There are very few native softwoods in Victoria, and those that do exist, like cypress pine, grow too slowly to be suitable for large scale commercial plantations.
From its earliest days in the 1830s, Victoria imported large quantities of softwoods, mostly from north America and Scandinavia.
The need for local sources of softwood for furniture and joinery was apparent.
Monterey Pine, then named Pinus insignis and now known as P. radiata, is native to the central coast of California and Mexico, was first planted in gardens and windbreaks at Doncaster during the 1860s and grew well.
Seedlings were raised at the Macedon nursery in 1872 by William Ferguson, Victoria’s first Inspector of Forests, and planted across the goldfields to rehabilitate land damaged by mining. Planting was extended at Creswick by John La Gerche in 1888 and the You Yangs later in 1899.
Its success partly gave rise to the fallacy that radiata pine could grow anywhere.
Meanwhile, between 1860 and 1885, various Victorian Acts of Parliament led to the sub-division and sale of Crown Land along the Mornington Peninsula near Frankston.
But by the early 1900s most of the best land in Victoria was being selected and alienated for agriculture. The Lands Department was very powerful at the time and had little interest in allocating valuable Crown Land for forestry or plantation purposes.
There were however large areas of coastal heathlands which were generally unsuitable for farming and considered useless for any other purposes that were made available.
As early as 1876 Crown Land at Frankston had been identified as a site for Melbourne General Cemetery, but Springvale was chosen instead in 1901. One of the reasons Frankston was rejected was because it was a long way for mourners to travel and Catholics and Protestants would need to share the same train.
In October 1909, the Lands Department granted a “Permissive Occupancy” over 1370 acres of the land to the State Forest Department for the “Preservation and Growth of Timber”.
The land was primarily on poor quality coastal sand dunes and these so-called maritime “wastelands” included low woodland, heathland and swampland.
They were planted, not only because the Crown Land was available, but also because labour was accessible and costs of roading, clearing, planting and tending were relatively low.
So in 1909, the State Forests Department embarked on its first major coastal plantation project at Frankston.
Other plantations followed at Wilsons Promontory (1911), French Island (1916), Korumburra (1917), Port Campbell/Waarre (1919), Anglesea (1923), Mt Difficult in the Grampians (1925) and Wonthaggi (1927).
A senior officer, Mr W. L Hartland transferred from the Commission’s Creswick Nursery to take charge of the new plantation at Frankston.
Progress was quick, and by 1909 a 10-acre portion had already been fenced and planted.
By 1914, 300 acres had been planted with Corsican pine (Pinus. laricio and P. laricio taurica), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga douglasii), Japanese red pine (P. densifiora), Cluster pine (P. pinaster), Red pine (P. resinosa) and Monterey pine (P. insignis var. radiata) which proved the most successful of the various species planted.
Labour shortages during the war years slowed the rate of planting so that by 1916-17 the area had increased to only 445 acres.
On Monday 16 February 1920, there was a Vice-Regal Visit to the state plantations by his Excellency Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, Governor-General, accompanied by Capt. Duncan Hughes, aide-de-camp; Mr. Owen Jones, Chairman of the Forests Commission; Mr. A. D. Hardy, President of the Field Naturalists Club; Mr. John. Johnstone, Chief Superintendent of Plantations and Mr. P. R. H. St. John, Head Gardener of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. The vice-regal party was met by the plantation’s superintendent, Mr. W. L. Hartland. They all agreed the Frankston plantation to be the finest in Australia.
Then in 1922, on Easter Monday, a bushfire burnt some 350 acres of the plantation when the temperature reached 94 degrees. The fire was started from outside the plantation when a spark blew across from an adjacent property where burning off had been in progress in the windy weather. But the damage was not as severe as first thought, and not all the trees died. They were later salvaged.
During the mid-1920s, Mr James Brown was appointed as the second forest officer to take charge. I have read that a house was built on Dandenong Road for him and his daughter by the Forests Commission and that this house still exists.
During the 1920s and 30s the Frankston Plantation often hosted “Arbour Day” festivities on the last Friday of July where local school children came and planted trees.
