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Sources for Australian Forest History
Australian forest history includes many aspects and approaches and draws on many types of sources. This page introduces some of the approaches and the sources they draw on. It links to a series of historic data sets and information about oral histories and archives. The following sources are described:
- The forest
- Archeology and heritage assessments
- Historic data
The forest itself is the primary source of its history. It can be accessed through observation, measurement and mapping of the current condition from which past events or conditions can be inferred or estimated. The approaches include:
The structure of the forest as a whole in terms of the distribution of stands of different sizes, ages and conditions can provide an indication of its overall history. State agencies generally have detailed assessment reports and maps.
The structure of each stand in terms of the relative sizes, ages and conditions of the trees can be determined by observation or measurements of diameters, heights, numbers of trees or other parameters. Past conditions may be able to be estimated from growth tables and equations where these are available from state agencies or research institutes.
The size and number of stumps or dead trees can provide evidence of past tree sizes and enable past structures to be estimated. An example of using this approach for cypress pine forests is:
Lunt, I., Parker, D. and Robisnon, W. 2001. Assessing changes in cypress pine forests using old stumps. In Dargavel, J., Hart, D. and Libbis, B.(eds) Perfumed pineries: environmental history of Australia’s Callitris forests. Canberra, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp.56-62.
Dendrochronology and dendroecology
The age of some trees can be determined by counting the number of annual rings or by carbon dating or other means. Variations in the widths of rings, the presence of fire scars or other wounds can be interpreted as evidence of past events or conditions. Comparisions between groups of trees can provide a perspective on ecological change. Examples of such studies are:
Banks, J.C.G. 1997. Tree ages and ageing in yellow box. In Dargavel, J.(ed). Australia’s ever-changing forests III . Canberra, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp. 35-47.
Searson, M. and Pearson, S. A new technique in dendroecology using Callitris. In Dargavel, J., Hart, D. and Libbis, B.(eds) Perfumed pineries: environmental history of Australia’s Callitris forests. Canberra, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp. 39-47.
Archeology and heritage assessments
Archeological studies provide evidence of Indigenous and settler activity in the forests. Systematic surveys have been conducted to record heritage values of sites in the forests. Such surveys are part of the Comprehensive Regional Assessment process which was conducted for major forest regions in preparation for Regional Forest Agreements. The surveys are reported by State and Commonwealth agencies.
Studies of transport systems and sawmilling sites are particularly strongly developed in Australia under the auspicies of the Light Railways Research Society of Australia. An example is:
Evans, P. 1994. Rails to Rubicon: a history of the Rubicon forest. Melbourne Light Railway Research Society.
Oral histories provide evidence of people’s experience and perceptions. Collections of oral histories can be found in the Australian National Library and in State and some other Libraries. A review and an example of their use are:
Borschmann, G. 1993. Oral forest history and the National Library. In Dargavel, J. and Feary, S. (eds) Australia’s ever-changing forests II. Canberra, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp. 283-96.
Borschmann, G. The people’s forest: a living history of the Australian bush. Blackheath, NSW: The People’s Forest Press.
The Australian Forest History Society has collaborated with the Queensland State Library to collect oral histories from people involved with forestry in that State.
The National, State and Territory Archives contain records that have been formally lodged by Commonwealth and State agencies and departments under the provisions of the various Archive Acts.
Other Government records
Many important sources for forest history lie in the records of State agencies which have not been lodged in the public archives. They can be found in State, regional and local offices and can sometimes be accessed on request to the local officer in charge.
Most State agencies have libraries which are accessible to the public and which contain a variety of published, unpublished and photographic sources.
Most Australian Universities have archives. Two important collections are:
- The Australian National University, Noel Butlin Archives Centre. This is a major repository for company, industrial organisations, union and pastoral company records.
- Melbourne University Archives. This is a major repository for company records.
Data can be found in both published sources and electronic data sets and some are available on this website.
Data about forest production, employment and trade are in the annual statistical reports to Colonial Parliaments, the so-called ‘Blue Books’, which are printed each year. Data about forest areas, licences and production are in the annual reports to Parliaments by the Departments responsible for forests at the time. These were usually the Lands Departments, (sometimes Agriculture or Mines) until Forestry Departments commenced independent reporting (see L.T. Carron 1985, A history of Australian forestry, ANU Press, for details).
The reporting systems to State Parliaments were continued after federation in 1901, but many aspects such as trade statistics were gradually taken over by the Commonwealth body, now known as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Annual reports of State forest services
The annual reports of the State forest services to Parliament came to be printed separately from the collected Printed Papers of Parliament. They generally contain detailed statistical reporting.
Annual reports of Commonwealth forest agencies
The Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau, established in 1930, produced annual reports which later contained a statistical reports on forest areas, production and trade (see Compendiums, below). These statistics were continued in the annual reports of CSIRO, Division of Forestry. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Economics, later the Australian Bureau of Resource Economics (ABARE) took over collecting responsibility and reported in a serial, Australian Forest Resources. The 1991 and 1992 edition was the final issue. Forest products statistics are reported in a serial, Quarterly Forest Products Statistics.
Two were published by the Forestry and Timber:
Wilson, D. (Comp.) 1969. Compendium of Australian forest products statistics, 1935-36 to 1966-67, 2nd edn. Canberra: Forestry and Timber Bureau [1st edn. 1963].
Hanson, A.G. (1967?) Compendium of Australian forest economic statistics Canberra: Forestry and Timber Bureau.
The extensive range of publications by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and its predecessors contains many data sets related to the forest industries in the Manufacturing, Labour Force, Trade and other statistics. Forestry is not classified as part of Manufacturing.
The national Census of Population and Housing identifies Forestry and Logging as separate categories. Employment, occupation, residence and other information is available for forest industries as well as forestry and logging. Examples of the use of census data to analyse employment changes in forestry and logging are:
Parker, B., Dargavel, J. and Ord, K. 1992. Australian forestry workforce: changes, comparisons and productivity. Australian Forestry 55, pp. 65-73.
Dargavel, J., Parker, B. and Tracey, J. 1992. Australian logging workforce: changes and comparisons in a neglected industry. Australian Forestry 55, pp. 22-28.