The original aboriginal inhabitants of the Gippsland region were the Kurnai (Gunai) nation which consisted of five tribes (Morgan, 1997) - the Bratauolung, Tatungolong, Braiakolung, Brabrolung and Kroatungolung (mostly in East Gippsland). These communities lived mainly around lakes, river systems, beaches and estuaries that were rich sources of food, moving up the rivers into the forests during the winter months. In the north, the Kandagora-mittung or Karndtarrngkorramidtung clan (part of the Jaitmathang or Ya-idtmidtung tribe) lived on the Lake Omeo plains, Limestone Creek, Livingstone Creek and the Tambo headwaters (C of A and State of Victoria 1999).
There was little European activity up until 1838-1839, when country in the Buchan, Tubbut and Gelantipy areas was taken up by graziers moving south into Victoria from the Monaro tablelands of southern New South Wales.
During the 1840s, there was further expansion of grazing leases in the Bendoc and Mallacoota areas and in 1847 the Newmerella and Orbost runs were officially occupied. So began an era of extensive forest grazing with graziers manipulating land by regular patch burning to control the scrub and promote growth of palatable grasses.
The early to mid 1850s saw the discovery of gold in the Bendoc area, which initiated a minor rush and led to the development of a number of mines while 1867-1870 saw the establishment of the forest industry with pit sawing of timber to supply local mines and building requirements and the stripping of wattle bark for supply to the leather tanning industry.
Grant's Land Act of 1869 allowed for the selection of land before survey leading to an influx of settlers to the Snowy River flats and the development of the township of Orbost. Sawmills began to develop in the area and the first batch of sawn timber was cut at Orbost in 1882.
The last years of the nineteenth century saw further agricultural and sawmilling development. During 1912 the construction of the railway extension to Orbost commenced, opening the way for the expansion of the timber industry. Simultaneously, there was a realisation of the importance of conservation of flora and fauna in the region, and Mallacoota and Wingan Inlet National Parks were declared in 1909, followed by the addition of Alfred and Lind National Parks in 1925-1926.
The depressed economic conditions of the 1930s and the bushfires in 1939 were to have a major effect on the forests of East Gippsland. These fires destroyed thousands of hectares of forests, countless stock, houses, sawmills and all types of property. The 1939 fires heralded the beginning of a new era as new roads were developed and industry once again flourished.
The unique social features of East Gippsland - the small population, the low level of development and the high ratio of public to private land - are largely explained by its history. Isolation from the main population centres in Melbourne and Sydney, poor access and dense forests ensured that settlements were comparatively small and that initial production concentrated on two non-degradable commodities – beef and minerals. However, private land, which predominates in the south-west of the catchment and along the valleys of the major rivers, is mostly cleared and used for a range of agricultural and industrial pursuits (C of A and State of Victoria 1999).
East Gippsland Land Use and Tenure:
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