New eyes on old forests: a reconsideration of early accounts of the north coast of New South Wales

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Smith, RJ 2012, 'New eyes on old forests: a reconsideration of early accounts of the north coast of New South Wales', in B Stubbs , J Lennon, A Specht & J Taylor (eds), Australia's ever-changing forests VI: Proceedings of the eighth National Conference on Australian Forest History, Australian Forest History Society, Lismore, NSW, 7-11 June 2010, pp. 25-40. ISBN 9780975790625


Early descriptions of forests have long been used as sources for factual evidence of past forests. This can be frustrating in that they have insufficient information, with interests broadly across the sciences, but also economic and literary. As with accounts of exploration, such texts produced in the Victorian era may be grouped under the term of belles lettres that ‘beautiful writing’ which was the aim of prose writers who saw both dignity and import in their written work. In this context, this work considers several of the early prose accounts of the forests of the north coast of NSW, including the major published works of Clement Hodgkinson and John Henderson. While belles lettres prose has declined as a practice, the new critical approaches have brought renewed attention to such early texts. At the same time there has been a major increase in environmental education in schools. Today we encounter fewer forests, and then through the lenses of many pre-conceptions. Those who work in Education know that new (young) eyes are being brought to those forests, and that multi-sensory exploration, followed by literary responses, are powerful methods of engagement. This work then suggests the potential for uses of early texts to enhance this process.