Memories of Powelltown & the Grampians - Jack Gillespie
John (Jack) David Gillespie graduated from the VSF in 1941 and went on to have both a long and a distinguished career. He has left us papers and photos from throughout his career. Two of those papers are presented below, but there is also a third about Wartime Wood Supply that you should read. The two papers presented below were prepared as speaking notes, and may not be grammatically correct at all times.
Anecdotes and Personal History : A talk given at the opening of the new Office at Powelltown, April 1998.
The request to me was to speak on Powelltown history. I intend rather to provide a few historical snapshots somewhat loosely connected, but all with a theme of forestry and the forests and the people who worked there. You will appreciate that dates are approximate.
Powelltown District Offices
This is the fourth office known to me which is opened here today. The first was one room attached to a residence built ca 1920? The second had two rooms with an entrance lobby over there facing the road built say after the 1939 fires, but I don’t really know when. The third was built ca 1956/57, not long before the Commonwealth Forestry Conference, and the fourth 1997/98. The rotation length of the offices is somewhat shorter than that of the forest crop.
The Upper Yarra Forest District
First setup approximately 1918 - but not sure? It was once part of a gigantic Niagaroon District. Possibly the first Forest Officer at Healesville pre-1914, that’s a vague recollection of something I once read and may not be correct.
From the beginning to about 1936/37 the District included the Toolangi forests. Headquarters was here during the 1920-1930s with sub-districts at Millgrove and Toolangi. Senior assistants in charge of sub-districts got an additional salary of about one pound per week. Charlie Elsey was at Millgrove early/mid 1930s. In the same period, the DFO [District Forest Officer] was provided with an Armstrong Siddley tourer – otherwise everyone used horses or rode on timber railways or walked. The horses were the personal property of the staff members, who got an allowance for providing them.
There was a boy’s relief work camp near Powelltown in the 1930s, and much work was also done by adult relief workers on firebreak construction and maintenance, and silviculture work. The rural people across the State appreciated what the Department and its Officers did in providing employment on a large scale in that period.
This was one of the places where the sawmilling industry changed its nature. The era of the one-man owner, small mills, 5 mill hands with horses or bullock team extraction gave way (not exclusively of course) to the era of large mills with a large crew backed by a large bush crew with steam winches and the differing rope systems, bush tramways and major bridges even steam locos/inclines and lowering gears – the sawmilling industry had arrived. There were of course a few large mills from an early date.
In the mid-1950s, when I took charge here, the VHC (Victorian Hardwood Company) was logging the last patch of old growth ash in their allotted area on flat terrain using steam winch, spar tree and ground snigging. Two man falling crews on board platforms up to 8 feet or more off the ground with a 2 man chain saw. About 1962 a licence was issued to a local chap who felled the standing stumps and split them into billets – sawn at a small mill for furniture timber. The last skyline logging using suspended carriage may have been Ezards at Erica ca 1948, or thereabouts, or perhaps Rubicon not sure. Or did Ezards continue to use this method at Swifts Creek perhaps when they first went there. But when and where was the first steam winch with rigged spar tree used in Victoria? The first usage of a crawler tractor in logging is mentioned in FCV Annual Report ca 1935. My memory says it was in this District, but you would need to check.
A chief occupation of the staff in earlier times was to see that not too much useful timber went into the mill fire holes. Royalty was paid on sawn recovery timber then. In some cases this was so even as late as 1947/49 by certain long established sawmill licencees. But the millers had to be fussy. Timber merchants who bought mill output from smaller millers for selling on, were known to reject a whole rail truck load in their yard because one or two pieces had evidence of shot-hole borer or too much gum vein. Of course they then sorted it and sold the good part, and possibly even the rejects, but the supplier received nothing for a rejected load and had to meet the bill for freight because the point of sale was delivered at yard.
Post 1939 salvage in central Victorian forests had the Department involved in the production of logs (by contractors) and delivery to mills in Healesville, Warburton and in some outer Melbourne suburbs. This ceased in ca 1963. It was a major operation involving millions of square feet of logs – in the latter stages no longer salvage of course. To about 1962/63 several mills in Warburton and Yarra Junction were wholly dependent on logs produced departmentally.
Social History - the labour force at the bush mills/logging crews.
It was hard dangerous work make no mistake. Under award, timber workers received holiday pay in lieu, (had) holidays Christmas and Easter, but worked the rest of the time.
