Railways and the Exploitation of Victoria's Forests, 1880s-1920s



Publication Details

Brett, A. (2019). Railways and the Exploitation of Victoria's Forests, 1880s–1920s. Australian Economic History Review: an Asia-Pacific journal of economic, business and social history, 59 (2), 159-180.


Railways made a large contribution to the expansion of Victoria's economy, and in the process enabled and drove environmental change. This article focuses on one industry, forestry. It first examines railway demand for timber in construction and maintenance, particularly for sleepers. This demand caused tensions - a bitter dispute in the 1890s between the Railways Department and the Conservator of Forests, George Perrin, over timber cut on state land led to uneasy co-existence after the turn of the century. Railways not only required timber but also carried commercial quantities in bulk, providing forest industries with access to profitable markets - in particular firewood, the significance of which has been underappreciated previously. Forest products contributed substantially to railway revenue, representing a more stable source of income than other major categories of freight such as wheat, wool, and coal.

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