge in an emergency.
The FCV Annual Report of 1944-45 reflected a rising focus on eastern Victoria as a timber source. It stated:
These imperatives were already a key part of the mission statement of FCV Foresters of that era, including our fathers, whose particular remit included operations in the North Eastern district of Delatite.
Jim Westcott (VSF 1929-1931) was appointed DFO Delatite Forest District, Mansfield, on 20th April 1940. Val Cleary (VSF 1940-1942) was appointed to Mansfield as Assistant DFO on 28th January 1943, at 20 years of age, direct from graduating from the VSF in the previous year. Back then, even before the war was over, there was much FCV activity taking place in the Delatite District. Jim explained these activities in an unattributed local press item dated Friday, June 30, 1944 and headed “Huge Timber Project”.
Following his graduation from the Victorian School of Forestry in 1936, and until December 1941, Jim McKinty was attached to the Forest Assessment Branch of the Forests Commission.
From January 1937 Jim worked with Bjarne Dahl’s assessment team at Snobs Creek and later that year along the Yarra Yarra Track on the Great Divide above Warburton. Then, from early 1938 and extending into January 1939, now with his own team, he assessed along the Victoria Range between the Yea and Acheron Rivers. This work was interrupted in January 1939 by the need to battle bushfires at Toolangi and East Warburton.
During the meeting Jim McKinty describes some experiences and conditions during timber assessments, employment relief work in Gippsland, fires and graziers in the high country, timber salvage following the 1939 fires, the Thomson valley timber industry and tramways, and the opening up of East Gippsland for timber production.
Murray Thompson outlines the rapid expansion of the Forests Commission’s activities after 1936 and particularly following the 1939 fires and the Second World War. He mentions working with Maurice Carver who was secretary to the Bush Fire Brigade Association. He describes sleeper cutting at Yarram, using bullock teams to haul logs, supervising employment relief gangs at Narbethong, and the introduction of the bush log book.
The meeting also discussed the naming of some of the mountains in Victoria.
You should really treat yourself and read the entire document, but there are some quotes below that will at least give you a taste for the times in which Jim and Murray worked.
The widespread bushfires of 1939, which decimated the supplies of sawlogs available to the timber industry, were still having a profound impact in 1950. Also in the 1950’s, the State Authorities of Victoria were scrambling to meet the demand for sawn timber arising from meeting the backlog for new homes. The surge in construction of new homes arose from deferral of construction during the war years, coupled with the large increase in the State of Victoria’s population with the arrival of migrants and the baby boom of the post war years.
The FCV met the challenge of suppling timber resources to overcome the crippling effects of the 1939 bushfires and meeting the States' surging demand for timber. It did this initiating a massive salvage program, and by relocating sawmills from the Central Highlands to tap forest areas in East Gippsland, and the mountainous areas of North East Victoria and Gippsland, which had escaped the impact of the fires . Sawmills were relocated to the towns of Heyfield, Orbost, Cann River, Swifts Creek, Mansfield and Porepunkah.
Part of this massive operation of relocating the sawmilling industry required the building of access roads by the FCV to reach the untouched forests known to exist in the mountains. In some instances the quantity of sawlogs available were known, but in other instances this was not the case.
This was so with the Alpine Ash forests in the mountains north of Heyfield and Briagolong. They were known to exist but there was little knowledge of the extent of the stands, nor of the volumes or quality of the stands. The same situation applied to the Alpine Ash forests growing on the Great Dividing Range in the vicinity of Mount Selwyn to the south of Porepunkah. There was no road access to these areas when DWM Paine, Forest Assessor, was handed the task of establishing the quantities of sawlogs available in these remote locations.
The FCV was fortunate to have Murray Paine heading the Assessment Branch in the 1950’s, and in subsequent years. He was one of the early professionally-trained foresters who recognized the value of aerial photography for delineating differing stands of different species of eucalypt. In conjunction with Vern Henderson, head of the Survey and Mapping section, Murray used aerial photos of the mountains north of Heyfield and Briagalong to delineate stands of Alpine Ash. This information was put on topographical maps and then Murray designed, for then, a radical sampling scheme using randomly-located 1/3 acre sample plots as his means of measuring the volumes of the stands. He set sawlog standards for his crews to recognize in the field, and trained his assessment crews to apply these standards. And, from about 1960, he used computers to calculate the volumes of the sawlogs measured by his bush crews. He wrote the computer programmes to do all of this, something almost unheard of in those times. Old hat these days, but in the 1950’s it was very forward thinking. In the summer of 1953/54 Murray put into operation his plans for establishing the quantities of sawlogs in the remote mountains of Victoria.
This is the story of the living and working conditions Assessment Branch crews employed by Murray enjoyed when working in the remote Alpine Ash forests of Victoria in the 1950’s.
"Let us regard the forest as an inheritance, not to be destroyed or devastated, but to be wisely used, reverently honoured and carefully maintained. Let us regard the forest as a gift, entrusted to any of us only for transient care, to be surrendered to posterity as an unimpaired property, increased in riches and augmented in blessings, to pass as a sacred patrimony from generation to generation."
Baron Ferdinand von Mueller - Suggestions on the Maintenance, Creation and Enrichment of Forests (1879)