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Research Work in Forestry and Forest Products in Australia


RESEARCH in forestry may be said to have been carried out from the earliest days of Australia's settlement, although in the beginning it consisted largely of systematic botanical investigations and experiments in the development of exotic trees.

About 1919 the Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry formed the Forest Products Laboratory. The activities of this institution, which were confined to chemical investigations, laid the foundation for the establishment of the tannin-extraction industry in Western Australia and of the Australian pulp and paper industry in the eastern states. Much of the work of the original laboratory was done in co-operation with the Western Australia Forests Department; and when in 1926 the Institute of Science and Industry was replaced by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, this co-operative work was continued without a break, although there was a lapse of three years before the new CSIR Division of Forest Products was created

At the eighteenth meeting of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Perth, Western Australia, in 1926, the following resolution was passed:

In the opinion of the Council there is need in every State of Australia for more systematic investigation of those Forestry problems which come under the heads of Silviculture and Forest Management. A central coordinating authority is necessary if this work is to be carried out satisfactorily. The Council suggests that the Commonwealth Government having established an Australian Forestry School might with advantage extend the scope of the work by embracing general research into Forestry problems.

It was suggested that experimental stations should be established in the main great forestry divisions of the continent to carry out the research work proposed and that the results obtained should be published for general information.

The Commonwealth Forestry Bureau was established at Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory in 1927, and it was decided that in addition to its other functions the Bureau should undertake responsibility for initiating and carrying out investigation and research in three main divisions of forestry: silviculture, forest management, and forest protection. In 1946 the Forestry Bureau was reconstituted as the Forestry and Timber Bureau, and its research functions were extended to cover the supply, production, distribution, and use of timber.

In addition to the research work of the Forestry and Timber Bureau and the Division of Forest Products, which are institutions of the Commonwealth Government, a considerable amount of research on forestry and forest products has also been undertaken by the forestry departments in the states of the Commonwealth, by semigovernmental bodies such as universities, and by private companies and firms.

The following outline indicates the development of activities and the present organization of the various bodies carrying out forestry and forest products research.

Forestry and Timber Bureau

In 1928 initial steps were taken to institute forestry research under the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau by the appointment of research scholars in silviculture, management, and forest engineering. These research scholars underwent a short course of training at the Australian Forestry School, Canberra, before proceeding abroad for more advanced studies. On the completion of their course abroad they returned to Australia and were engaged in various branches of forestry research work.

The Bureau received parliamentary sanction in 1930 by the Forestry Bureau Act No. 16, under which its functions were set out, including among others, "the establishment of experimental stations for the study of silviculture, forest management and forest protection."

The field research work suffered severely as a result of the depression years. Of the initial staff of four officers, three were lost to other services. For several years the work was carried on with the assistance of the staff of the Australian Forestry School. In 1935 the national recovery made an extension of the work possible and in 1937 a staff of three qualified men and five assistants was engaged on research work. In addition the staff received valuable help from officers of the various state services.

In 1938 a research station was established in the southeast of South Australia, in co-operation with the Woods and Forests Department of that state, to undertake work on problems connected with the forests of the district and to extend the work being carried out at the main research station in the Australian Capital Territory.

In January 1941 a joint arrangement was entered into with the Tasmanian Forestry Department by which the Bureau established a branch of the research organization in Tasmania; but owing to the war the work of this station had to be suspended early in 1942, and the officer in charge was seconded to the Tasmanian Forestry Department until the cessation of hostilities.

Australian School of Forestry, Canberra, A.C.T.

In 1946 the Forestry Bureau was reconstituted as the Forestry and Timber Bureau under a director-general, and its functions were extended to incorporate the timber planning and co-ordinating responsibilities of the wartime organization of Commonwealth Timber Control, which lapsed 31 December 1946.

Details of the structure of thin wood sections are enlarged by a projection microscope. Division of Forest Products, CSIR, Melbourne.

