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Lost in the Bush

Lost in the Bush continued

The forest was also feared because of the strange and dangerous animals which were believed to inhabit it. The main fear was of snakes, and settlers and hikers walked warily, and carried snakebite kits. Many people still react with fear to the density, darkness and monotony of the trackless forests, and the presence of poisonous snakes and other 'unknown' animals creates insecurity and tension.

Faced with a strange, apparently hostile environment, and full of fear of the unknown, many people decide that the appropriate response is to 'tame' the environment. In the nineteenth century, to 'tame' meant to make more like 'home', more like a European landscape. Members of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, which was founded in 1861, introduced European birds and animals to the forest so that the 'bush solitudes' would be enlivened, and 'to give voice and life, activity and food, to where now ... the almost unbroken repose of ages holds its sway.' Members of the Society, including Professor McCoy, suggested that there was a moral purpose to this activity, as well as an aesthetic and economic purpose: homesick settlers, reminded of 'home' by the singing of introduced birds, would be inspired to poetry, the poor man's labour would be 'sweetened', and the drunkard would be softened and would repent of his ways.

fern trees
Friday's Nook - Sherbrooke
Source - State Library of Victoria

Acclimatisation Society members and other settlers also tempered what they saw as the 'monotony' of the landscape by introducing exotic deciduous trees into areas like Fernshaw. In the process, they believed that they were beautifying the land, removing 'the doomed stringy barks' and replacing them by 'useful and ornamental trees, growing out of cultivated lands and grassy meadows.

Twentieth century visitors have been able to overcome a fear of the forest by controlling and packaging their experience of the forest. The environment is interpreted and the visit is tempered by introduced facilities like visitors' centres, restaurants and antique shops. Now the whole process of visiting the forest can be kept within comfortable boundaries.

Because the public's experience of an alien, slightly scary environment can now be controlled, there is a growing desire to preserve the alien-ness and to protect the forest environment. A fear of the forest is closely allied to a respect for its difference. Many people feel it is valuable to have at least some part of their environment which cannot be controlled by them. Those who perceive the alien nature of the tall timber forests are often supportive of moves for their retention and protection.

Acknowledgement

Material in these pages is largely drawn from the book by Tom Griffiths and Museum Victoria: Forests of Ash: An environmental history. Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2001

This publication is for sale from Museum Victoria.

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