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Trees of Gold and Men Made Good? Grand Visions and Early Experiments in Penal Forestry in New South Wales, 1913-1938

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While modern penal institutions exist, putatively, to transform the people held within them into law-abiding citizens, it is not generally recognised that since the early twentieth century, Australian and New Zealand penal systems have also sought to transform 'wastelands' into ordered, productive landscapes. In Australia, this experiment began in 1913 on the north coast of New South Wales, where small groups of prisoners were set to work creating a pine plantation. Penologists and foresters saw themselves as the architects of a grand project; men with 'wasted lives' would reclaim 'wasted land', and, in the process, reclaim themselves. Depraved city-dwelling criminals would be transformed into hardy, upright bushmen, while the unproductive native landscapes would be replaced by useful exotic softwood forests. Although these reforms were hailed as modern and progressive, a close study of the history of this scheme reveals that a range of relationships to landscapes, some very old indeed, are deeply embedded in historical understandings of human rehabilitation.

Keywords: environmental history; forestry; penal history; progressivism; redemption; wasteland

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2021) of 0.925. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.902.
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