Alfred Vernon Galbraith, or AVG as he was more commonly known, was a highly regarded and visionary leader of the Forests Commission Victoria (FCV).
Galbraith trained as an accountant and became assistant town clerk at the City of Geelong at the age of 21, and later appointed chief clerk at the Country Roads Board.
During World War One, Galbraith enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and served in both England and France but was gassed at Messines. He returned to Australia in 1919 and discharged but suffered ongoing medical problems as a result of his injuries.
Upon his return from military service, Galbraith was recruited as the Secretary to the newly established three-person Forests Commission, headed by a young Welsh forester, Owen Jones. The other Commissioners included Hugh Robert Mackay and William James Code.
In September 1924 Owen Jones resigned and moved to a new position in New Zealand and Galbraith was appointed as one of the three Commissioners, with Code as Chairman.
When Code retired in 1927, Galbraith was elevated to Chairman, a position he held for the next 22 years.
Under Galbraith’s leadership the trajectory of the Forests Commission was one of periodic political conflict, varying budgets but almost continuous organisational expansion and relative autonomy.
From its earliest days, the Commission had promoted using forest and sawmill waste to produce wood pulp. Industry eventually began to show some interest and in 1936 under Galbraith’s Chairmanship, the Commission and Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM) reached an agreement and the company proceeded to establish a plant at Maryvale in Gippsland for the manufacture of Kraft papers.
The Black Friday bushfires on 13 January 1939 were a major turning point in the story of Victoria’s State forests.
The subsequent Stretton Royal Commission has been called one of the most significant inquiries in the history of Victorian public administration, and its recommendations led to sweeping changes and increases in funding and responsibilities for the FCV.
Galbraith, who survived as Chairman of the Commission, was described by Judge Stretton as “a man of moral integrity”
Galbraith subsequently appointed Alfred Oscar Lawrence in December 1939 as the new Chief Fire Officer to lead and modernise the Forests Commission’s shattered fire fighting force.
In the wake of the 1939 bushfires, Galbraith oversaw a massive timber salvage program in the Central Highlands that took nearly 15 years to complete.
On top of the loss of experienced senior staff and forest workers to the armed services, Galbraith confronted major issues on the home front including provision of desperately needed timber supplies, charcoal for cars, secret production of guncotton for munitions, a firewood emergency and managing war time internee camps.
It was soon after the war ended in 1945 that Galbraith articulated his vision for the future of the forest and timber industry in rural Victoria, in what has been termed the “Grand Design”.
It was at this time that Australia experienced a prolonged housing boom associated creating huge pressure on native forests. Galbraith increased the intake of graduates at the Victorian School of Forestry (VSF) to meet these demands
Following the earlier withdrawal from strained arrangements with the Australian Forestry School in Canberra in 1930 Galbraith personally took responsibility for raising standards at and building closer ties with the University of Melbourne.
His efforts culminated in the University establishing a Bachelor of Science in Forestry in the mid-1940s and VSF students being able undertake two years at the University after completing the three-year Associate Diploma course at Creswick.
Galbraith was not trained as a forester himself. He possessed the Diploma of Commerce from Melbourne University and was an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. However, while Chairman he wrote a major thesis “Eucalyptus regnans- its silviculture, management & utilisation in Victoria” which he submitted in July 1935 to earn the very first Diploma of Forestry (Victoria).
Galbraith was also widely known throughout Australia and overseas. He took a leading role in organising the 1928 British Empire Forestry Conference in Australia and represented Victoria at a similar conference in 1935. He planned to attend the 1947 conference in England but was forced to withdraw due to failing health.
Alfred Vernon Galbraith died suddenly on 29 March 1949, while still Chairman of the Forests Commission. He was 58.
In April 1949, Finton George Gerraty, who began his forestry career at Creswick in 1915, was appointed as the new Chairman. When Gerraty also died suddenly in June 1956, Alf Lawrence was appointed as Chairmen, a role he maintained until his retirement in July 1969.
Among his many legacies, the student accommodation block, AVG House at the Victorian School of Forestry was named in Galbraith’s honour in 1961.
Posted on Facebook – 10 January 2022. https://www.facebook.com/groups/forestcommisionheritage/posts/6684731084886518/
Photo: Looking more like mobsters than foresters. c 1935 A.V..Galbraith, FCV Chairman, Finton George Gerraty, then Inspector of Forests and Herbert FitzRoy OIC Boys Camp at Rubicon. Finton Gerraty had earlier been Niagaroon district forester based at Taggerty and was appointed Chairman FCV on Galbraith’s death in 1949. Herb FitzRoy was later Alexandra Shire President. Photo: Allan Layton