The functions of the Forestry and Timber Bureau as now constituted ate as follows:

1. To advise the-Administrations of the Territories on all matters pertaining to the management of forests;

2. To manage forests placed under its control by the Governor-General;

3. To establish experimental stations for the study of silviculture, forest management, and forest protection;

4. To provide educational facilities for the training of professional foresters;

5. To establish and award forestry scholarships;

6. To collect and distribute forestry information;

7. To publish reports and bulletins dealing with forestry;

(a) To collect statistics and information regarding timber supplies and requirements in Australia, and formulate programs on the supply, production, and distribution of timber in Australia and on the importation into and exportation from Australia of timber;

(b) To advise the Government of the Commonwealth or any instrumentality of that Government, or, when so requested, the government of any state, or any instrumentality of the government of any state, or any body or person, on matters relating to the supply, production, and distribution of timber in Australia and the importation into and exportation from Australia of timber;

(c) To carry out investigations and research relating to the supply, production, distribution, and use of timber.

The Forestry and Timber Bureau at present comprises five main divisions: (1) Forestry Education (Australian Forestry School); (2) Forest Research, (3) Forest Resources; (4) Timber Statistics and Planning; and (5) Administration and Management.

The Forest Research Division has its headquarters at Canberra, A.C.T. It has experimental stations in South Australia and Tasmania in co-operation with the respective State Forest Services, and negotiations are in progress for the establishment of experimental stations in other states. The work of this division is to be expanded to cover a wide field of forest research as suitable staff is available.

Division of Forest Products, CSIR

Following the replacement in 1926 of the Institute of Science and Industry by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Division of Forest Products came into being in 1929.

Before the formation of this Division, two young graduates were selected and sent overseas for training at the United States Forest Products Laboratory. This policy was continued for several years until there was at least one officer soundly trained in each branch of forest products research. The first two of these to return to Australia, together with several officers having forest products research experience in state departments in Australia, formed the original staff of the Division. Owing to lack of central facilities this small staff was at first scattered, one member-remaining in Western Australia, one working in Canberra, A.C.T., and the rest in Melbourne, Victoria. Temporary accommodations were gradually developed in outbuildings of an old residence occupied by the CSIR Head Office in East Melbourne and this sufficed until, in 1936, the Division moved to a new laboratory at its present location, 77 Yarra Bank Road, South Melbourne, Victoria.

This was the first Division of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to devote its activities to secondary industry. Lacking research facilities in the first instance, much of its initial work consisted of surveying the needs of the Australian timber industry and of conducting an educational campaign throughout the industry along the lines of sound practice in timber seasoning and general factory procedure. As laboratory facilities were gradually acquired, problems peculiar to Australia were investigated and the information gained was passed on to industry. In this way the Division quickly won recognition for its work, and its association with all branches of the timber industry has always been of the happiest nature. Further, liaison has been maintained with state forestry departments and with other Commonwealth departments interested in forestry and forest products. There has been the closest cooperation with those state forestry departments that have forest products branches of their own. In 1946 a conference of all departments interested in forest products research was convened to study means of avoiding duplication of effort and to plan work to the greatest advantage; it is proposed to hold similar conferences annually.

The very considerable development of the Division's research facilities during the 19 years of its existence has been closely linked with practical application of laboratory results, and largely because of this it was able to play a most important part in assisting to solve Australia's timber problems during World War II.

The general organization of the Division of Forest Products is as follows:


Each section is under the control of a section head or officer-in-charge, who has a number of research officers, technical officers, and laboratory assistants under him. The officer-in-charge is responsible for planning the investigations within the field in which he is particularly interested, and he directs the work of his section and organizes investigations, arranging any necessary cooperation with other sections. He is himself directly responsible to the chief of the Division.

The research sections are backed by an extensive library, staffed by two trained librarians and an assistant; by a typing and records staff; by a publications branch that edits and distributes reports and other publications; and by well-equipped engineering, instrument-making, and woodworking shops that are devoted to the maintenance of equipment and the manufacture of new equipment designed within the division. The total staff numbers approximately 225.

The Section of Mathematical Statistics is a CSIR liaison. This section is located at the headquarters of the Division and assists all research staff in arriving at proper planning of investigations in order that statistical analysis might be possible.

