The FCV was established by the Forests Act 1918 to protect and manage Victoria’s public forests for the long term benefit of Victorians. The primary charter provided the framework for the FCV’s many and varied activities and works over almost seven decades. The Act also provided for the Commission to undertake secondary activities which were indirectly related to the primary purpose. These non-core activities included operating business and social enterprises and ‘war effort’ programs. They significantly contributed to the Commission’s work over it's life.
Business enterprises included timber seasoning, two sawmills, a Eucalyptus oil distillery, a steel tramway, harvesting and directly selling forest products, and a one-off opportunistic export sale of hardwood poles. The primary objectives were specific to each business but the general purpose was either to:
Commercial performance was a secondary objective with these businesses. Some of the businesses performed well financially including harvesting and directly selling forest products, eucalyptus oil production and one-off sale of export hardwood poles. The Erica sawmill was profitable until the latter stages of its life. The timber seasoning business returned a minor profit overall but was not a commercial success. The Erica tramway and Nayook sawmill were unsuccessful commercially.
The ‘war effort’ programs and social enterprises were not commercial businesses, and were instigated at the direction of the Victorian government. The ‘war effort’ programs of emergency firewood production for Melbourne and Geelong, and charcoal production, were both very successful. The social enterprises included 11 separate unemployment schemes and training programs. The Commission became adept at operating the unemployment schemes and became dependent of the labour to carry out much of its forest works programs. The training programs were partly successful with significant numbers of trainees subsequently gaining employment as a result of skills acquired under the programs.
The considerable potential for Victorian native hardwoods as fine timber was recognised as early as the mid-1800’s but there was little or no inclination to develop this potential for a number of decades. The utilisation of native timbers was wasteful and the forests were extensively cleared in an uncontrolled manner. Eventually the Government established the State Forest Department in 1907 in recognition of the destruction of the forests and the growing rehabilitation liability. At this time there was also a call for the Government to support the establishment of a works to undertake research into techniques for producing seasoned timber from native hardwood species. Work commenced on the Newport Seasoning Works in 1910 with initial production in the following year.
The objectives of the seasoning works were to:
The Erica Steel Tramway was used to transport sawn timber from sawmills located along the Eastern and Western Tyers Rivers to a siding joining the main Moe-Walhalla rail line just south of Erica in Central Gippsland. The tramway was one of two that were owned and operated by the FCV. The second was built in response to the needs of the 1939 salvage operation and extended from the South Cascade Bridge to Little Boys Camp. The locations of both lines can be found on this map.
The tramway travelled 6.75 miles from Collins siding, south of Erica, to the Tyers Junction where three river branches meet, those being the Eastern, Middle and Western Tyers. The tramway then spilt into two branch lines – one travelling 2.25 miles to ‘Ten Acre Block’ on the Eastern Tyers River, and the other travelling 7 miles to Growlers Creek on the Western Tyers River.
The tramway operated for 22 years, commencing in 1927 and its last trip was in July 1949.
The mill remaind in the original location until 1922 when it was moved two to three kilometres to the east. It remained at this new site until 1930.
From 1930 to 1940 there was no State Mill, but in 1940:
Financial statements for the Mill ceased to appear in FCV Annual Reports after 1966/67 so it probably closed around that time.
"At both sites the government decided to enter the sawmilling business because of issues with the industry. However the reasons were different.
At the Latrobe River (Nayook)site the reasons were:
At Erica the reasons were:
"Let us regard the forest as an inheritance, not to be destroyed or devastated, but to be wisely used, reverently honoured and carefully maintained. Let us regard the forest as a gift, entrusted to any of us only for transient care, to be surrendered to posterity as an unimpaired property, increased in riches and augmented in blessings, to pass as a sacred patrimony from generation to generation."
Baron Ferdinand von Mueller - Suggestions on the Maintenance, Creation and Enrichment of Forests (1879)