The Remarkable Pack Camps of the 1950's
Arthur Webb (bio)
The widespread bushfires of 1939, which decimated the supplies of sawlogs available to the timber industry, were still having a profound impact in 1950. Also in the 1950’s, the State Authorities of Victoria were scrambling to meet the demand for sawn timber arising from meeting the backlog for new homes. The surge in construction of new homes arose from deferral of construction during the war years, coupled with the large increase in the State of Victoria’s population with the arrival of migrants and the baby boom of the post war years.
The FCV met the challenge of suppling timber resources to overcome the crippling effects of the 1939 bushfires and meeting the States' surging demand for timber. It did this initiating a massive salvage program, and by relocating sawmills from the Central Highlands to tap forest areas in East Gippsland, and the mountainous areas of North East Victoria and Gippsland, which had escaped the impact of the fires . Sawmills were relocated to the towns of Heyfield, Orbost, Cann River, Swifts Creek, Mansfield and Porepunkah.
Part of this massive operation of relocating the sawmilling industry required the building of access roads by the FCV to reach the untouched forests known to exist in the mountains. In some instances the quantity of sawlogs available were known, but in other instances this was not the case.
This was so with the Alpine Ash forests in the mountains north of Heyfield and Briagolong. They were known to exist but there was little knowledge of the extent of the stands, nor of the volumes or quality of the stands. The same situation applied to the Alpine Ash forests growing on the Great Dividing Range in the vicinity of Mount Selwyn to the south of Porepunkah. There was no road access to these areas when DWM Paine, Forest Assessor, was handed the task of establishing the quantities of sawlogs available in these remote locations.
The FCV was fortunate to have Murray Paine heading the Assessment Branch in the 1950’s, and in subsequent years. He was one of the early professionally-trained foresters who recognized the value of aerial photography for delineating differing stands of different species of eucalypt. In conjunction with Vern Henderson, head of the Survey and Mapping section, Murray used aerial photos of the mountains north of Heyfield and Briagalong to delineate stands of Alpine Ash. This information was put on topographical maps and then Murray designed, for then, a radical sampling scheme using randomly-located 1/3 acre sample plots as his means of measuring the volumes of the stands. He set sawlog standards for his crews to recognize in the field, and trained his assessment crews to apply these standards. And, from about 1960, he used computers to calculate the volumes of the sawlogs measured by his bush crews. He wrote the computer programmes to do all of this, something almost unheard of in those times. Old hat these days, but in the 1950’s it was very forward thinking. In the summer of 1953/54 Murray put into operation his plans for establishing the quantities of sawlogs in the remote mountains of Victoria.
This is the story of the living and working conditions Assessment Branch crews employed by Murray enjoyed when working in the remote Alpine Ash forests of Victoria in the 1950’s.