State Forestry Departments

Each state has its own forestry department, responsible under the government of the state for the administration of the forests within its own boundaries.

As a result of the growing demand for investigation and research into many problems of forestry and forest products, the state governments through their forestry services have in recent years considerably expanded their research activities on problems associated with the growth and protection of their own forests; the establishment of plantations of exotic trees, particularly conifers; and the utilization of forest products.

Australian forests contain many large eucalyptus trees.

Other State Governmental and Semigovernmental Bodies

In several states research work in the field under review is also carried out by other state governmental or semigovernmental bodies and officers, such as universities, government botanists and entomologists, and departments of agriculture, in co-operation with the State Forestry Departments.

Private Companies and Organizations

In connection with their industrial requirements, various private organizations, principally pulp and paper companies, have conducted considerable research into the utilization of the native timber species and to some extent of plantation-grown exotics.


The research activities of both the Forestry and Timber Bureau and the Division of Forest Products are financed annually on a Commonwealth Government vote of funds, budgeted for each year according to the demands that have arisen and the problems requiring attention.

In the case of the Division of Forest Products, the vote of funds provided by the government is supplemented by regular fixed grants from the three Australian paper companies, and more recently from a New Zealand company that has joined in the program of research into problems associated with pulp and paper manufacture being carried out in conjunction with the division.

Research work by the various state forestry departments is mainly financed by a yearly vote of funds by the state governments. In some cases finance is provided from reforestation funds under the administration of the forestry departments and also from loan funds made available by the state governments.

Private companies and organizations provide their own funds for research.


The major types of research work undertaken by the various organizations in the respective fields of forestry and forest products are summarized below.


Forestry and Timber Bureau Headquarters Research Station, Canberra, A.C.T.

The Bureau is equipped with a complete meteorological station, and observations are carried out on forest conditions. A plant-house and nursery attached to the Bureau are employed to raise strains of the commercial timbers of Australia.

In the plantations of the Federal Capital Territory, the Bureau conducts sample plot work necessary for the management of the forests and also extensive experiments on various methods of treatment such as thinning and pruning.

In the eucalypt forests of the Territory and other parts of Australia, numerous sample plots are maintained, and tests are being carried out on tree form and the dependence of quality and defects of timber upon growing conditions.

1. Silviculture

Investigations have been carried out on the treatment of cut-over native forests, and studies have been made on the treatment of forest plantations. A definite relationship has been found to exist between the crown spread of a eucalypt and the diameter at breast height. The resistance of coastal eucalypts to frost has been tested. Work has been undertaken to determine the incidence, cause, and possible remedy of spiral grain in timber. Selective thinning tests have shown that it is possible to reduce the mean diameter of the twisted core in the pine. Internal stresses in timber have been investigated. They show that the sheaths of wood laid round the bole of a tree every season are in a state of longitudinal tension; this tension of the fibers exerts a cumulative longitudinal compression on the inner core of the tree, and in large trees the heart may be compressed beyond is elastic limit. Stages of the formation of gum veins and the rates at which they are formed have been studied. It has been shown that, under abnormally dry conditions, fire can become a serious direct cause of veins, owing to the crackling of the bark. Fire may also indirectly cause an increase in vein numbers as it results in a thinning of the live bark and any subsequent injury is brought nearer the wood cambium.

2. Plant Physiology

Experiments have been carried out to gain a measure of the comparative transpiring surfaces of different species of eucalypts. Tests have been made to correlate tree growth with the water content of the soil and meteorological factors.

3. Dendrology

Investigations have been made in regard to the relation between solar radiation and the growth of trees in girth. Seasonal growth of shoots and roots is being studied.

4. Nutrition

Tests have been made on the effect of the application of various chemicals, particularly the minor elements, to pine plantations.

5. Genetics

Experiments aiming at the vegetative reproduction of the strains best fitted to meet economic and silvicultural requirements have been carried out. It has been found possible to reproduce Monterey pine from cuttings. Studies of the races of Monterey pine have been made and cuttings from defined types have been set out in a cutting nursery. Experiments are being carried out in the grafting, budding, and pollination of conifers, eucalypts, and other hardwoods.

