Robert G. Orr OAM; BScFor; DipFor (Oxon.); DipEd Monash; Russell Grimwade prize-winner.
Bob graduated from the Victorian School of Forestry in 1952. Following appointments in the Assessment Branch and to the Toolangi, Mansfield and Maffra Forest Districts, he was transferred to the Working Plans Branch in 1964. From 1969 he worked at the VSF, initially as a senior lecturer and then, between 1981 and 1983, as Principal. This is his story of that time.
Alan Eddy became Principal of the Victorian School of Forestry in 1969, replacing William Litster who had been at the school as a lecturer and Principal from 1928. At the time, I was in my Working Plans Officer position at Head Office. On the day that Alan was appointed Principal I was informed that I would be heading to the School as Senior Lecturer. This appeared to be partly due to my, for two or three years up until then, having had an approved part-time lecturing job at the University of Melbourne (UM) teaching Elementary Ecology to surveying students. (Leon Pederick and then Stuart Murray had preceded me in doing this).
I was promoted to VSF Senior Lecturer and took up the position early in February 1969. On the afternoon of the day on which we were moving in, Alan came down to let me know that we would begin classes the following morning and that he had me down in the timetable for the day to teach three periods in different subjects - and he wasn’t joking.
Alan left the job of Principal in 1977 and Jim Edgar took over the role. When Jim was whisked away to other duties I was Acting Principal for some time, and was then appointed Principal in 1981.
It was still a time of transition. All of the resident staff were FCV personnel but the students belonged to the University of Melbourne. UM staff did some of the teaching on flying visits to Creswick, but most of it was done by the Commission staff. Ian Ferguson was responsible for the University side of things but I was kept in the loop as a Senior Associate of the University. We also had a floating population of Certificate of Applied Science students from National Parks, Soil Conservation, Lands Department, Fisheries and Wildlife and the Commission coming in for three or six week bursts of training.
Kevin Wareing had a leading role under Alan Eddy in 1973-77 in establishing the ‘temporary’ cabin accommodation, the associated recreation room and the ‘certificate’ class room, as well as developing and delivering course units and materials, and was the VSF person responsible for scheduling the course units conducted at the school. He continued as the main ‘certificate’ person lecturing in forest measurement and inventory until he moved on to become Officer in Charge of the Working Plans Branch in 1982/83. Roger Sands was appointed head of UM studies at Creswick under Ian Ferguson early in my term as Principal, and university academic responsibilities increasingly moved over to him. Other UM staff were appointed to positions at Creswick and took over teaching functions appropriate to their qualifications. Max Coulter, Ron Hateley, Kevin Tolhurst, myself and others continued to teach in their specialties.
An employment project in about 1982 provided an opportunity to build what became the seminar centre on a block of land at the back of Tremearne House. VSF was given a budget to do this before any plans were drawn up or even a concept had been developed. I had in mind to build a bigger version of the hexagonal shelter that had been built at the Creswick nursery. My recollection is that I discussed this with Ian Sherwen (1951 VSF graduate), a Timber Promotion Committee representative on the Victorian Timber Industry Training Committee (VTITC), when the Committee was meeting at Creswick working towards establishing a Timber Industry Training Centre on a site adjacent to VSF. Ian put me in touch with a design engineer specialising in timber structures who then designed the octagonal structure that is there today. Ida, in Buildings Branch, also played an important part in developing the working drawings for the building.
This was a VSF project handled internally using VSF regular employees and temporary employees from the pool of long-term unemployed. I find it hard to believe now that we could have done so well and with so little input from ‘higher-up’ but I certainly have a strong sense of ‘'ownership”. The Seminar Centre was officially opened by Minister Rod McKenzie on the afternoon of the same day that Ron Grose was removed as Chairman of the Commission.
During the development of the Timber Industry Training Centre, I was drafted into VTITC and continued in that role until I left the Department. This was primarily to facilitate TITC’s use of VSF facilities.
In 1985 VSF hosted a plantation development/management short course for a group of about 20 Malaysian Forest Officers. Gerard Stewart and I were both heavily involved in this. I went to Malaysia prior to running this course to get an understanding of the situation the Malaysians would be working in, to ensure the course we provided was relevant for them. We also provided a short course for a group from Vietnam. I also had a short visit to Thailand in a small group sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs to see how best Australian aid could be used to support forestry education and practice in that country.
When female students first arrived at the VSF they were accommodated in the upstairs part of the main building. As we transitioned to an outpost of the University things had to be liberalised. The bathroom facilities in AVG (Galbraith House) were modified to provide for both sexes, and self-catering arrangements were developed in a new building constructed adjacent to Galbraith House. The new building was of my design and housed four separate student kitchens. It was built by the School’s maintenance staff and local trades people were engaged when outside services were required.
To meet the accommodation requirements for the increasing numbers of UM forestry students we also did a partial refurbishment of the former nurses’ accommodation at the Creswick District Hospital and had the overflow of students accommodated there for two or three years.
During Bob Smith’s time as Director of Forests, he decided to introduce a series of family holiday programs to use the School’s residential facilities during student vacation periods. Dawn Coogan drew up a five-day program for these, and we engaged students from Ballarat University to be the activity leaders. Once the forestry students left at the end of the term Galbraith House was converted into accommodation for the family groups with double bunks built by our maintenance staff added to the rooms to boost their capacity. Initially the programs were promoted in interviews on an ABC morning show and would sell out in a couple of hours. Later there was some formal advertising to achieve the same result. The prices Bob Smith set were fairly attractive and the programs may not have been profitable but the customers were happy and the School’s domestic staff enjoyed having extra weeks of employment.
Towards the end of my time with the School, Gerard Stewart and I were involved in preparations for and the introduction of the Department’s Forest Operator Licencing system. We went to quite a few different districts to speak to forest workers about forest safety codes and requirements and the licencing system that was being developed. For a while, up to the time I left the Department, the actual licences were being prepared at the School by our receptionist.
During 1989 I was made aware that I had reached the limit to the amount of superannuation I was entitled to have and, knowing this, at 56 years of age I decided to look for alternative employment to see out my working life. Subsequently I was appointed as the Executive Officer for the Maryborough and District Economic Development Committee and retired from forestry and the Department early in September 1989 to take up that position.
Shortly before my ‘retirement’ I had been given approval to build a new 20-bed student residence at the School for short course visitors. I had the Creswick Shire Assistant Engineer draw up plans for the building from my ‘back of an envelope’ concept, and its construction was under way as an in-house project when I left the School. At Bob Smith’s request, after my ‘retirement’, I continued to oversee the construction of the building through to its completion. Funding for this building came from money that UM had paid to the Department under its agreement to run its program at the School, and which had accumulated untapped up to that time.