The section "What Changed?" was written by Mike Leonard
"We began our training at the forestry school just two years after the catastrophe, and we found that almost every statement about the department and the industry was prefaced by 'before 1939' or 'since 1939' and everyone was quite toey". Murray Paine
In the early days of January 1939 one of the greatest natural disasters in Australian history fell on the State of Victoria. Over a period of a week hundreds of fires that had been burning spasmodically across a large part of the State gathered into a series of vast conflagrations that swept the forest areas, destroying homes and surrounding settlements, in some case almost obliterating small townships, and killing seventy-one people. The fires were accompanied by record temperatures and winds that reached velocities estimated at over one hundred miles an hour. They created freak conditions that in turn accentuated the intensity of the flames and the extent of the damage they caused. Men and animals died horrible deaths. Sometimes their bodies were found after the fires had passed, charred beyond recognition; in other cases they died seemingly from suffocation, scarcely marked by the flames. Strange sounds and sights were reported by those caught in the inferno who escaped to tell their stories. Matches burned blue in an atmosphere apparently charged with an excess of carbon-dioxide. Great clouds of flame leaped from hill to hill, driven by windstorms that carried masses of inflammable gas. Dull booming sounds were heard in advance of the walls of flame. Solid metal melted in the heat. When it was all over, large areas of the State presented a grim scene of desolation. Across thousands of square miles the trees stood stark and blackened. The ash from their destruction lay deep on the baked earth. The tall tree-ferns that filled the mountain valleys had simply disappeared, along with all the rest of the vegetation. Fifteen hundred people were left sheltering in camps and temporary homes. Others lay in hospital wards, their limbs and bodies burned by the flames which had surrounded or passed over them. WS Noble (1977) (Frank Noble, a son of WS Noble, has kindly given the FCRPA permission to use his father's book on this site.)
As noted by Turner et al. (2004), the lack of a native softwood species in Victoria led to the establishment of small test plantations of softwood species potentially suited for timber production under Victorian soil and climatic conditions. This work commenced as early as 1880. It involved testing of a range of ‘best-bet’ conifer species based on expectations of their performance and productivity in other states like NSW, SA and WA as well as in New Zealand and also in their native habitat in the USA and southern Europe. It was soon discovered that Pinus radiata (Radiata Pine) was most suited to the environmental conditions commonly encountered in southern Australia and this became the dominant species for the rapid expansion of a softwood plantation resource in Victoria and other southern states.
This article is based on extracts from an article about Richardson the website of Federation University.
During the early years of VSF, many lecturers of the sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Geology etc) were persons from the Ballarat School of Mines.
Sometimes lecturers attended at Creswick and sometimes students travelled to Ballarat for tuition. One interesting person in this category was Richard (Dick) Richards who lectured in Physics at the VSF in 1934.
This article was written in 2008.
I first met Alan Cracknell early in the 1980’s when he was Principal of the Wodonga High School. It was a fleeting contact but I do remember him giving me the stern well practiced Principal look designed to freeze students in their tracks. Some time later I moved to Wodonga and I found myself attending the same Church as Alan but even so that student look still kept me at a distance. But slowly our Church lives intertwined and the barriers were broken down. With time we shared some Church responsibilities and often had to work on projects together and enjoyed each others company.
But Alan had a surprise in his past. He knew I had studied forestry but it was not until many years later that he casually told me that he had taught at the forestry school at Creswick. And so it turned out that Alan had done a stint at Creswick as the Education Department science lecturer early in his career.
This article is one of many of Leon's contributions to this site.
The Forests Commission commenced a breeding program with radiata pine in 1958, but before describing the work it is useful to consider why it was started.
In the earlier years of pine plantation establishment in Victoria, seed for new plantings was obtained from cones collected from trees on the ground after final fellings. There was no selection for the type of tree from which the cones were taken. Sometimes, even cones were collected from trees felled as thinnings. Gradually, from around the world, reports were received that the characteristics of trees could be improved by more careful selection of the seed source. Indeed, there seemed no reason why tree crops could not be improved by using the plant breeding techniques so successful in many agricultural crops.