6. Factors Influencing the Form of the Tree Trunk

The effects of various stimuli upon the growth of trees have been investigated. One of these, wind sway, was of particular interest, and the investigation has been carried out in both eucalypts and pines. Results of experiments show that in both Monterey pine and Alpine ash the prevention of sway by the use of wire stays reduced the increment in the lower part of the stem.

7. Nursery Technique

Experiments are being made on improvements in nursery technique, particularly in the use of weedicides.

8. Pruning

Experiments have been carried out to determine the effects of various pruning tools and the rates of occlusion, and also to determine the pruning schedules necessary to reduce loss of increment to a minimum consistent with the production of the minimum knotty cores.

9. Arboreta

Arboreta, which number eight, are situated from the foothills up to 5,000 feet elevation above sea level, and afford comparisons of growth of the various exotics at different altitudes.

10. Seeds

The storage and viability of seeds have been studied.

11. Forest Management

Growth plots have been established and maintained to ascertain the growth rates in both native hardwoods and softwood plantations under different treatments.

12. Forest Protection

The Bureau issues daily fire-weather forecasts in the summer season and is constantly investigating means of improving their reliability. In the case of a disorder known as die-back, signal success has attended the application of dilute solutions of zinc sulphate sprayed on the foliage of Monterey pine. As a result, large areas that were previously regarded as useless have been made available for pine planting. Experiments are being carried out to find the most effective way of destroying mistletoe.

Mount Burr Research Station, South Australia. - Work undertaken by the Station in co-operation with the Woods and Forests Department of South Australia covers the field of fundamental silvicultural research on Monterey pine and may be classified under the following subjects: (1) silvicultural treatment, regeneration, pruning and thinning, seed collection, nursery technique, plantation establishment; (2) nutrition; (3) tree breeding; (4) timber qualities, causes of defects; (5) disorders and diseases; (6) meteorology, including the correlation of growth to meteorological factors.

Hobart Research Station, Tasmania. - A working plan for co-operation in silvicultural research work with the Tasmanian Forestry Commission has been laid down. The plan puts special emphasis on investigations into the silviculture of the eucalypts for a commencement.

The results of the work of the Bureau are published for general information in a series of pamphlets and bulletins.

State Forestry Departments

All states of the Commonwealth carry out research in connection with their normal work of silviculture, management, protection, and utilization. This includes: (1) studies in the phenology and natural regeneration of the native species; (2) studies in nursery technique and the establishment of both native and exotic species; (3) pruning and thinning practices; (4) collection of information regarding growth and yield and the determination of site qualities; (5) investigations in connection with fire control, forest pathology, and forest entomology; (6) logging studies.

In Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, particular attention has also been given to research on soils and nutrition. In carrying out the above work the state forestry services obtain the assistance of other organizations such as the Forestry and Timber Bureau, with which a very close cooperation is maintained, and of universities in connection with specialized subjects.


Division of Forest Products, CSIR

The following summary indicates the main types of work carried out by the various sections of the Division.

Wood Structure Section. - This Section has made a comprehensive study of the macroscopic and microscopic characteristics of Australian timbers and has applied the results of its work to identification keys on the one hand and to certain features of investigation of other sections on the other. During World War II, card-sorting keys developed for the timbers of the Pacific Islands were of considerable aid to the Allied forces fighting in that zone. At present fundamental work in the structure of the wood fiber is being carried out.

Wood Chemistry Section. - While interested in various aspects of its particular field of work, this Section has for the most part followed up the pulp and paper investigations initiated by the old Forest Products Laboratory. The Australian pulp and paper industry is now well established, but many problems remain to be investigated, and work on these is carried out under a co-operative scheme with the several paper-manufacturing companies.

Timber Physics Section. - In addition to purely fundamental research into the physical properties of timber, this Section has carried out valuable work in connection with the selection of suitable timbers for such specialty uses as battery separators.