The barber at Powelltown worked Saturday mornings then. He said – "I’ll show you something interesting", and took me out to the back room – about 20 ft long 10 ft wide with shelving down each side, say 4 shelves - the whole length of the room. He said this is where the singlemen bush workers used to change out of their bush gear when they went on holiday. They walked in along the tramlines from the mills to Powelltown, opened up their suitcases in here, took out their flash suits, shoes, shirts etc., tailor made suits by itinerant tailor. They placed their cases with their bush gear on the shelves, caught the VHC tram to Yarra Junction, a portion of them never got beyond the wine saloon in Yarra Junction. Some made it down to the pub in Launching Place – but no further. Some actually got to Melbourne, but in almost every case the end result was the same. 10 days later they came back – no money the flash suit ruined by beer/wine stains or worse – all the signs of a 10 day drunk they got back into their bush gear and headed off back to the bush as best they could. The mill boss/ bush boss would have a difficult job getting a crew fit for work on the first day. That is the extent of what I was told and I know it to be true for at Erica 1946/1953. I saw the one or two timber workers of the “old school” who were flash dressers. They’d put on their good suit to come into Erica on a Saturday to drink at the pub. And I had some personal experiences of compulsive drinkers turning up for work on the road gang on Monday morning with a bad case of the shakes after a heavy weekend.
Here at Powelltown I had two forest foremen who had worked in the bush all their lives. About 1958, one climbed and topped a shining gum tree and helped to build the tree tower cabin on Mt Victoria. Earlier he had taken about 25 ft off the top of the 90ft tree on Mt Beenak where we had to replace the cabin of the existing tree tower due to storm damage, and we thought the upper part of the tree was suspect – much later the problem was [rot].of the roots I understand. The other once told me of one of his early jobs in the milling industry about 1932 carting small fire killed ash logs off private property on the upper Black Sands Road. The log truck was an A Model Ford tray body with a homemade turntable a pole and a homemade 2 wheel trailer. Downhill on the Black Sands Hill with that rig must have been interesting to say the least.
It was the men in the miller’s bush crews who built the tramline bridges – possibly the most notable achievement would have been the South Cascade Creek Bridge at Erica built by Ezards bush crew. But 40 years ago there were some pretty good examples still to be seen in this forest; make ups half a mile long or so over swampy ground in the head of Starvation Creek come to mind and bridges on VHC tramlines out toThe Bump.
About 1960 we (departmentally) started thinning remnant patches of pre-1939 ash regrowth for logs and pulp. One such patch was on the Noojee Road at The Bump. Bob Oldham was the MMBW Forester, formerly with FCV, he called in at the office here to say to me “you’re thinning ash regrowth it’s marvellous I never thought I’d see the day”. The logs were sold to VHC. Incidentally the present crop is the third or possibly the fourth on that patch. The sequence is old growth felled ca 1920, possibly some regen pre-1926, 1926 regrowth thinned 1960, killed 1983 and salvaged, 1983 regeneration.
From another similar patch logs were sold to Richards Bros at East Warburton. At their request Jack Cosstick and I visited the mill and watched the conversion of some of the logs. I remember Don Richards saying they’re too damned small. Jack suggested that these were the logs of the future. Don reckoned it was time to retire. At their mill they had a very early set of kilns still in use. Don was in charge of seasoning and the matter was discussed in the context of boards from small logs. To a question as to how he judged when a kiln load was seasoned properly, he said “I open the door and sniff, you can tell by the smell.” Some mention was made of electric moisture meters and Don said “oh there’s one over at the office. I never use it the battery’s flat, we never get any complaints about poorly seasoned flooring so I reckon I’m a pretty good judge.”
A little later we started building the Dowey Spur Road, and in one area of dense 1939 regen felled the alignment, sold the butts of the dominant trees as logs to VHC and the rest for pulp. It was rather alarming to find active white ants in stems of some of the dominant trees in an untouched area of 1939 regen. The first place where 1939 ash was thinned was at Toolangi for lattice logs and pulp.
Three Fire Comments
Extant in the office files here in my time was a report to the DFO from the fireguard stationed at the State Mill […..] Latrobe Valley dated January 1926. It stated the saw-millers were burning their heads with good results being achieved!!!!
Next a story I heard ca 1945 around a table at a fire school – told by the man involved. In the1939 fire period. Just over the hill from here the DFO Dandenongs was working on a fire in the Gembrook area somewhere with a small crew. Things turned nasty their refuge was a small creek about 12-18 inches wide with some two inches of water flowing, they laid down in the water and splashed with arms and legs. Small ferns along the waters edge burned and the water got so hot they found it hard to bear – but they survived.
