Ian Harris

Straw into palliasses; crock into pots 


... both of which were basic to the forestry story some decades ago.  Some of us can relate to either or both; whether stuffing straw into hessian palliasses at the School of Forestry and ex-prisoner-of-war camps, or at the Macedon nursery learning the basics of nursery practice, including the placing of crock from broken pots into new pots before putting in soil for seedlings.

My introduction to forestry as a career-path was stimulated even before attending two school forestry camps at Macedon.  My school headmaster at Wesley College, Mr Neil McNeil, was the chairman of the high-profile post-war ‘Save the Forests’ campaign, part of which was to promote forestry through school camps throughout the State.

Unsuccessful at my first attempt to enter the Victorian School of Forestry in 1949, I joined CSIRO’s Division of Forest Products as a technical assistant under Alan Gordon - later of portable timber-preservation fame.

After I graduated from the VSF in 1952, I was first assigned to forest assessment in the Otways, then to road building, practical silviculture and fire management at Trentham, Beaufort and Ballarat.

The several years of applied field experience with the Forests Commission and my previous work experience in forest products research gave me confidence to seek wider opportunities.

I resigned from the Forests Commission to join a well-established timber importer, George Wills & Co to work with Ian Sherwen, a colleague whom I had earlier shared time with at Creswick and the Otway assessment job.  The timber-marketing experience in private enterprise provided some valuable balance to the theory taught in the forestry studies at the VSF.

In 1957 I joined the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SEC), initially as assistant forestry officer in Melbourne and, between 1958 and 1962, in Yallourn.

In the years 1962 to 1964 I shared forestry with school-boys at Geelong Grammar School's Timbertop Campus.  Introducing forestry through a new subject titled ‘Applied Biology’ was challenging at times.  Using their mainly farm-based backgrounds and integrating it with my own forestry-based knowledge and experience, together with any science and biology they had been exposed to, really gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

Furthermore, the forest-based boarding school at Timbertop involved all staff in supervising the extensive week-end hiking and other various outdoor activities, including skiing in the winter term.

I re-joined the SEC in 1964 as works Forestry Officer at the Kiewa hydro scheme in north-eastern Victoria.  Surprising to some, the SEC had extensive forest holdings at Yallourn in the Latrobe Valley brown coal area and in the hydro-electricity areas at Rubicon and Kiewa.

Of course, fire work was again an on-going summer priority.  The 1944 Royal Commission in examining the extensive open-cut fires in the brown coal at Yallourn, deemed it necessary to convert a large area of surrounding poor bushland into arable pasture, as well as reclaim the large areas of open-cut overburden with softwood plantations.

At Kiewa we were applying the then ground-breaking hydro-mulching technique, first introduced by the Snowy Mountains Hydro Authority.  There was quite a steep learning curve involved in the supervision of a large team of men and land clearing equipment for this work.

Some years later I faced another formidable challenge as Forester-in-charge of the Kiewa hydro area.  High mountain forest management in Alpine Ash and Snow Gum provided a complete contrast to the land conversion operation in the Latrobe Valley.  It also provided research opportunities in the use of tree selection and planting techniques to trap snow so that the melting process was delayed beyond the normal spring thaw.  I was also involved in the finishing stages of the Phasmid control operation.

Between 1970 and 1986 I was employed by the Brisbane City Council as Assistant Director of Parks, and from 1986 to 1990 as the inaugural Environment and Conservation Officer, one of the first such local government appointments in Queensland.

Earlier I had served on an advisory committee at Gatton Agricultural College to introduce modules for teaching horticulture to Queensland local governments.

Along the way I completed a B.A. in Modern Asian Studies at Griffith University, enabling a better understanding for later travels in Asia, particularly Japan where our daughter was studying and later working.

Based on my broad experience in both state and local government forest management, along with the extensive knowledge acquired in supervising all activities involving parks, botanic gardens, arboretums, nurseries and street trees, in 1986 I prepared a major forward-planning report for Brisbane.  Emphasis was placed on the how and why of an overall natural-resource conservation policy that could be integrated into day-to-day management and future planning of the city.

This policy highlighted the resources of bushland, waterways, foreshores, parks, street trees and so on - as an ecological and environmental totality, not as a set of disparate geographical and end-use units.  In using ‘urban forest’ as an all-encompassing term, it implies it is people-oriented and that its existence and management are intended to enhance the social, cultural, sensory, educational and economic dimensions of urban life.

I retired in 1990 and lectured part-time in horticultural subjects at TAFE for some years to finally settle on gardening in the rich volcanic soil of Buderim.  Maintaining an extensive planting of conifers (genera covering five families) on the 1100 m2 site continues to be a challenge.  The garden includes a healthy Wollemi pine Wollemia nobilis.  One quite rare conifer, Cephalotaxus fortunei, a very slow-growing prostrate and native of north Burma and Yunan in China, will probably find a home in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha.

Perhaps one of the most satisfying undertakings in retirement has been the hands-on and planning involvement in creating the Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Garden, including land purchase and the appointment of a prominent landscape architect to produce the master plan.  The garden has been open to the public since 2000.