‘Sisters of the South’: Australian-South African botanic exchange and the origins of comparative climatic forestry in South Africa c.1881-1994
Brett Bennett, University of Texas at Austin/University of Western Sydney
Wednesday, 29 September, 4.15-5.30 pm
McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU
Recently many historians have argued that the development of forestry within South Africa and the larger British Empire was merely an extension of continental European forestry methods and culture. This paper places the origins of one important part of South African and British imperial forestry, the formation of plantations of exotic trees, within an Australian and southern African context. I argue that environmental and cultural comparisons between South Africa and Australia by white South Africans, combined with widespread failures of the first Australian trees planted in southern Africa during the nineteenth century, fuelled the rise of what I call a comparative climatic school of forestry in the Cape Colony in the 1890s. Foresters in the Cape Colony started to compare supposedly similar South African and Australian climates to find the “correct” Australian tree to plant in South Africa, or in the words of this school’s leader, David Ernest Hutchins, to “fit the tree to the climate”. This Cape comparative school of climatic forestry then spread to the rest of South Africa after 1902 when Cape foresters staffed newly created forestry departments in the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal during the reconstruction period. From 1902 and onward, foresters continued to refine their knowledge of Australian climates and the habits of Australian trees planted in South Africa to select the proper trees for plantations. This knowledge helped lead to the rise of large plantations of Australian trees throughout southern Africa in the twentieth century.
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School of History, Research School of Social Sciences
Seminar Series: Semester 2, 2010