Do Forests Matter?
The Evolution of Legislated Obligations for Forest Areas in Victoria
A Brief Summary : 1800-1992
Andy Beveridge (bio) & Mike Leonard (bio) - 2018
A PDF of this article is available for download
The story of the progressive removal of Victoria's forests, and the evolution of legislative and bureaucratic strategies to better understand, and to protect what remained, and to facilitate sustainable timber harvesting and fire management mirrors, and at times impacts significantly on the economic and social history of the Colony/State.
Pastoral squatting in the 1840s, gold rushes of the 1850s, a succession of Land Acts in the 1860s (which were designed in part to ‘...facilitate the alienation of the waste lands of the Crown...’), and the continued expansion of the transport network all combined, by the early 1900s, to produce a geographic distribution of forests that is similar to that of today. It was in 1907 with the passing of the Forests Act, and in 1908 with the creation of a State Forests Department, that the first significant steps were made towards the conservation of the State's forests. That task continued and expanded during the 1900s.
What follows is a brief history of that evolutionary process.
- 1800 to 1872
- 1872 to 1918
- 1918 to 1939
- 1939 to 1970
- 1970 to 1987
- 1987 to 1992
|1800||European sealers and whalers now active around Bass Strait. The Aboriginal population of the future colony of Victoria is now estimated to have then been between 30,000 – 70,000
|1834||First permanent European settlement in Victoria established at Portland Bay by the Henty brothers. Sheep runs established
|1835||John Batman seeks to acquire around a quarter of a million hectares (ha) between Port Phillip and Corio Bays from the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong Tribes. The initiative is rejected by Sydney-based Governor Bourke and the British subsequently issue an instruction for the appointment of magistrates at Port Phillip, and for the sale of land. The following two years see pastoral runs spreading as far as Winchelsea, Inverleigh and Bacchus Marsh in the west, and Woodend and Kilmore in the north. Increasingly conflict with Aboriginal communities ensues
|1839||First timber licence regulations under the Lands Act (largely ineffective)
|Mid 1840's||Squatters’ influence reaches the Gippsland Lakes in the east, Echuca in the north, and the Wimmera in the north-west. Conflict with local Tribes now also widespread
|1851||6th February – ‘Black Thursday’. Under conditions of extreme wind and high temperatures all of what will become Victoria, except the Mallee Region, experiences bushfire.
1st July – Victoria proclaimed a separate Colony: non-aboriginal population estimated to be 77,400.
Discovery of gold: Relatively benign environmental impact of the early pastoralists ends. Massive influx of migrants demands timber for mine props, firewood and for building. The need for food stimulates intensive agricultural development. Forest clearing begins in earnest in the immediate vicinity of the goldfields (Ballarat, Castlemaine, and Bendigo) and spreads. (Population estimates rise to 236,800 in 1854, and 408,600 in 1857)
|1852||Second timber licence regulations (Lands Act)
|1856||November – First meeting of the Victorian Parliament
|1860||Nicholson Land Act. Releases 0.33 million ha of land for settlement. Provokes continuing controversy with the squatters. Subsequent Acts in 1862 and 1865 release a further 2.2 million ha
|1862||First provision in Lands Act for sawmill licences
|1865||The Amending Land Act details the first powers to proclaim reserves for ‘...preservation and growth of timber...’
|1866||Earliest authentic map of Victoria's forest cover compiled (revised and printed in 1869). Reliability of the map considered to be high. Reveals 20 million ha (or 88%) of Victoria covered by forests and woodlands. By comparison, a Departmental publication in 1987 describes 8 million ha (35% of Victoria) - covered by forests and woodlands
|1867||Around 46 400 ha declared State forests and Timber Reserves. Cutting banned in some areas of the You Yang’s to allow regrowth
|1869||First truly economically successful Land Act passed; 4.7 million ha surveyed and selected. The State's agricultural capacity rapidly expands. New Section 6 of Land Act allows the Governor to ‘...reserve from sale any Crown Lands which were required for the growth and preservation of timber...’
|1870s||First recorded concerns at Government level about remaining forests. Minister for Lands and Agriculture presents (1874) report to Parliament on ‘Forest Conservancy’. Report deals with remaining forests and, in reviewing government action in recent years concludes ‘...no more effectual method of legalising the destruction of timber could be devised…’
|1871, 1873, & 1879||Provisions in Land Act to grant exclusive rights to cut timber|
|1872||First State nursery established (at Macedon) to assist in the replanting of cut over areas|
Sources for this article include:
Doolan, B.V. (2016). Institutional Continuity and Change in Victoria’s Forests and Parks 1900 – 2010. Master of Arts thesis - Monash University. 180 pp.
Moulds, F.R, (1991). The Dynamic Forest – A History of Forestry and Forest Industries in Victoria. Lynedoch Publications. Richmond, Australia. 232 pp.