"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

George Samuel Perrin (1847-1900)

The First Conservator of Forests

GS Perrin was appointed as Victoria's first Conservator of Forests in 1888. In 1890 he delivered his first Report to Parliament, and he died in Ballarat in 1890. On reading the Report you could be forgiven if you were positive about future management of our forests. However, the following quotes from the 14th Report of the Royal Commission established in 1897 indicate that Perrin was hamstrung in his endeavours to bring about important changes in management.

"For several years previous to 1888 there had been an Inspector of Forests, who was also in charge of the State Nursery at Macedon, but in that year the Government in power decided to appoint an officer to manage the reserves, with the designation of Conservator. Applications from qualified persons were invited in the press, the successful applicant being Mr GS Perrin, who had been for several years a forester in South Australia, and afterwards for some two years had charge of the State forests in Tasmania. He held the appointment up to the time of his death in December last, but unfortunately failing health for some time previous to his decease greatly interfered with the discharge of his duties. When he assumed control in 1888, one of his first acts was to provide for additional supervision, a number of foresters, some with and some without training, being appointed. He also strove, but without success, to get the Government of the day to pass through Parliament a Bill which had been prepared to secure better control and protection of the reserves."

"As regards management, from the very commencement there has been no real power attached to the office of conservator, and therefore no real responsibility. He has been the head of the staff of foresters and foremen, and has had control of the nurseries and the distribution of young trees, but from the time of his appointment in 1888 he does not appear to have been permitted to carry out any clear and definite policy in the management and working of the reserves. To create this important appointment with the remuneration of £750 a year, and then under the system of control in force to hamper and restrict the occupant in important points of working, to allow the wretched system of fixed licences to remain in force with no practical limitation on methods of cutting, to employ him, in fact, as a subordinate clerk of the Lands Department useful to give information and advice on forest matters of detail, but to deliberately neglect to utilize any experience or capacity for organization and management which he may have possessed, seems an almost incredible folly. Yet this is virtually what happened. Apart from any possible error of judgment in business management, which might have been made by any man under similar conditions, the late Conservator appears to have honestly striven to do his duty to the State to keep the more valuable reserves from alienation, and to protect and support his assistants in carrying out their often unpleasant duties. The opposition to settlement within the reserves led to friction with both Ministers and officials of the Lands Department, and this divergence of opinion on matters of public policy appears to have resulted in further restriction of his already limited powers."