A Foresters' Life
Material provided by Roger Smith
Frank was, at age 15, the youngest student ever to enter the VSF, and when he retired in 1974 he would become the longest-serving forester to be employed by the FCV. You will see that he had a long career working in both plantations and native forests, and a very strong connection to the Otway forests. The Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) that were established in the Aire Valley Plantation in the 1930's, and are now inside the Great Otways National Park, are an important component of his legacy to forestry in Victoia.
Both of the letters in this article below are published with the permission of his son, Roger.
Redwood sawlogs from the FCV Aire Valley plantings of the late 1920s-early 1930s at a Woodend sawmill. "Specialty timber products have been cut from Sequoia sawlogs for many years now, starting with the 1929 plantings at Depplers Creek." Roger Smith, September 2021
Letter of 8 March 1925
8th March 1925
Most of the other new boys arrived on Tuesday afternoon , the other 3 on Wednesday afternoon. There are only 8 of us 1 didn’t come. I think it was the one from Broadmeadows . The first part of our initiation was to sing and recite some poetry. I did this part before the others arrived.
On Thursday night however came the great initiation lasting from about 8.45 till 12.30. We were done in batches of 4. The gymnasium – they have got a good one here, was all decorated up for the occasion with cypress boughs etc. There was a throne erected for Queen Matilda to sit on. Firstly we were blindfolded and with one of the old students to take each one by the hand we were run all around the grounds up banks down slopes through pools of water etc and then to the gymnasium where we had to sing songs etc. We were given a hair cut with a pair of shears, having the top of our head cut short and jagged. We were also given a shave with tar as shaving cream and with an old piece of tin nailed on a stick as a razor. We then had a shampoo with Neatsfoot oil. We also had the hose turned on us and had to bow before the queen during which we received a bucket of water over us. We then had various races with prizes such as daubs of tar etc. We then took the oath as fully blown students of the Forestry school. We then had a hot bath to remove the tar which took several days to wash off. After this we had a banquet which consisted of soft drinks, tarts, biscuits, buns and pastry etc. We then received brands with silver nitrate a chemical which turns black in the sunlight & will only come off with wear. We received an arrow on one cheek & a crown on the other. These brands however did not come out very well. The next day we received very well got up certificates of initiation which are of great value, they being the only means of receiving admission to the Old Boy’s Society. Of course Mr Carter knows all about the initiation he giving some of the time off & allowing us up till after 12. He also lent the hose. The old boys were dressed up as clowns, pirates etc & looked very good. Needless to say our towels and pillows were in a terrible mess being covered in grease, oil & tar etc out of our hair, but this is only taken as a matter of course by the maids etc they having seen it every year. All the people in the town too are used to seeing the boys going about with jagged hair & brands on their faces etc.
I have had to pay for some books so that has taken about 7/- & extras such as rulers pencils rubbers etc. I still have about 8d or 9d left out of the 10/- note Aunty gave me .The other books I will get will be booked & will come out of the 3(pounds) . There are several expensive things to get such as a bow pen about 8/- or 9/- which I think is the dearest item. We have started work properly now. In botany we do mostly microscopic work there being about 4 microscopes worth about 20(pounds) each. We look at various bacteria etc under the microscope. We did some surveying the other day under the tuition of Mr. Ferguson. We surveyed the cricket & football ground & had to draw a plan of it at night. Mr Carter invited us to attend cricket practice with the Creswick team on Friday night with a view to discover any talent. He like “Jack” is a good all round cricketer making most of the runs & capturing most of the wickets. He is captain of the Creswick team who play Wendouree & other Ballarat teams. The other Saturday he made 65. How many did Jack make in the Bank Match? I wish I had a tennis racquet. Most of the boys have them. I have had 2 or 3 games & find that I am improving being just as good as some boys with racquets. Couldn’t you send Jack's up till Easter? The school tennis team journeyed to Ballarat on Saturday afternoon & beat the Ballarat High School even though they didn’t have their best team in.
Most of the new boys are Presbyterians there now being 5 out of 13 boys at the school Presbyterians. The others are Church of England & Methodist. I went to church last Sunday night on my own. There were not many there. Mr Eastwood is a fairly good preacher. Mr Carter and Mr Ferguson also attend the Presbyterian church so we are well represented. I found my garters all right & got the trousers & the Advertisers. Some of us went for a swim on Saturday in a big dam. It is a real good place for swimming it being clean and fairly deep. It is the recognized bathing pool of Creswick it being provided with several spring-boards, bathing boxes & shelters etc. Another boy brought his bike up with him but there is not much use for a bike here. Allan arrived on the Tuesday night by the 9 train. He is liking the place alright. Owen Jones was over at the nursery one day when we were there, but I did not know him till one of the men said afterwards that that was him. He does not look like a commissioner not being flashly dressed or anything like that. About the only things they will not wash here are white trousers & stiff collars. I saw Alex Peacock’s residence on Saturday but it was not very grand, just a fairly plain white weatherboard house with not very big grounds at all. There are several houses better than his in Creswick. Mr Tidd’s the chief forester's is better I think. The work at the nursery is still going on all right. I have done many jobs such as sieving, shifting pots, hoeing, watering, chipping paths, & on Saturday morning I was gathering pine cones in the forest. The men climb the trees & knock the cones down & we have to put them in bags. They use the cones to get seeds from.