Timber Mechanics Section. - Its earlier work on the mechanical properties of various Australian timbers made it possible, when World War II began, for this Section to suggest species worthy of further test for such critical uses as aircraft construction, and during the war the whole of its effort was devoted to mechanical tests of timber and plywood for such uses. Other major projects include a study of the bending properties of Australian timbers and, more recently, projects designed to meet the need of materials for housing.

Testing the strength and deflection of an experimental floor section. Division of Forest Products, CSIR, Melbourne.

Seasoning Section. - Perhaps the most spectacular achievement of this Section is the part it has played in developing a high standard of kiln drying in Australia. In 1929, timber-drying kilns in this country were relatively few in number and, for the most part, inefficient. Mainly as a result of the activities of the Timber Seasoning Section, kiln drying is established practice throughout the Commonwealth and the majority of kilns been built to designs provided by the section. Further, many kiln operators have either been trained in the Section or have taken its correspondence course in kiln operation.

Apart from the closely related work of developing suitable kiln-drying schedules and other seasoning investigations, the section has in recent years undertaken several major projects related to utilization problems, the most important of these being sawmill studies and investigation of sawdust-cement and wood-wool-cement mixtures.

Preservation Section. - Some of the earliest projects of the Division were concerned with field tests of poles, sleepers, and fence posts treated with various preservatives. These are still in progress but some valuable information has been obtained already, The Section was responsible for the boric acid treatment of lyctus-susceptible timbers, a process which has now been adopted in both Queensland and New South Wales and is made compulsory for certain timbers in the latter state. Original work towards a systematic study of wood-destroying fungi was interrupted by the war but is now being resumed.

Veneer and Gluing Section. - This, the newest section in the Division, has already done much to assist in the peeling, drying, and gluing of Australian timbers. Work on adhesives is taking an increasingly important place in its program.

Utilization Section. - Dealing with production problems in general, this section applies information obtained by the other sections and gives advice to the industry in accordance with the data so gathered. It also carries out certain laboratory investigations itself and has just completed a survey of sawdust supplies throughout Australia with a view to studying the economic utilization of what has been, for the most part, a waste product. Officers of the Section have been called on repeatedly for advice in the establishment of major wood-utilization industries in Australia.

The results of the work done in the Division of Forest Products are published first in the form of mimeographed progress reports bound in semi-stiff covers, which are given fairly wide distribution. Some reports of a technical nature and of wide interest are published either in the CSIR Bulletin Series or as articles in the CSIR Journal or other suitable technical publications. Many results are published in a less technical form in the CSIR Trade Circular series, in the Forest Products Monthly News Letter, and in trade journals.

State Forestry Departments

All the state forestry services carry out investigations with a view to improving utilization and extending the field of uses for the different species. They are also actively engaged in investigations covering mill studies, timber grading, seasoning, preservation, and other treatment as well as general utilization economics.

In New South Wales and Queensland the forestry departments maintain sections carrying out detailed research work in connection with the characteristics, properties, and uses of timbers growing in their own states.

In general this work is carried out in co-operation with the Division of Forest Products of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In some particular cases, however, such work is also carried out in conjunction with other state government departments (botany and chemistry), and with local organizations such as universities, technical colleges, and private companies and bodies.

Private Companies and Organizations

Considerable research in the utilization of forest products for commercial purposes has been carried out by various private companies and organizations. The chemical investigations in Western Australia which, as mentioned earlier in this article, resulted in the establishment of the tannin-extract industry in that state, were carried out in cooperation with a private firm. The research work on distillation of sandalwood oil and perfume from flowers of Boronia megastigma was also carried out by private companies in association with other organizations.

However, the bulk of the research work by private organizations in this field has been carried out by the pulp and paper companies, of which there are five operating at the present time. These are: Australian Paper Manufacturers, Ltd., operating in Victoria, producing kraft paper from eucalypt timbers; Associated Pulp and Paper Mills, Ltd., operating in Tasmania, producing fine writing and typing papers from eucalypt timbers; Australian Newsprint Mills Pty., Ltd., operating in Tasmania, producing newsprint; Cellulose Australia, Ltd., operating in South Australia, producing paperboard from planted forests of radiata pine; Masonite Corporation (Australia), Ltd., operating in New South Wales, producing hardboard manufactured from eucalypt timbers.

