An innovative School Endowment Plantation Scheme was initiated in 1922 as a joint venture between the Education Department and the Forests Commission Victoria (FCV).
Mr William Gay, the former Principal of the Victorian School of Forestry resumed his role with the Education Department in 1922 and took responsibility for the Scheme under the guidance of Owen Jones, the new chairman of the Forests Commission and Frank Tate, Director of Education.
While some plantations were established on private land donated or leased for the purpose, most were established on Crown Lands or Reserved Forest made available to schools, without cost, by the Forests Commission.
Areas ranged from about 5 to 50 acres and were planted up at the rate of 1, 2, 3 or more acres per year, according to the planting strength of the school.
The plantations were vested in trustees, who then became responsible for their care and control. The trustees consisted of the Chairman of the School Committee or Council, the Head Teacher of the school, the District Inspector of Schools and two additional members nominated by the School Committee and the Head Teacher and approved by the Minister of Public Instruction.
The Forests Commission assisted by providing technical support and a subsidy for fencing materials of 80%. Some specialist tools such as pruning saws were proved to schools by the Commission.
The Forests Commission also supplied free of charge from its Macedon and Creswick nurseries all the trees required for planting, including Pinus radiata, Pinus ponderosa, Pinus laricio, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Eucalyptus cladocalyx, E. botryoides, E. sideroxylon, E. leucoxylon, E. hemiphloia, E. ficifolia and many poplars.
Planting was done by the school children under the guidance of teachers and the local forest officer. Heavier work such as fencing was often done by parents.
Metropolitan schools, where land was unobtainable, joined with rural schools to establish partnership plantations.
On 21 July 1925 about 350 school children from Prahran travelled by train to Frankston and then walked to a 10-acre plot of Crown Land allocated for them to plant 2500 trees.
The exact location is unknown, but it was a brisk 30-minute walk from the railway station, so it was likely to have been part of the newly established State Pine Plantation.
The Mayor of Prahran, J C Pickford, had to argue hard to get the Council to support the visionary plantation scheme for local schools, and to invest £30 of shire funds outside the municipality. The local tanneries wanted wattles to be planted instead. The planting day at Frankston was a major event and was attended by many dignitaries.
It was expected that the 10-acre plot would eventually yield as much as £2500 for the Prahran schools when it was harvested after 25 or 30 years. It’s not known if the plot survived the fire at the Frankston Plantation in January 1955.
By 1936 three hundred and forty-eight (348) plantations had been established across Victoria with an area of 3550 acres.
Proceeds from the sale of harvested trees were put into the School Plantations Endowment Fund to be used for school purposes.
It was not only designed to provide a financial return to the school, but also to instil a sense of civic pride as well as an understanding of the value of land, conservation, together with developing a forest conscience by younger generations for benefit of the nation.
By 1961 there were 492 school endowment plantations in Victoria covering a total of some 4,300 acres and involving 546 schools.
And by 1966, the number had increased to more than 600 schools, planting 120,000 trees per year. The school plantations produced about 2 million super feet (6000 cubic metres) of mill logs and 800 cunits (> 2000 cubic metres) of pulpwood; yielding some $30,000 in profits for participating schools.
The benevolent forestry program also had a strong emphasis on community involvement, and when reviewed in 1966 was assessed as being a great success.
But from the early 1980s it seems the Land Conservation Council (LCC) wasn’t a big fan of school plantations and believed those not needed or that were unsuitable for teaching purposes should be terminated when the pines were harvested.
This LCC attitude, on top of the massive school rationalisation and closures of the early 1990s, no doubt resulted in a number of orphaned plantations across rural Victoria.
The program continues today for some rural schools, although in a much-reduced form, and is partly supported by Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP).
Main Photo: The Mayor of Prahran had to argue hard to get the Council to support the visionary plantation scheme for local schools, and to invest £30 of shire funds outside the municipality. The local tanneries wanted wattles to be planted instead. Source: Stonnington Local History Archives.
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