And despite all the setbacks, about 20 years after the first plantings, the 1928-29 Forests Commission’s annual report records that approximately 300,000 super feet (700 cubic metres) of pine was cut from Frankston Plantation and sold for conversion to case material.
In July 1933, during the depression years, it’s reported that 30 local men were engaged under the sustenance program to work the plantations.
On 2 January 1955 there was another serious bushfire in the plantation. On a very hot day of 105 degrees, a fire which was believed to have started in a nearby paddock around midday, very quickly grew into a 4-mile front. Holiday makers around Frankston became volunteer firemen to boost the firefighting force to nearly 1,000 people, teaming with firemen from six CFA brigades. The fire was stopped 3 miles from the centre of Frankston.
A total of 630 acres, or £200,000 worth of pines were killed in the blaze and the trees were salvaged over the next 18 months.
This bushfire effectively spelled the end of the Commission’s interest and investment in the Frankston plantation, and by 1958, it relinquished its Permissive Occupancy back to the Lands Department. However, fire protection responsibilities remained with the Commission.
From 1946 the State Pine Plantation had been run by Mr Harry Firth who stayed long enough to wind up of the Commission’s operations in 1956, and then chose to retire.
Then in 1956, a large wedge of some 296 acres was excised from the western side for the Victorian Housing Commission to build homes for low-income families. And by 1957 the first stage was completed with the Pines Forest Post Office being opened on 12 October 1959.
The Housing Commission planned neighbourhood units of about 500 houses for each primary school and designed access roads for pedestrian safety. They had grand plans for the entire area to be subdivided for housing.
Many of the new streets were given names reflecting the species planted in the previous plantation. For example, the first street constructed was Pine Street, leading to Plantation Street and Forest Drive. Other names included Monterey Boulevard, Radiata street and Aleppo court.
Native trees were represented as well, with stringybark, candlebark and manna courts as well as longleaf street.
Many species of flowering eucalyptus were planted on the street verges.
In 1965 the second wave and eventual completion of the building program began east of Excelsior Drive and extended as far as the proposed Mornington Peninsula Freeway to the east. The freeway zone acted as a buffer between the houses and the Frankston Municipal tip.
In June 1959, the Victorian Vegetable Growers Association approached the Minister of Agriculture, Sir Gilbert Chandler, with the request to establish a vegetable research station in the sands area. As a result, 280 acres of Crown Land in the north-eastern corner of the former Frankston pine plantation was set aside.
There was also a turf research station on a site now occupied by Flinders Christion School.
A further 189 acres of land on Ballarto Road was set aside in 1966 for the Vermin and Noxious Weeds Destruction Board to establish the Keith Turnbull Research Institute.
A large parcel of 166 acres was also set aside in 1969 as the Centenary Park public golf course, which is managed by the Frankston Shire Council.
There is also a council tip site in the southern part and a freeway and a MMBW reserve running right through the middle.
During the 1970s there was proposal to allocate more Crown Land as a sand quarry, but local opposition blocked the move.
In about 1989, following years of community agitation, remaining areas of public land eventually became the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve managed by Parks Victoria. The 544 acres (220 ha) is one of the last remaining habitats for some species, such as the endangered New Holland Mouse and the Southern Brown Bandicoot.
Although the Frankston plantation was not viable in the longer term, it was of value because it provided the platform for developing plantations in other parts of the State. It could be said they kickstarted the highly successful softwood plantation program that eventually made such an important contribution to the regional economy of Victoria.
And despite its chequered history, there is absolutely no doubt that if the land had not been set aside as a timber reserve and used as a softwood plantation that the entire area would have been progressively subdivided for housing and there would be no remnant bushland left at all. There are many other similar examples across the State, such as Sherbrook Forest, the You Yangs and Mt Beckworth.
But like many other parcels of remnant bushland on the fringe of major towns and cities there is a perpetual problem of deliberately lit bushfires, anti-social behaviour, and rubbish dumping.
Photo: Coastal sandy heathland. Planting pine at Frankston State Plantation – Weekly Times 1912. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/224850027
Posted on Facebook – 17 january 2022. https://www.facebook.com/groups/forestcommisionheritage/posts/7570721439620807