At Erica one day, ca 1947, I was eating lunch in a bush setting with a good view of the Baw Baw slopes with all the fire-killed ash trees standing in the regen plainly to be seen. FF Ted Buller was with me - he had been through 1939 and 1932 perhaps 1926 also – he remarked - “The 1939 fire was the saving of that bush - if it hadn’t been for the fire, big areas up there would only be scrub today.” The regeneration techniques for logged ash areas pre-1939 were not uniformly successful it seems. Substantial areas of former ash forest in this District were reduced to bracken scrub and wattle by repeated fires, but it is possible that some areas were in fact better regenerated by the fires.
When I came here as DFO I found it was the practice to burn the bracken areas every so often. Around 1960 we started the process of renewing the forest on such sites by direct seeding and mainly planting. We operated a small nursery here to raise Eucalyptus regans and E. nitens seedlings. The first plantings were on the Mt. Beenak slopes. There was a fire tower on the top so no planting was done above a certain point. Later I returned on a visit and a retired employee said to me "I used to wonder why you wouldn’t let us plant right up Mt. Beenak but now I know!"
I remember telling another forester that I was trying direct seeding and the comment was it has been tried before and it’s a failure. The reference was to pre-1939 work in Britannia Creek Valley. My interpretation of the records in the Head Office file suggested that a substantial area of regrowth which had survived 1939 might have resulted from the field trials of that time but it was difficult to be sure due to an absence of good reference points on the sketch plans. As to my own efforts at reforestation over my years and the work of those that followed me, possibly the 1983 fire missed one or two such areas but I don’t know.
Deer hunting was a popular recreation in the forests. Here if a dog got too excited and didn’t come out of the bush it was left to find its own way out. The owners had a grapevine system with local people to help find their dogs. One day I was on a trip home by Landrover on a back road and jeep track, somewhere along the Big Pats Little Yarra divide the engine stopped and I couldn’t get it going. Picture me walking along the jeep track heading for Powelltown. Everything was quiet of course just me and the birds. I suddenly heard a pronounced gruff cough behind me. When I returned to earth I turned around and found a deer hound about 6 feet behind me obviously glad to have found a human being. He stayed about 6 feet behind me all the way to Powelltown and I delivered him to an employee who was involved in the sport for later return to his owner.
See also: The Upper Yarra Forest District
The Case for Multiple-use Management of the Grampians - May 1982
President and Members of the Lions Club of Horsham. Thank you for the invitation to speak tonight on the matter of the future management of the Grampians. Future management has been, over the past 12 months or more, a matter of considerable controversy involving as you well know letters to local newspapers and to the metropolitan press, public meetings here in Horsham and in various other centres, radio comment and pronouncements by Councils and other bodies with an interest in the Grampians. It is possible that, in western Victoria it has generated more local discussion that any other single matter over the past 10-15 years. Enthusiastic local football club supporters would not support that statement. At a meeting at Victoria Valley Hall, 80-100 people attended; 80% lived within 20 miles. The discussion came about because the question of the future management of the Grampians was put before the public by the study of the future use of public land in an area of south-western Victoria delineated by the Land Conservation Council - a government set to the government matter of future use of public land in the State.
The LCC works through a permanent Council, through study groups which bring together nominated representatives of a range of government through collection of its own field officers and by appropriate skills. The Grampians area is only part of the area under consideration in study District 2, but it is the most important piece of public land in the study area. Part of the LCC process is the opportunity for people and public bodies to put before the Council their ideas on what should be done with public land areas – submissions are invited at two stages in the process and the substantial public interest already referred to was at the second submission stage after a set of proposed recommendations had been published for the Grampians. These suggested that a substantial area of the land be created a National Park. As I have already said what I put to you tonight will be a case for multiple use management of the area, but before turning to that let’s take a look at the Grampians public land
Unfortunately many of you won’t see the details on the map of the 210000 ha of public land, the greater part of which is Reserved Forest set aside by Parliament under the provisions of the Forests Act. The 600000 ha which is not permanently reserved is protected forest in any case. The first forest reservations go back to 1872 and the greater part of the present Reserved Forest was so designated in 1907. Forest Officers have looked after the Grampians on behalf of the people of the State since 1875, when the first appointee was concerned with removal of wattle bark and timber for mining. Today a staff of four professional foresters and 5 technicians (overseers) work in Stawell Forest District – mainly in the Grampians.
