The best picture we have of the early South Gippsland environment comes from letters and diaries of the early settlers, and from accounts collected in books on the pioneering years. The following links provide a picture of the hill and marsh country, the Great Forest and the local fauna.
Public Records Office of Victoria
Sam Anderson was among the first to settle in South Gippsland. In this brief letter to Governor La Trobe, Anderson outlines the lay-of-the-land as discovered on a three-week journey that covered just over 220 kilometres. His description of the country between Bass Strait and the Bass and Strzelecki hills is less than flattering
14th July, 1840
C. J. La Trobe, Esquire
As I daresay, every addition to the Geography of the country, however small will be of interest to your Honour, I have taken leave to send you a brief account of a journey which I took lately in company with Mr. Thom a friend of mine in search of a cattle run. The country to the eastward of Western Port being nearly quite unknown, we started in that direction and after forcing our way among the ranges to the North East for a week, we only succeeded in penetrating about fifty miles when dense scrub and lack of water obliged us to turn – From the point where we turned we steered south by west for the coast which we reached in three days on the shore of a large shallow inlet which lies between Cape Liptrap and Cape Patterson : along this inlet we directed our course with the view of getting around the head of it, and so inland of Cape Liptrap towards Wilson’s Promontory, at the head of it however we found a river, which (Mr Thom being unable to swim) effectively stopped our progress for the present – We travelled along the banks of the river for one day in hopes of finding a crossing but without success, and having become entangled in almost impassable scrub we were glad to retrace our steps and to content ourselves with ascending a heathy ridge above the bank from which we could have a good view of the surrounding Country- having satisfied our curiosity, we turned for home, which we reached after an absence of about three weeks during which we had travelled 140 miles (225 km) though never more than 50 from my station. The whole of the Country through which we travelled is I am sorry to say is of very bad quality consisting of a succession of barren heathy plains divided by broad belts of the most horrid scrubby forest I have ever seen. In many places with the utmost exertion we could not get on more than 4 to 500 yards (366 to 457m) in an hour, and destitute of water, that for three days at one time and two days at another we could not find a drop.
The inlet, the mouth of which is marked on Flinders’ chart and extends parallel with the coast to the South East about twelve miles (19km) till it comes within a few miles of Cape Liptrap- The river, which falls into the extreme end of it was fresh at low water 2 miles (3 km) from its mouth, 50 to 70 yards (46 to 64m) wide and evidently very deep, and had the adjoining country been such as I hoped it would prove, would have been a valuable discovery. The view from the neighbouring hills however was most unattractive – nothing to be seen for more than twenty miles (32kms) in every direction but extensive heathy plains and hills, and all along the banks of the river covered with impenetrable scrub of tea tree and prickly mimosa – the tops of the ranges seen about 30 miles (48 Kms) off appear as thickly wooded as those which turned us to the South West – altogether I have never seen a more worthless tract of country, there not being I believe in a span of 5 to 600 square miles (805 to 966 Sq Kms) grass to feed even a single bullock. As I believe the river I have described to be hitherto unknown to Europeans, I think myself entitled, as the discoverer, to give it a name, and as I know no one more entitled than your Honour to such a distinction , I with your permission will call it La Trobe. Trusting that your honour will excuse my troubling you at such length.
I have the honour to remain
Your most Odeb’ – Hble servant
The Great Forest
The mountains known as the Baw Baws were far to the north of the settled area of Gippsland. In the south the Strzeleckis rose two thousand feet above rolling hills and in the west were swampy plains. Rain fell for most of the year and was greatest in the spring. This rain soaked some of the richest soils in Victoria and allowed the growth of dense vegetation. In the dense forest there were three layers of growth. In the top layer mountain ash, blue gum, messmate and other eucalypts rose as high as 250 feet (80 m), with some giants reaching 300 feet (100m). One hundred feet or more below them a layer of large blackwoods, hazels, musks, and wattles stretched towards the light. The ground was covered with dense undergrowth: tall tree ferns and ferny scrub grew along the creeks and in the gullies where it was wet. Creepers, wire grass and sword grass covered fallen timber and moist decaying forest litter.
Reference: Charles Daley, “The Story of Gippsland”, Page 94
Above: Photo of tree ferns on Duncan Campbells property at Allambee South. Donated by Smith family.
The Great Forest in the Dumbalk North area.
The photograph is from the Dodd collection printed in “The Mountain Forests of Gippsland”, by Phyllis Reichl, 1968. Note the scaffolding and men at the tree base.
The story of the Dodd family is related later in this kit. They were early pioneers who came into the Dumbalk region via Mirboo North. Mr Dodd took many photographs some of which also appear later in this kit as well.
Below: Public Records Office of Victoria
The Great Forest had three distinct levels and a wide variety of Fauna.