Making a Dollar - An Introduction

David Holmes (bio)

Since the first Europeans arrived in 1788, the European population’s expectations of native forests has evolved significantly, more or less in parallel with its needs for wood, changes in Government and increasing knowledge of the benefits forests provide.

The first settlers in New South Wales found extensive forests of various types and species.

In the first year of the new settlement the local timbers were judged to be 'of little use, not fit for building either houses or boats'. However, within twenty years this judgement had changed markedly and Governor Philip Gidley King could declare that 'iron and stringybarks are well adapted to the different purposes where straight and durable timber is required' that 'box is a very fine timber' and that 'blue and blackbutted gums are esteemed woods'.”

Source: Technology in Australia 1788-1988

The settlers soon began utilize them for firewood to cook and heat their dwellings, build their dwellings and sheds, fence their livestock, and build boats, bridges and other structures. It was the most important material for their survival and the growth of the colony other than food and water. It was ‘natures gift’ which they were allowed to utilize freely by the Governors of the Colony. On their ‘ticket of occupation’ they were allowed to collect firewood, and cut timber to build dwellings and fence their livestock without the ‘Kings Duties’.

"Making a $" will trace the history from 1788 to 2003 when VicForests was created as a State Owned Enterprise, managed on a modern business model.

It is far more complex than it first appears. It is a history of legal rights to manage and take revenue from forests. Many things influence revenue from forests – including how much forest the Government makes available to harvest, the methods they use to take revenue from forests, how their charges are determined (do they reflect timber quality and end use/value), and the forest manager's ability to control how much timber is harvested, where it comes from, and how it is measured and charged for. It is also a history of how Governments funded their agencies to conserve forests and collect revenue - and the linkages between Forest Revenue and Forest Expenditure. All of these factors have changed over the centuries.

Outlined below are five major periods in which it is useful to look at this history. Every major period begins with a fresh start; a middle where problems emerge and attempts are made to address them; and an ending where problems become significant and those advocating for change finally win out over those advocating keeping the existing system.

1788 to 1851 – The NSW Colonial Period
1851 to 1901 – The Victorian Colonial Period
1901 to 1984 - Federation, State Forests and Forests Commission Victoria (FCV) Period
1984 to 2003 – Integrated Department(s), Timber Industry Strategy and Commonwealth Intervention Period
2003 plus – State Owned Enterprise period

Bear with us as we try to come to grips with this history