A Man's Career

Ken Harrop
Article from Tyalla 1974

KG Harrop, the author of this article, is the newly appointed Divisional Forester to Central Division. His qualifications are Diploma of Forestry Creswick and Diploma of Forestry Victoria. In answer to a request by the editorial staff he has written this account of his work since he left the school. Few people outside the forestry profession really know what a forester does, and it is for these reasons that this article is presented.

I graduated from the School of Forestry, Creswick in December 1947 in the upper half of a group of 12 students, two of whom had been sponsored through the school by A.P.M. Pty. Ltd. After nearly 27 years since graduation only six of this original number are still in service with the Forests Commission of Vic¬toria. The intake of twelve students in 1945 was the second largest ever and this was the pattern of intake for a number of years ahead. The 1944 intake included such notables as J. B. Jack, W. J. Edgar and E. K. Gidley.

For the first time ever the Commission conducted an assessment training school at the old prisoner of war camp at Kinglake West. During this school we were initiated to the rigours of firefighting, and the restrictions placed on forest officers during fire danger periods. We were bundled out of bed to assist at a fire near Kalatha Creek, Toolangi Forest District, and were later restricted to the camp when Easter leave was cancelled due to fire danger weather conditions.

Postings followed to assessment work at Bullumwaal, Navigation Creek and Monkey Creek in the Bruthen Forest District. The latter two were associated with decisions on the location of a road to be built by the Engineers Branch for log extraction towards Mt. Sugarloaf and Mt. Baldhead.

These were the days when young Foresters envied the mappers and chainmen who were receiving princely sums of pay compared with those of an Assistant Forester, Classes "E" and "D". They were interesting days when timber assessment work was done by traversing an area of forest with chain and compass, then running strips at twenty chain intervals across the topography, so that as well as estimating sawlog volumes for a half chain on each side of the strip, you were also able to produce a reasonably reliable topographical and species type map of the area of the forest under consideration.

At the end of this period in November 1949, I was transferred to Stawell as assistant to the then Chief Forester B0 Squire, who despite his kind looks and pleasant manner, was a man who believed assistant foresters should work hard, and if they were to be any good at all as future District Foresters, should learn the job from the very bottom rung of the ladder. I was given a good grounding in all aspects of office administration, fought my share of fires, marked a lot of trees for licensee utilisation, ran road grade lines and generally did what I was supposed to do — assist the District Forester. I pay tribute to the Overseers and Foremen of the Stawell District in those days who apart from being very good friends and loyal fellow workers, taught me a lot about "dirt forestry". i.e. tight supervision and effective fire suppression techniques (this was really good forest management at the grass roots).

Two fires I remember well at Stawell. One was a struggle to the top of the Asses Ears to deal with a lightning strike, and the other was a night hike up Mt. William from near Mafeking to another lightning strike. Forest Overseer Stan Taylor of Stawell would remember this effort. I returned to the top of Mt. William with an English Botanist on a wet foggy day the following winter, so that he, who was on a very tight unalterable schedule, could collect specimens for the Australian section of the Kew Gardens in London. I look more kindly on him now than I did on that rainy and sleety day in 1952.

In November of 1953 I was transferred to Neerim South and had my first taste of the "big" timber country, but this was to be only a short stay as promotions, resignations etc., allowed me to become the District Forester at Briagolong. It is interesting to note that in 1954 you could be an assistant forester, transferred to take charge of a Forest District, with nothing more than a change in status, i.e., assistant to District Forester without additional remuneration other than a slight lift of several pounds in the disability allowance. It is also worthy of note that I was 26 at this time as compared with most appointees to District Forester these days being around the 36 years of age mark.

Briagolong District was large territorially, but fortunately utilisation was restricted to the southern portion of the District, just north of Briagolong township. These were the days of large supply of poles to the SEC, and the District supplied several thousand annually.

Fires were quite common in the summer period and were often reached by long walks with a weighty pack upon the back. It was all hand trailing with no dozers or tankers to assist in the more remote localities. Frank Whitelaw was my right hand man, as well as pay clerk, revenue collector, typist, and general dispenser of good sound advice.

After three years I obtained the somewhat startling news that I was to transfer to Cann Valley and Mallacoota Districts with headquarters at Noorinbee. This news coincided with the discovery of funnel web spiders in the Noorinbee area which, on top of being the remotest District Office in the State, did little for the morale of my wife and family. I suppose you could say that the Cann Valley District was one of the emerging areas of the State at this stage as far as forestry was concerned. Sawmills had not long been established, and were gradually gearing up to full production. Annual allocations lifted from 36,000 m3 to 84,000 m3 with, I might add, little increase in staffing or vehicle supply in the four years I spent at Noorinbee.

Main works consisted of supervising log utilisation, road and track location and construction, reconnaissance of timber resources, and a fair slice of some summers spent fire-fighting in this very fire prone area of Victoria. I like many others before and since me, would not on reflecting have liked to miss the experience of serving in the far east of Victoria.

1961 saw a transfer to Mansfield, and experience of Alpine Ash logging. This was a most busy period as the District was large in area with some form of forest activity taking place over most of its area — logging, roading, jeep tracking, some firefighting, and the introduction to establishing annually, 160 hectares of P.radiata along the Delatite Arm of the Eildon Weir. I'm happy to say the project was quite successful as testified by thinnings being carried out at the present time.

Late 1964 meant a transfer to Myrtleford and the introduction to softwood utilisation together with a 280 hectare annual P. radiata planting program in the Buffalo River Valley.

Softwood utilisation involved road location and construction in the virtually unroaded Ovens Plantation, assistance in cutting plan preparation, and the practical application of the plan in enticing contractors to thin stands on the fairly steep slopes. Although not without its very real problems, the daily work was largely accomplished by a competent, and very loyal staff of Foresters, Overseers and exempt employees.

My last two summers at Myrtleford saw the Mudgegonga fire in early February 1968 when a fire started under extreme weather conditions and burnt over some 20,000 hectares of country in the Barwidgee and Happy Valley Creeks, and the Kiewa River valley - largely in the one afternoon. The fire was contained without the help of rain and the Herculean effort of many, many hardworking people. A helicopter was used for the first time to burn out some 1,200 hectares of steeply timbered country contained within predetermined control lines to finally "sew-up" this quite considerable blaze. On the "Lara day" in January 1969, a 4,000 hectare fire originating north of Myrtleford at Bowman's Forest, eventually burnt to the edge of the town on Barwidgee Creek before being controlled. Both these fires gave very anxious moments as regards the safety of the Ovens Plantation. However it still survives as a very important timber resource in the Ovens Valley.

In 1970 I was promoted to assist the Divisional Forester, South Western Division at Ballarat, and found some difficulty in adjusting to the role of being Assistant after 15 years of being "boss" in various Forest Districts. The role of planning and "seeing things" accomplished is a very satisfying part of the District Foresters task.

To me, District Foresters and their staff are the "doers" in the Department, as distinct from most other appointments which are either advisory, inspectorial or in the planning field. I believe it is the most satisfying job in the service even though it has its fair share of problems.

Further promotion to Divisional Forester, Central Division eventuated in May 1974. It is too soon to comment competently on this position, but so far it is interesting, though demanding, and will probably prove to be even more demanding as utilisation of regrowth from the 1939 fires becomes a reality in the not too distant future. Some of the good things over the years are — some good friends, bosses, assistants, exempt personnel and industry, a mixture of field activity with office routine, establishing pine plantations, road and track planning and building, some fires (spot size), satisfaction of promotion to Divisional Forester and good fishing whilst at Cann River.