It is very cold up here at times. I think it is something like 1600ft above sea level. On Saturday night we went for a walk down to the station & afterwards to the library but we had to be home by 9 o’clock ie the Juniors. I am sorry I did not write during the week but I was waiting for a reply from my last letter & it did not come till Saturday. We do not get much time for writing letters either except after tea from 6 till 7.30 & then you do not feel like sitting inside writing letters, as we do not get extra much time off. However I will make up for it by writing a long letter to you today. I may write to Allan this afternoon sometime I get time. I thought Lancy & Stower would soon leave. Perhaps Belle may have to leave too as Mr Charles might not have an honor class with only one in it . I think I am the only new one who has got Leaving but most of them have passed 3 or 4 subjects. The subjects we do this year are English, Chemistry, Botany, Surveying, Mensuration, Geology. One of the things you have to learn here is to be able to print well, print script being used a great deal. We get very well treated here getting excellent meals etc. We nearly always have fruit for tea pears, apples or bananas, very nice jam, melon, plum, very nice marmalade & blackberry ,jelly & honey sometimes.
We always get eggs & toast or rissoles for breakfast as well as porridge and we always have a hot dinner washing days being no exception as I think they have a char-woman to do the washing. Well I think that is all the news at present.
Your loving son
P.S. These letters have to do for the whole family as I put all the news into one letter not having time to write more than one.
Letter of 4 April 1925
School of Forestry
4 April 1925
I received your letter on Thursday I think it was. I have not had time to write during the week as we have started working hard now. We are behind in some of our work owing to starting later than usual & we have to go fairly hard now with our practical work in Botany & Chem, so we do not get much spare time. We have to collect specimens of all the eucalypts etc. in our spare time & and by the way will you save all the empty match boxes you can as we want these to keep samples of the seed boxes of the eucalypts. The other day for Chem Prac Work we made some Eucalyptus oil from gum leaves.
I was wrong about the trains. The last one from Ballarat to Geelong is 3 pm. We break up on Thurs night. I will be able to get a train from Creswick to catch the 3 pm train on Thurs afternoon & so I will be home about 5 pm Thurs night. We have to be back in time to start school on Wed. Allan is going home to Portland. Mr Carter was nearly not going to give us the Tues & he was thinking of going to his relations out of Barabool.
Our Tennis team went in to Ballarat to play Lydiard St. Methodist Church on Sat by a hired car. We lost but did not have our best team in. I was playing tennis on Sat afternoon at school & am not too bad now. I was cutting wood on Sat morning at School & it was pretty hot too. Mrs Owen gave me a big jug of tea (2 cups) & some buns & bananas etc. She is very good to us.
I got the Advertisers & saw all the big headings & photos about the Ford Works. Mr Carter was speaking to us about them the other morning. We have a little talk every morning on things like that – like the building of the 2 cruisers, & chats on the leading articles etc. He said there will be trouble in the Works after they get going a bit, when the efficiency manager gets to work. The Ford people will expect much more work than Australian workmen are used to doing. Mr Carter says that in America the workmen work twice as hard as they do here for less pay in many cases. So he thinks there will be a bit of a fuss perhaps strikes etc. Mr Carter is always quoting America to us.;
Creswick got beaten in cricket they only made 140. Mr Carter made 63. He is a real good cricketer. He believes that matting cricket is a long way better than turf. He will talk to you for hours on cricket. He was chosen to play with Ballarat against the Englishmen but did not play for some reason or other. Another fellow who plays with Creswick did well against the Englishmen.
The other day we went knocking pine cones in the plantation. It is great fun climbing the pines & knocking the cones off with a hammer. They collect the cones & take them to the nursery & put them in the seed extractor. I have not had a letter from Allan yet, I had another from Thomo the other day. We are at present making a survey of the school grounds. We do surveying every Friday morning.
We have great fun with Mr Ferguson. He is a bit of a wag. The boys try to talk like him too. He has some funny expressions such as Oon oop no. (Own up now) Cum off it etc.
I have just been consulting the Railway guide & and find that there is a train leaving Creswick 2.13 pm & arriving in Ballarat at 2.47pm connecting with 3 pm Geelong train so I will be coming by that. I will have 4 days at home anyway. There is one boy staying at school George Latimer from Ouyen. Mr Ferguson will be staying too so he will have company. Steve Hodgeman from Tassy my dorm-mate is going to Stawell with Jack Barling.
We were looking at some compressed yeast under the microscope the other day. That comes into our Botany. The new tennis court is going ahead. It will be finished about a fortnight after Easter I think. Another boy and I are on the House Committee this month. Our duties are to ring the bell & get the paper in the morning & cut wood now & again. One of the boys had a birthday not long ago & got a hamper sent to him containing cakes etc. We all had a share of it. There is a fellow here who gets a couple of cakes sent to him every week but we never see any of it. He eats it all himself & the mystery is when he eats it. I’ve never seen anybody as mean as he is in my life. This is the fellow from Maryborough. Well I think I have told you all the news. Hoping to be home on Thurs night.
Your loving son
P.S. Don’t forget about the match-boxes.
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