Star Wars.

Jim Hickman, a Fire Management Officer from Tasmania, first suggested using lasers for slash burning in the late 1960s.

Inspired by US weapons research, Forestry Tasmania wanted to ignite logging slash from 4 to 5 km away. The idea was further promoted by Phil Shepherd in a series of reports in 1973.

In 1975, Phil Gourlay from Forestry Tasmania, working with Dr Mark Waterworth from the Physics Department at the University of Tasmania, began a joint research project to develop the idea. In 1977, Evan Rolley took-over from Phil as coordinator.

Experiments were conducted between 1979 and 1981, using a weapons-grade laser mounted on a Royal Australian Navy Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. It had taken two years of paperwork and intergovernmental diplomacy to get clearance from the Navy to release the weapon.

But there were several problems in getting the laser to work effectively in the bush. The mirrors were gold plated and required very skilful polishing. It also required a very stable platform and the mirrors to be precisely aligned to concentrate sufficient power at one point to ignite logging slash from a considerable distance.

The laser had varied success at igniting canvas targets at distances between 200 m and 500 m, but after further research by Nick Gellie the project was discontinued in 1983.

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