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Forest Resources Build a Nation

1860 – 1900

Australian colonies grew rapidly and Australian wool, timber and other products were in high demand for exports as overseas countries expanded.

In Victoria, public opposition to the squatters’ powerful control over Crown lands led to legislation, culminating in the 1869 Lands Act, which broke up the large pastoral runs. Selectors chose blocks of up to 320 acres, with rights to purchase once conditions were met. Much of the land bordering the Barmah Forest was passed into private hands in this time.

Smaller farmers adjoining the forest, who needed moist pasture for stock in the hot, dry summers, succeeded in having two forest areas designated for them: Barmah Common, created in 1877, and Yielima Common in the mid-1880s.

The River Red Gum logging industry boomed following two key developments: the completion of the railway line from Melbourne to Echuca in 1864 and of the Port of Echuca’s giant wharf in 1867. This provided a direct link, via paddlesteamer transport, from the Murray-Darling river system to domestic and export markets.

Trees in the Barmah Forest were harvested heavily to build paddlesteamers, wharves, piers, bridges, mine shafts, railway lines, road-making blocks, houses and fencing, to fuel steam engines and provide home heating and cooking.

Under pressure from growing populations, colonial authorities laid the foundations for public water supply and irrigation.

An Aboriginal mission, Maloga, was established by Christian missionaries in 1874 downstream of the present Cummeragunja Reserve in New South Wales. Its residents moved in 1888 to Cummeragunja, where they were managed under the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869.

Re-locations and separations of Aboriginal family members continued. Many experienced a difficult life on missions and reserves with harsh management regimes, although some more fortunate Aboriginals gained work mustering and shearing for squatters, or as fishermen or domestic help.