Derrick Rolland

This is a section taken from a transcript of a 2005 interview with Derrick Rolland as part of the E.A. Crome aviation oral history project, and available from the National Library of Australia. While the interview focus was about Derrickā€™s history with the Agricultural Aviation sector, it also covered some of his forestry experiences. That portion of the transcript, which has been edited to improve readability, is available below.

Derrick Rolland - When I came back from Canada I went to the Forests Commission, Victoria, in June '45. My mother had read an article about scholarships in forestry training. So I went and saw them but they didn't seem to know what they were doing about ex-service people at that stage. When it got near the end of the year and I'd heard nothing from them I put my name down to do law at Melbourne Uni. And the nearer it was getting to that the more I thought, 'That's not what I want to do.' And I got a letter from the Forests Commission in early January '46, if I was still interested, to present myself for an interview. And there were 20 ex-service people were interviewed and they took four of us. I then did the three-year forestry course at Creswick in Victoria.

Interviewer - So was that under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Scheme?

Derrick Rolland - Yes.

- So where was your forestry career based then, Derrick?

Derrick Rolland - When I finished at the Forestry School, and after a few months doing different things I was then sent to Mirboo North as an assistant forester in June 1949. And I had a year at Mirboo North. That was in the South Gippsland Reforestation Scheme, which was mainly involved with establishing plantations on former farming areas which should never have been cleared in the first place. And then I went over to Noojee in charge of the Loch Valley plantation for nine months and then returned to Mirboo North in charge for the next 11 years. Prior to 1958 the Forests Commission had two sections, the plantation and the hardwood. And in 1958 they were combined. I'd been in the Plantations Branch. And then I became District Forester under the new set up. I left there in 1971 and went to Gellibrand River, just south of Colac, and had nine and a half years there. In 1971 I came to Bright and did my last 13 years here prior to retirement. I ceased work on the 14th of December 1984.

Interviewer - Through all those years did you keep an interest in aviation, Derrick?

Derrick Rolland - Yes, we got involved in quite a number of operations. And I got to know quite a few of the pilots and the companies. We were involved in eucalypt seeding from the air, carrot baiting for rabbits, wattle spraying in the plantations when the wattles were competing with the pines, and firebombing. They were probably the main operations. And so I knew a fair bit about the industry at that stage.

Interviewer - Do you think we could go through those one by one and you describe how it actually worked, Derrick, because it's a side of aviation that I think not a lot is known. So what about eucalypt seeding? Was it quite revolutionary to do that?

Derrick Rolland - Not really. In nature we're dealing mainly with the mountain ash and alpine ash areas which, in a severe fire, the trees are completely killed. The trees don't recover of their own need. But they shed seed. And seeds land on clear ground and on to mineral soil after a hot fire. And that's normally in the autumn or late summer. And then those seeds require a period of cold to break the dormancy factor. And then they germinate in early spring. You can't always depend on enough seed being on the trees in areas that are being treated. So what we used to do was collect seed and then sow it at a predetermined rate from the air, after we'd burnt the area and got down to mineral soil. And it was a very successful operation.

Interviewer - So what type of aircraft would have been used for that?

Derrick Rolland - We used mainly Pawnees at the time that I was involved here. This would be back in the seventies. And we used a Cessna 180 I think it was with seed pods under the wings.

Interviewer - Sorry, the seed?

Derrick Rolland - They had pods under the wings with the seed in them. But with the Pawnee it was just in the normal hopper with a special spreading device underneath.

Interviewer - Was it effective?

Derrick Rolland - Very. Unfortunately a lot of the work I did here at Bright with this type of operation, was burnt in the January 1983 fires. And if the trees are not old enough, they haven't got enough good seed on them to regenerate again. So they need... well, it's been estimated around about 20 years, 10 to 20 years, they need to be old enough to produce enough seed to seed themselves.

Interviewer - So would that have been Eucalyptus regnans, was that?

Derrick Rolland - Regnans was the mountain ash.

Interviewer - Mountain ash.

Derrick Rolland - And E. gigantea ... or delegatensis, actually. They've changed the name of it ... is the alpine ash.

Interviewer - So what about the carrot baiting then for rabbits? Why was that even necessary in forestry?

Derrick Rolland - Oh, we had a lot of trouble with rabbits particularly. And we worked in conjunction with the Lands Department, who were actually the ones responsible for destruction of rabbits. They used to do the cutting of the carrots, at least. And, and then we'd assist with loading the plane. We did the hire of the aircraft and directed where it operated.

Interviewer - So that's really getting rid of a feral pest that's eating the ...

Derrick Rolland - The pines. Particularly pines. And they also did some of the eucalypts as well.

Interviewer - So which forest would that have been at? In the alpine regions as well?

Derrick Rolland - I did it mainly when I was in the, the Otways at Gellibrand around the Beech Forest area. And they did it here. That's right. They did it at Bright just before I got here.

Interviewer - And was the wattle spraying for a similar reason? Getting rid of a tree that was invasive in the forestry scene?

Derrick Rolland - Yes, they competed with the pines quite successfully on many, many occasions. And by knocking the wattles down it gave the pines a chance to develop to their full potential.

Interviewer - So in the sixties and seventies what type of weedicide or whatever would you have been using?

Derrick Rolland - Oh, 245T, I think, was the main one used for wattles.

Interviewer - And now the firebombing. Is that something different to prevent fire? Or is it during fires you use that?

Derrick Rolland - During fires. And that experimenting's been going on for many years. Before the Second World War there was experimental work done, particularly by the Air Force in conjunction with the Forests Commission. But now it is a very well organized operation. Although you see the imported Elvises, and what not, helicopters operating, the backbone of the firebombing is still done by agricultural aircraft who are put on standby at various points in the State and are available to operate anywhere in the State. They can be moved around. And it's been very effective. Interviewer Derrick, when you did your study for forestry, was there any talk of aviation being involved with it?

Derrick Rolland - Well, there had, had been a little bit. The Air Force had been involved in a, a few operations. But my first actually encounter was when the, the Air Force took their first helicopter, a Sikorsky 51, round Victoria to various forest areas to get us used to the idea of being able to fly into fires. And I went for a flight at Erica in 1949 in the Sikorsky 51. The Air Force only owned three of them at the time.

Interviewer - Now, was there real value in that as a contribution to forestry?

Derrick Rolland - Oh yes, I think so. Helicopters are used quite extensively now for crew transport, material transport, firebombing. And some of them are used to allow rappel crews to go down on ropes into small, small lightning strike areas and tackle the fire while it's small. Whereas they wouldn't get in easily by vehicle because there were no or few tracks in the area of operation.

Interviewer - Now, now what about the pilots themselves, Derrick, that you met during those forestry years? Who were some of those people?

Derrick Rolland - I suppose the most notorious was Ben Buckley. I met Ben in 1972 when he was doing the aerial seeding. And he also had a claim to fame that he and another pilot were the first to do an actual operational firebombing operation. And that was back in 1967, the the first operational firebombing from Benambra. But Ben was well known in the industry.

Interviewer - So he wasn't an employee of the department?

Derrick Rolland - No. He had his own company at Benambra.

Interviewer - So were there others that you met along the way too as well as Ben?

Derrick Rolland - Oh, yes. There were quite a few. And I flew with some of them in helicopters at fires. But they weren't actually the aerial ag people. They were flying with chartered helicopter companies.

Interviewer - So, Derrick, during those years of your forestry, you got at least to have some enjoyment with your love of aviation?

Derrick Rolland - Yes, I seemed to be able to get to most operations when they were on.