T he track up the hill was steep and took our breath away for a bit as we rested at the top of the ridge. The view down into the valley was stunning with the Booyong trees in flower. The Cooloola sandpatch glistened to the east. We were on Kevin Wilson’s and Simone Eisler’s 100 hectare Land for Wildlife property at Kin Kin, and were fortunate to have eminent botanist Dr Bill McDonald accompany us to share his botanical knowledge and stories of William Douglas Francis.
W.D. Francis grew up in Wollongong and moved to Queensland in 1906 with his father and brother and took up land at Kin Kin (the same property we were visiting). The surrounding rainforests stimulated an interest in natural history and especially botany. He bought books and a microscope and soon became proficient in plant identification and learnt to recognise most of the rainforest trees by their stems and bark. His collections and observations soon brought him to the attention of C.T. White at the Queensland Herbarium.
W.D. Francis was appointed Assistant Botanist at the Queensland Herbarium in 1919 and with the encouragement of Mr White, continued to collect, describe and photograph rainforest tree species, leading to the publication of his landmark Australian Rainforest Trees in 1929. In 1930-31 he spent 12 months at Kew on exchange with C.E. Hubbard. He became Government Botanist after the death of Mr White in 1950 and retired in 1954. The plant species Syzygium francisii and Solanum francisii and the genus Franciscodendron (Sterculiaceae) have been named in his honour.
During the time that W.D. Francis was living at Kin Kin, the district was being cleared of its remnant rainforest. The First Nations people had largely been pushed off their land and many of the first European settlers had come from the Big Scrub district of northern NSW where they had developed a clearing technique called driving. This is where all the trees on a hillside were partially cut, then a large tree at the top of the slope was felled, causing a domino effect where the entire forest collapsed. When the fallen trees and vines had dried out, the material was burnt, then crops or pasture grass sown in the ashes. Very little remnant rainforest was left from this initial clearing in the Kin Kin area. I have come across occasional large trees retained along the creek or for shade but generally even the creeks were cleared. The impact on faunal populations and water quality must have been catastrophic.
As we walked back down the ridge through a patch of regenerating rainforest, I wondered what William thought of all this at the time. A few of the photos in his book were taken in the Kin Kin district and show some massive forest giants such as the Syzigium francisii shown left. Apart from some large Moreton Bay Figs standing today, most of W.D. Francis’ property was also cleared. Life was a lot harder for people back then and nature conservation wasn’t a priority for landowners or the government.
One hundred years later community attitudes and land use patterns have changed in the area. Many of the steep slopes and waterways have regenerated or been replanted with a range of native species. There are now many landowners like Kevin and Simone who see themselves as forest custodians and are nurturing the patches of regenerating rainforest on their properties.
Land for Wildlife Officer