The Missing Forest - Volume 2

Heytesbury Forest

This article will tell the story of the forest that was cleared during the 20th century for dairy farming and settlement. It is in the early stages of development, but what is here will give you a start. A Webmap of a part of the original project area is available.


The Heytesbury Shire

Source: Victorian Places on 10 October 2023

"Heytesbury shire (1895-1994) was an area in western Victoria south of Cobden and Terang. A large part of it was once the Heytesbury Forest between Cobden and the Otway Ranges."

"The chief areas of early settlement were on the edge of the northern lava plain, Cobden and Timboon on the Curdies River and Port Campbell on the coast. In 1892 the Curdies River area was opened by a railway from Camperdown to Timboon, facilitating market access for timber and dairy produce. During 1928-33 some of the Heytesbury Forest east of Timboon was cleared for additional dairy farms."

"During the 1950s the clearing of much of the Heytesbury Forest was undertaken, faster and more effectively with heavy mechanised equipment. The clearance was almost entire, leaving only 25 of 450 sq km undisturbed. Nearly all of the cleared land was used for dairy farms. The Rural Finance and Settlement Commission established the township of Simpson near the middle of the Heytesbury settlement area. In 1989 the last parcel of farm land was sold."

Death of a Forest

Source: The family of Rosamund Duruz have very kindly allowed use a copy of her 1974 book, Death of a Forest, on this site.

"The first timber mill in the Forest was set up by James McLure between Curdie Vale and Timboon. He was a wheelright from Northern Ireland who reached Australia in 1844 and went straight into the milling industry, first in the Dandenongs and then at Port Fairy and round Warrnambool. The search for a bigger stand of timber led him into the Heytesbury Forest and he built the first bridge over Curdie's River in order to move in his sawmill plant which had come by sea from Melbourne to Warrnambool."

"During the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth a certain stagnation affected most of the Heytesbury Forest settlements. Few new settlers arrived and many drifted to other districts, having failed to make a go of it." ... "For the Forest these years represented a reprieve, a breathing space before the advent of the age of machinery."

"The Depression years of the early 1930s cast a gloom over the Western District, as over all the rest of Victoria. Two relief schemes started in the Heytesbury Shire were destined to have a great impact on stretches of the Forest not previously attacked by man: one was the building of the Ocean Road and the other the establishment of the Bailey Settlement (sometimes known as the Heytesbury Closer Settlement Scheme, but not to be confused with the Heytesbury Settlement between Princetown and Cobden, opened after World War II)."

"The Bailey Settlement had wiped out large new stretches of the Heytesbury Forest; yet even so, at the beginning of World War II, there were still thousands of acres of timber to be seen about the Shire."

"Another important factor in the development of the whole district — for better or for worse — was the Government's decision to open a new Heytesbury Settlement in the triangle between Cobden, Princetown and the foothills of the Otways. In 1954 the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission (a body formed by amalgamating the Rural Finance Commission and the earlier Soldier Settlement Commission) was given authority to develop 70,000 acres of Forest and scrub as dairy farms." ... "This was a magnificent stretch of almost virgin country: a wonderland of native plants and native animals, a habitat which can never be reproduced anywhere in the world. A few voices were raised in protest, but at that time Governments and Shire Councils and would-be farmers were only interested in producing agricultural wealth from this high rainfall land."

"A very few people made efforts to preserve small segments of bush, but nowhere — either on the Heytesbury Settlement or off it — was any coordinated attempt made to salvage a worthwhile stretch of the original Forest."