I don’t need to remind you, I’m sure, of the scenic nature of the area, of the wildflower displays, of the value to the State of the water from the area, of the importance of the area for honey production. Timber for mining use and for housing was milled in the Grampians from the early 1860s for Stawell – and from the 1870s for Horsham and the Wimmera. Very substantial volumes of timber were obtained for housing in the Wimmera/Western District areas in the 1950s and 1960s and timber for sawmilling is still obtained today. Wattle bark has already been mentioned and, until the 1939 war, was an important forest product used for the production of tanning material. We now import our requirements but specific action to promote the growth of wattle was once part of the activity of the Forests Commission in the area. It may be that in the future wattle bark will once again be important – no-one can tell. Certain areas of the red gum type forest – along the Henty Highway mainly, provide grazing for sheep – removal of part of the grass cover reduces the fire risk to the forests and earns some revenue towards the cost of management of the area.
Mafeking on the eastern edge of the Mt William Range west of Moyston was the scene of one of the last of Victoria’s gold rushes – the name of the locality of course dates it. A significant proportion of the population of Ararat even today has parents and or grandparents who were born at Mafeking, or were living there during the rush and sluicing claims are a dramatic visual presentation of the efforts men were prepared to put into mining for that elusive metal. And still on an historical note there was an attempt in the 1890s to establish a village community settlement in the Grampians, near the Moora Reservoir.
And so we consider the Grampians and people today. A major use of the forest area today is recreation. More than 1,000,000 visitor days are spent in the Grampians each year – these range from car loads of local day-trippers to people who camp for one or two days, to those who spend a fortnight in a motel in the spring to look at the wildflowers, and to people who come with a pack on their back and disappear into the mountains for a hike over several days – and we mustn’t forget the rock climbers and school groups, the photographers, the amateur botanists and geologists. Recreational use of the Grampians today encompasses many facets. It even covers those who just come to drive along the bitumen roads, or to sleep in a chair in the sun – just sitting around. A significant proportion of the visitors come from South Australia. There is nothing new about people visiting the Grampians. Local people have always visited areas nearest to their town or area. In the 1880s/1900s an amateur photographer of note commenced to take photographs of the Halls Gap area and published books of his work. From around 1910 there was a developed tourist interest based on the Halls Gap area, and in the 1920s guest houses were in operation there. The Wonderland area was opened up by walking tracks in that period and wider public use was facilitated by the construction of tourist roads from Halls Gap to Zumsteins and Dunkeld. So we have a range of uses, a range of requirements made on the area by people and it must be asked how these requirements are to be reconciled.
But one important factor which bears on the whole should be mentioned first - refer to fire in and near the forested area. Summer fires in the Grampians forest pose a major threat to marginal properties and communities. Severe fires can damage watershed values, destroy the beauty of the forest area for a significant period, reduce the potential of the area to grow timber for the future and the possibility of loss of human life is always there. One-third of all fires which occur in the areas of Forests Commission responsibility in the Stawell Forest District are caused by lightning. Lightning of course is not a modern phenomenon and before the advent of white man fires were originated in this way, and by the Aborigines, and burnt without control. There must have been at times spectacular conflagrations. Today of course we can’t afford to have them – too much is involved. So fire control in the Grampians is an important aspect of Forests Commission activity. Commencing in the 1930s we have built a very substantial network of roads and tracks, basically for fire protection access but also used for general management and, with certain minor exceptions, all are available for public use. We have an airstrip and facilities used to mix fire retardant which is loaded onto agricultural aircraft and used in fire control work. We operate a chain of fire lookouts. And conduct regular aerial examinations of the mountains after lightning storms. We carry out controlled burning work in autumn and spring as an important facet of the overall protection of the area. Most importantly people who know the area well and understand it, some overseers with 30-40 years of experience are involved in this work.
We have briefly looked at a range of uses – some of these uses/demands are in conflict. How can the overall area be managed so that as many as possible of the uses/needs are met to the greatest possible extent and the basic resources maintained for the future. It sounds a bit like having your cake and eating it, but multiple-use management through a zoning system allows it to be done. This is what the Forests Commission management of the Grampians is based on. We have submitted to the LCC that multiple use management should continue in the interests if the widest range of people of the State now and in the future. In 1939 in a management plan for the Grampians, the Forests Commission said that it recognized the importance of the area for water supply, and the vital need for protection of the catchments from fire damage, that timber production was an important item in particular areas, that minor uses such as grazing and beekeeping must be recognised and that there was a need for co-operation with the tourist industry. That plan set out some details of what should be done in several management aspects.
