Victorian Governments’ Plantations Enterprise
David Williams (bio) - November 2018
The establishment of a government plantation enterprise in Victoria spanned more than a century under at least 40 governments of different persuasions and received varying levels of government support from time to time. The Forests Departments were early and consistent supporters of creating a substantial government softwood plantation estate from late 1800s. Their persistence was unwavering and ultimately proved reasonably successful.
There were a number of constraints in advancing the plantation program, primarily funding and land. Hence, progress was minimal in the early years. Access to suitable land was a challenge as forestry was a low-priority land use. The more productive and better-located land was allocated for settlement, farming and mining. From 1910 plantations were established on southern coastal areas because the land was considered “wasteland” and therefore available. This was a setback as the sites and growing conditions proved unsuitable and these plantations failed.
The years of the Great Depression provided an opportunity through government employment schemes and the estate grew significantly over the period. The war and post-war years saw activity slow to almost a standstill due to other government priorities and a lack of funds and labour. The program accelerated in 1962 when the Government supported the Forests Commission’s (FCV) Plantation Expansion (PX) program and this was further boosted with Commonwealth loan funds from 1967. High planting rates continued until 1990 when the Government announced its intention to exit the business.
The program was well planned and there were continuous effective efforts for improvement in plantation management. The establishment of formal research programs commenced in the late 1950s prior to the PX program. The research expanded to form comprehensive programs aimed at improving plantation productivity and in the 1970s, programs to address environmental matters.
The world was changing in the 1970s and 1980s and plantations were not exempted from changing public expectations. There was growing concern from external interests about the direction of the program and some plantation practices. A view expressed by some was that the program and practices were too focused on maximising timber production with insufficient regard for environmental values. The concern grew into increasing opposition about general environmental impacts and the aerial application of chemicals in the 1970s. The issues expanded somewhat in the 1980s as did the intensity and spread of opposition.
The Government sought to re-set the native forestry debate and the plantations program with significant policy changes in the Timber Industry Strategy in 1986 (TIS 1986). The Government was facing an intractable problem with the plantations program of needing to expand the estate, particularly in North East Victoria, to meet new supply commitments on the one hand, and the growing and more strident opposition from an increasing number of campaigns on the other hand. It announced its decision to exit the business in 1990 without resolving the conundrum.
There are a number of chapters to the interesting story of forest plantations in Victoria.
This paper addresses one chapter, albeit an important one. That being the establishment of a softwood plantation enterprise by State Forests Departments under more than 40 different governments of many and varied persuasions over more than a century.
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the project of documenting the heritage of Victorian forestry on this site. Other completed papers on plantations are available on the website. Further papers are in preparation or planned.
This paper is complemented by two other papers available on the website:
- “A Chronology of the Victorian Governments’ Century in Plantations”
- “A Century in Forest Plantations – Success or Failure?”
The chronology lists many of the significant plantation events whilst this paper discusses the reasons for the commitment to plantations, the factors and circumstances that shaped progress, challenges and opportunities from time to time and the Government’s exit from the business.
The paper draws heavily on the Forests Commission Victoria’s (FCV) softwood plantations story because the availability of all FCV reports provided continuous and reliable information on circumstances and activity. References in this paper to FCV were sourced from relevant annual reports unless otherwise stated. The same level of information was not readily available to the author for the period prior to and post FCV. The overall story, however, is well told through the FCV’s history.
This paper addresses the story in four sections:
1. The Plantations Vision
2. The Program
3. Changing Expectations
4. Exiting the Business
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Doolan, Brian (2015). Institutional Continuity and Change in Victoria’s Forests and Parks 1900-2010. Master of Arts thesis Monash University 2015.
Forests Commission Victoria 1972. Forestry in Victoria Prepared on the occasion of the Eighth All Australian Timber Congress, Melbourne 1972.
House of Representatives Standing Committee of Environment and Conservation (1975). Review of the Operation of the Softwood Forestry Agreements Commonwealth Government of Australia 1975.
HVP (2018). HVP – 20 Years Growing Strong. HVP Plantations Melbourne 2018.
National Health and Medical Research Council 1878. Report on Investigation into use of 2,4,5-T in Plantations in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.
Ribbentrop B (1896). Report on the State Forests of Victoria. Prepared in compliance with the request of the Hon. R.W. Best, Minister of Lands and presented to both Houses of Parliament 1896.
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Share Farm Scheme (1898). Plantation Share Farm Scheme. Department of Conservation and Environment Victoria.
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Tennant, Kylie (1970). Evatt Politics and Justice. Angus and Robertson. 1970.
Timber Industry Strategy Victoria (1986). Victorian Government Statement 1986."
Williams, David (2018). A Century in Forest Plantations: Success or Failure?