The Beaufort FCV Works Crew (1979-84)
A tribute to the Beaufort and other FCV works crews across Victoria
David Holmes (bio)
David was the Assistant District Forester at Beaufort from 1979 to 1984
The history of timber utilisation on Mt Cole and Mt Lonarch is already available on this site. (See: Mt Cole) I would like to add to this knowledge by recording who was on the Beaufort Forest Commission Victoria (FCV) District Works Crew in the period 1979-84, their skills, some of the work they carried out, and the legacy they left on both Mt Cole and Mt Lonarch.
As a Canadian trained forester I was new, in 1979, to the forests and wildfire conditions of Victoria. Over the following five years as Assistant District Forester I learned a lot from the Beaufort Crew, including respect for their knowledge and skills. I also enjoyed their humour and camaraderie. As their crew leader on many occasions, at large fires in East Gippsland and elsewhere, we lived, ate and worked together, and I came to know them quite well.
Local knowledge, Experience and Skills
All of the Crew came from the local community (towns and farms). Many came from families that had resided in the area since European settlement. Their knowledge of local geography, roads, forests and fire behaviour in them was invaluable in first attack and suppression of local wildfires. They also knew their counterparts in the CFA and could work easily alongside CFA crews.
The regular Crew consisted of two main age groups – five in their late 50s and early sixties who had been on the Crew since sometime between WWII and 1960, and seven in their 30s. Just one member was in his early 20s at that time. However, the number in their 20s increased when the 8-10 man summer fire crew was employed.
All of the older men were highly skilled and experienced bushmen. Each had one or more specialty skills eg. bulldozer operation, grader operation, explosives, stone and concrete work, carpentry, storekeeping, seed extraction and storage.
The men in their 30s were all skilled and experienced bushmen and firefighters too. They could all drive tankers, operate chainsaws, fire pumps and other equipment. A number had specialty skills as well eg. tip-truck, front-end loader, tractor and slasher, grader and bulldozer operation. When the call came to send firefighters to other part of the State, the men selected always came from the younger group.
In the fire season the regular 12-13 man Crew was boosted with another 8-10 local men. Some of the fire season crew had experience from previous years, while others were new to it. Every year more young men from the local community gained fire fighting skills and experience in these fire season crews, and became valuable to the local community, FCV and CFA brigades.
There was a range of personalities but they would work together in effective teams, especially when fighting fires. They all had in common a love for working outdoors in the beautiful, tall forests of Mt Cole. There was camaraderie among them, respect for the older most skilled members, and willingness to help new younger men learn skills. There was also at times high spirits and laughter.
The Crew was undoubtedly similar to many other FCV crews around the State. Their practical forestry, firefighting and equipment operating skills were the backbone of the FCV’s ability to maintain forest roads, carry out silvicultural works and fuel reduction burns, establish and tend new softwood plantations, and fight wildfires. In the fire season they were the FCV’s frontline troops and equipment operators, who could be organised quickly into effective first attack units for local forest fires, or sent anywhere in the State to help with the containment and suppression of large wildfires on public land. At wildfires I often saw them work in extreme conditions, sometimes life-threatening, in unfamiliar territory, day and night, with discipline, courage and humour.
Two of the Crew's senior members were Nando Rosini and, his good friend and workmate, Archie Dickman.
Nando Rosini came to Australia after WWII from Slovenia, which borders present day northeast Italy. On arrival he was sent to work at the Warrak migrant forestry camp west of Mt Cole. Some years later he joined the Beaufort Crew. Nando was a broad-shouldered, strong, and good natured man, with European manners, who loved working on Mt Cole. He was also a very practical man with a sense of humour and a good stonemason. At lunch Nando would always plant his apple core wherever he was on Mt Cole, so that in the future there would be apples for people to eat. Over the years a number of apple trees grew and produced apples. Every person at Beaufort FCV held Nando in high esteem.
Archie Dickman was from a family that settled in the area in the 1800s. He had known Mt Cole since his childhood and knew from his family the changes that occurred to it since the arrival of Europeans. Archie was a WWII army veteran and one of the best allround bushman I have ever met. He could do almost anything – from driving a bulldozer to building a hut. He was also a champion axeman, winning two State wood chopping competitions. Archie also knew Mt Cole and its history better than anyone. He could find the old trenches dug to shelter men from wildfires, old pit saw sites from the 1800s, places where explosives were stored long ago, and where people picnicked back in the early 1900s (that were now overgrown). He was a treasure trove of local history. Archie was always willing to teach younger crew members skills and impart knowledge from his vast store. Every person at Beaufort FCV respected him.
1 In the same period the Forest Commission created the Forest Environment and Recreation Branch in Melbourne to support its multiple forest use policy, and developed the notion of a ‘recreation opportunity spectrum’ in State Forests, based on the USDA’s Forest Service.
2 This expansion continued on after the FCV was integrated into the Department of Conservation Forests and Lands in 1984.
I would especially like to thank Kathie Pitt, Elizabeth Thurgood from the Beaufort Historical Society, Bronwyn Lyttle, Kelvin Davies, FCV Crew member and Beaufort Forest Works Officer 1997-2012 (NRE, DSE) and Helen, his wife, for assisting with the text.
AcknowledgementsThe author acknowledges the Beeripmo Balug clan of the Djab Wurung First Nations people, who occupied the area around the Mount Cole Ranges for some 50-60000 years. Beeripmo means ‘wild mount’, which is believed to refer to Mount Cole. In addition the author acknowledges the clan’s management of Mount Cole and its surrounding lands. They created, with their knowledgeable use of fire, the park-like landscape the first Europeans saw, and the conditions where they could ride easily through the landscape and up to Mount Cole on horseback.