Of the companies mentioned, those using eucalypt timbers in the manufacture of their products are actively concerned with the numerous problems associated with the pulping of these short-fibered timbers.

In the chemical pulp plants, established practices had to be modified, particularly in the beating processes; while shortage of long-fibered pulps, which used to be imported from overseas, has necessitated investigations into the possibility of increasing the strength of short-fibered pulps and of producing suitable pulps from other raw materials available in Australia.

During the war, success was attained in producing nitrocellulose from locally grown pine by the kraft process. Much work has been carried out in connection with the bleaching of kraft pulp.

Investigations relating to the utilization of lignin and other organic by-products of soda pulping have been made, and the semichemical pulping of Australian hardwoods has been tested. The manufacture of newsprint has also involved research into new manufacturing methods, particularly in the matter of improved color and quality.

The company pulping radiata pine has experienced less difficulty in utilizing well-established methods of pulping, but is carrying out research into the possibilities of extending the range of pulp products from the raw material available to them. Tests show that Pinus radiata is little inferior to spruce for the production of sulphite pulp and better than other pines for either sulphite or sulphate pulp. This timber promises to be capable of providing Australia's future requirements in long-fibered pulp.

In the production of hardboard from eucalypts, the main problems encountered are those dealing with the utilization of a variety of species and the effects of moisture content, the presence of king, et cetera.


Forestry and Timber Bureau

As opportunity offers and suitable staff is available, the work of the Research Division of the Forestry and Timber Bureau is to be considerably expanded to cover a wide field of research including:

Silviculture. - Studies of the silviculture of Australian and introduced forest-tree species.

Physiology. - Fundamental research into the physiology of Australia's forest trees.

Tree Breeding. - With a view to improving the form and selecting the most suitable races of the various forest species.

Arboreta. - The establishment of arboreta for the purpose of testing the suitability of forest species for the various climatic and other regions to be found in this country.

Growth and yield studies. - Including the preparation of yield tables and the determination of site quality indices.

Other studies. - Studies in soils, nutrition, forest pathology, and forest entomology.

Forest Products Division, CSIR

The Forest Products Division has reached a sound stage of development in its research activities, and proposals for future work necessarily consist largely of the extension of the existing program and consideration of such new research problems as may arise from time to time. For the next 12 months a program of work has been laid down for each section of the Division. Space does not permit the detailed listing of this work, but some comment should be made on several projects that cover a wide field of research and consequently come within the general scope of the activities of the whole Division. These may be summarized as follows:

Silvicultural Project. - The major purpose of the investigation proposed under this project will be to study the properties of the wood laid down by the tree before and after silvicultural treatment. Work previously begun along these lines was seriously interfered with by the war. It is now proposed to recommence investigations in cooperation with the state forestry services and the Forestry and Timber Bureau.

Investigation of Building Boards. - This project covers extension of investigations into the greater utilization of wood waste and secondary timber species by conversion into some form of building board.

New Guinea Timbers. - Acting in close co-operation with the New Guinea Forests Department, the Division proposes to continue and extend the work on the examination of physical and mechanical properties of New Guinea timbers.

State Forestry Departments

Future research work of the forest services will cover investigations into natural regeneration methods, thinning practices, growth and yield problems, soil and climatic requirements of exotic species, and protection against fire, insects, and disease.

Private Companies and Organizations

While many companies and organizations throughout the Commonwealth will be continuing and extending their research activities on the utilization of timber and forest products in the manufacture of their products, the main research work will be carried out by the pulp and paper companies. This work will be largely associated with improving the quality and extending the range of their present production from the raw materials available to them and with utilizing the by-products of the industry. One company proposes to develop systematic research into problems of regeneration, tending, and protection of the forest crop.

Photographs accompanying this article are reproduced by courtesy of the Australian News and Information Bureau.

Long-time loading tests on wooden beams are part of a study to investigate "creep" in timber. Division of Forest Products, CSIR, Melbourne.

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