Many activists are under the impression that they are engaged in the original fight to save the native forests of Australia from exploitation or destruction. Unfortunately many are oblivious to the ancient and relatively modern history of the forests.

During the latter part of the 19th century, European settlement spread across Australia, displacing the Aboriginal people who had managed the forests, woodlands and range lands (including the so-called wilderness of today) for tens of thousands of years.

For those not familiar with the process of removal of the aboriginal people from the land, reading “Blood on the Wattle” by Bruce Elder would be one starting point to better understand a part of our history not often discussed.

Following European settlement, there was increasing pressure to clear land for “closer settlement.” Fortunately, a few visionary public figures managed to withstand the pressure and ensure significant areas of native forests were kept in public ownership in the form of state forests or vacant crown land.

These early reservations have enabled latter day politicians, perhaps more concerned about votes than conservation, to create a forested national park network that greatly exceeds the levels of reservation achieved in most other developed countries.

For those interested in history, the SETA web site will provide links to historical documents that may help give a broader context to the current “conservation” debate.


The Brookfield afforestation camp was established in the Bondi State Forest in August 1927. The camp ran for over 11 years before it was closed and the use of the site as a place of detention was officially stopped on 30 June 1939.
A Short History of the Brookfield Afforestation Camp Mila



The Victorian Royal Commission Reports

The Victorian Royal Commission Reports give a picture to what was happening in Victorian and other states of Australia at the end of the 19th century.

1. Uncontrolled clearing of forests was destroying a valuable timber resource. Reservation of forests for timber production also helped to maintain the biodiversity that was being lost as land was cleared elsewhere for agriculture.
2. Where forests had already been badly damaged, active management (Otway and Wombat Forests) was applied to restore the forests and associated values. These are examples that many politicians and the general community need to learn from today.
3. Pressure continued to convert forests to freehold land for agricultural development.
4. The forests in many areas had much denser stocking of young trees, as the loss of aboriginal burning allowed more regeneration to survive. See Alfred Howitt’s 1890 paper to the Royal Society of Victoria.

As a result of the royal commission reports and similar investigations in other states, the regulatory framework, including the original Forest Acts were enacted to help protect the native forests. Forest management was separated from departments such as the Lands Department and Forestry Commissions were established to manage the forests.

Royal Commission Report Otway Forest 1899

Although in the short period of fifteen years, as described in this report, immense tracts of one of the finest forests in Australia have been devastated by axe and fire in the course of settlement, the areas which still remain to the State are unquestionably of great value, and as a source of timber supply, as well as for climatic reasons should be carefully preserved from alienation
Royal Commission Report Otway Forest 1899

Royal Commission Report Genoa River Forest East Gippsland 1900

It is very doubtful policy to encourage struggling settlers to take up such land, even with a forty years’ tenure, at 10s. an acre…
Royal Commission Report Genoa River Forest East Gippsland 1900

Royal Commission Report Barmah & Gunbower Redgum Forests 1899

During our inspection of the forest we noticed large belts of saplings which are greatly retarded in growth by being too close together. We are informed by the local forester that an area of about 50,000 acres bears young timber of this class. A tract of about 15,000 acres was thinned out several years ago under the direction of the Conservator, with good effect to the growth of the trees, but owing to the thick undergrowth which has arisen between the stems it now requires a second improvement felling.
Royal Commission Report Barmah & Gunbower Redgum Forests 1899

Royal Commission Report Pyrenees & Tambo Reserves 1900

The box, too, both on the Lower Tambo and around Lake Tyers is being gradually crowded out by a younger growth of comparatively worthless stringybark. After fires, the young stringybark scrub comes up very thickly, and under present conditions there is very little natural reproduction of box.
Royal Commission Report Pyrenees & Tambo Reserves 1900

Royal Commission Report Wombat Forest 1899

The warm sheltered valleys of the western and northern parts of the reserve were noted, when it was a comparatively open forest, for the large size of the trees and their quickness of growth……..At the present day the former open forest of large trees has been replaced by dense belts of saplings over-crowding and hindering each other’s growth.
Royal Commission Report Wombat Forest 1899