February 20th, 2022End of pine plantation at Miners Rest
Life On The Land – Series Two
IT CAN be hard taking down a Christmas tree at the end of December… but imagine taking down over 100 pine trees at the end of an era.
The year is 1957, in Australia, Menzies is Prime Minister, A Pub With No Beer is playing on the radio, In Melbourne Tonight has just started on the telly – albeit in black and white – and Melbourne won the footy grand final.
It’s also the year, once proudly announced on a now dilapidated sign, that the Miners Rest Primary School Endowment Plantation was established. It is iconic of its era but now it looks more like a haunted forest than an initiative that raised much-needed funds for small schools across regional Victoria.
I spoke to Bill Loader, he’s kind of the unofficial Mayor of Miners Rest. He’s lived here so long and so many people know him, he knows the history of every corner of the area. I’m pretty sure one day, a committee’s going to vote to put a blue plaque directly on him. Not on his house. On Bill himself.
He says that the plantation has just sort of always been there, that everybody knew about it but that knowledge has faded over time. Endowment plantations were once scattered across the state and Bill wanted to know what is happening with the Miners Rest one now, too.
“Not every school had them, but it was a means of raising funds for the school. They must have been looking right into the future,” he said.
Back in the day, the government bought land, donated it to a school that would organise to have pine trees planted on it, harvested them, and the money made went to the school. Usually smaller, regional schools. The principal at Miners Rest, Dale Power? His dad was the principal at Stawell Primary School, and he managed their endowment plantation. It was a bit of a boom-time for forward planning back then, it turns out.
But after its first harvest, in 1989, the Miners Rest replanting wasn’t a great success. It needed to be tended within those first two growing years, with the lower limbs lopped off to grow lovely straight trees for lumber. They weren’t tended as closely as they should have been, according to an assessor decades later, and so the whole plantation was only good for pulp. Which wasn’t getting very good prices on the market.
The plantation was also proving problematic. Regulations and requirements have become far more strict during the intervening years, and maintenance to comply with fire hazard reductions, emergency management plans…it’s a lot to keep up with for a return on investment that was about $40,000 for the first harvest. It’s good money, for a great school. But compared to the $20m value of the epic new school that’s just opened? It’s hard to see how it could really be worth keeping.
The school council voted to off-load the asset. Or…the liability. But that didn’t go to plan, either. It turned out that the school had to pay for the trees to be removed, all the stumps pulled out and the land restored to its pre-plantation state before it could be sold. And that wasn’t going to be cheap.
A more recent assessment came back as cost-neutral – the company would harvest the trees for pulp, remove all of the old tree stumps, rehabilitating the land. The school wouldn’t get any money; but it also wouldn’t cost it any, either.
The felling of the Miners Rest Endowment Plantation may be the end of an era that has been slowly fading since 1957. But with this year, 2022, set to be remembered as a global pandemic year and locally, for the opening of a brand new $20 million primary school…could it instead, perhaps, be the beginning of a new era? The principal, Dale Power, seems to know the answer.
“This is an amazing site that will stand our community and future learners in good stead for many, many generations of students to come.”
It was a long time ago – and in the year that the Miners Rest Primary School Endowment Plantation, a symbol of its time, was established, there was a lot happening across the country:
• Australia’s first Woolworths food store opened, in Sydney
• Australia’s first shopping centre opened, in Brisbane
• The ‘Nibble Nobby’s Nuts’ campaign was first launched
• Gary Sweet was born, as were Penny Cook, Kevin Rudd, Nick Cave, Tony Abbott and Peter Costello
Words: Kate Taylor