In the mid-1970s after wide-ranging internal investigation and discussion, a new draft management plan was prepared and was exposed to public comment through a period, was modified and finally adopted by the Commission. In this plan the general objectives of management are stated as follows:
- Protection of forests and their associated vegetation and fauna from damage by wildfire and from injury by biological agencies.
- Protection of water catchments.
- Provision of a continuing supply of hardwood sawlogs and other products at a level which is consistent with the growth of the forests.
- Provision of opportunities and facilities for public recreation and education.
- Conservation of landscape values, wildlife habitat, flora, historical and environmental values.
- Maintenance of the present area of softwood plantations to augment wood supplies from the hardwood forests to support local forest products industries.
- Provision of opportunities for apiculture, forest grazing and defence training where appropriate
The zoning system of management which is the basis of the plan provides for continued multiple use of the area as a whole but not for all uses everywhere. It sets priorities for uses in particular areas. The zones were determined by integration of resources information and needs/demands of the people interpreted in the light of overall state priorities and the capability of the land to meet the needs without impairment.1. Primitive Zone. Provision of opportunities for recreational experience in a natural environment without developed public access, and preservation of natural habitats where ecological processes can occur without interference. Existing vehicular tracks are closed to public access, no utilization of forest produce, 6 separate locations [covering] 31 000 ha.
2. Special Feature Zone. The primary objective is conservation of outstanding natural and historical features for recreation, aesthetic educational and natural history purposes. The natural flora and fauna are conserved. Forest produce is not to be utilised. Developed access for protection and management purposes [only]. 9 locations [covering] 32 700 ha.
3. Recreation Sites Zone. Provides for 52 picnic or camping areas. Most of these are now in existence.
4. Natural Zone. The primary objective is to conserve natural features, maintain the characteristic Grampians forest environment over a wide area of the mountains. Low intensity timber procurement and (for instance) gravel removal permitted where it can be shown to be consistent with the primary objective. Apiculture permitted, dispersed camping permitted. [In all] 81 900 ha throughout the ranges.
5. Hardwood Timber Production Zone. The primary objective is sustained production of native timber in accordance with prescriptions governing harvesting, regeneration of the forest and protection of soil and water catchments and other values. Stringybark and associated species 34 600 ha, durable species 34 300 ha - 69 900 ha [in total].
6. Softwood Timber Production Zone. Sustained production of softwood timber from two existing plantations [covering] 660 ha.
This map again will not be clear to all of you. The distribution of the zones which I have just mentioned is shown on the map. The boundaries of each area of each zone as far as possible were fixed on the ground on recognizable features – a road or track, the edge of an escarpment – a stream, so as to leave no doubt that when you stand here and face north or south the land on your right is zoned as ….. that on your left zoned as……How does it work in fact
- Water supply comes from parts of all zones for a great part of the Grampians is used for water supply.
- Back pack campers can camp in all zones, but car and trailer campers all restricted in Special Feature areas and Primitive areas.
- If a Shire Council or CRB wants road material they can be given a licence to get it in timber production areas or in certain parts of the Natural Zone under certain circumstances, but not in Special Feature Zone or Primitive Zone areas.
- Timber production operations (mill logs) are restricted to the Hardwood Production areas, but if some farmer wants 200 posts or half a dozen poles for farm use a licence can be issued for a suitable location in the Natural Zone for removal of marked trees.
- There are camping guide lines, a permit system applies to three camp areas, specific prescriptions governing timber utilization operations in relation to protection of watersheds.
- Beekeepers can have sites for hives subject to restrictions in relation to access, and placing them away from the specific recreation (picnic area) sites.
Multiple use management sets priorities for major uses and permits reconciliation of the demands made by various requests of the people. We even have designated areas for Army training exercises and driver training. Putting the plan of management into operation is a matter of day-to-day action by the District Forester and his staff, and in relation to certain matters (such as collection of garbage and maintenance of facilities) the provision of money on an annual basis to permit the work to be done. [For example] at the height of summer, re garbage collection [this involves] two men and a vehicle [on a] full-time basis.
Our aim is to manage the area so that it can be passed on to the future generations in a condition which enables them to enjoy the same things as the people of today (and the past) have enjoyed in relation to the area. Next week the final recommendations of the Land Conservation Council in relation to South Western District 2 Study Area will be announced, and then it will be up to the Government to decide what aspects of these recommendations will be accepted by it and put into effect in relation to the Grampians. Whatever that decision may be I suggest to you that the experience of the past 100 years and the present suggests that management for multiple use on the basis of the present management plan is a viable proposal which would meet the requirements of a broad spectrum, of the people in relation to the area and I do not believe any other type of management will do this as well.