Friday, October 5, 2012

Swain House, Chelmer

This man was one of Australia's foremost forestry and timber experts. His name is Edward Harold Fulcher Swain - here is his photograph, and below that is a picture of the house he built in suburban Chelmer in the 1920s.
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(Photos: HQPlantations Pty Ltd;

Edward Swain was born in Sydney in 1883, and at the age of 17 he became the first cadet ever appointed to the Forestry Branch of the Department of Lands. He attended technical college and university in Sydney before undertaking several bush postings, many of them in the Northern Rivers district. Swain was largely self-taught about forestry - indeed it is reported that he had a disdain for the type of academic forestry practiced in Europe. He made self-funded trips to New Zealand and the United States to gain further knowledge about trees, and he also started to publish books and papers on the subject. In 1916 he moved to Queensland as a district forest inspector, in 1918 he succeeded Norman Jolly as director of forests, then in 1924 became chairman of the Provisional Forestry Board.

Swain had a powerful persona and was never shy about broadcasting his views on forestry even when they clashed with the views of his employers and developers. This conflict led to a Royal Commission into forestry in 1931, where Swain read his views on forest protection over a couple of days. The Commission did not like his approach, his tone or his message - in fact he was accused of making false statements under oath and some members of the Commission called for him to be jailed. A private review by the Auditor General found that Swain's statements were factually accurate, but the Royal Commission did not publish that result. This led to his employment being terminated in 1932.

Swain operated as a consultant for a few years until employed by the NSW government as their commissioner for forestry in 1935. Here he was to manage the state's timber resources through a depression and then WWII. He established a wood products investigation to manage forests to the mutual benefit of foresters, sawmillers and timber merchants. He had oversight of timber production and supply during the war when timber was not able to be imported due to shipping blockades.

He continued to publish widely, but was frequently in disagreement with academics and the government. As a result he retired in 1948, although he later had a stint with the United Nations as a forestry adviser to Ethiopia. 

Edward Swain returned to his Chelmer home late in his life and passed away there in 1970, some say while tending his garden. He had planted an arboretum around his property that contained a variety of species and many of the mature trees can be seen in the following photographs of the house.  
(Photo: © DERM; 2009)
(Photo: © 2012 the foto fanatic)

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