Gregg John Borschmann (b. 1955) became a cadet journalist on the Age newspaper in 1974. He has worked as a features writer, freelance reporter, radio producer, publicist, speech writer, media adviser and oral historian. From 1987 to 1991 he worked in the office of Senator Graham Richardson, the Minister for the Environment and the Arts and later Minister for Social Security.
In 1990 Borschmann set down his ideas for a People’s Forest Project, the basis of which would be extended interviews with 40–50 people who were closely associated with Australian forests. He was hoping to record personal perspectives on forests, from loggers and sawmillers to poets and scientists. Each story would be accompanied by a photographic profile. The recordings and photographs would provide the material for a book, a television documentary, an audio recording and an exhibition. Borschmann worked on the project from 1992 onwards and his hopes were ultimately realised. The interviews that he recorded and the photographs that he collected provided the sources for his book The People’s Forest: A Living History of the Australian Bush (1999).
From 1993 to 2004 Borschmann was commissioned by the Library to carry out a number of other oral history interviews. In particular, he recorded 47 interviews in the Environmental Awareness in Australia project.
The Library provided support for the People’s Forest Project from 1992 to 1999, firstly in the form of recording equipment and later with funds to meet transcription costs. The first recordings were received in 1992 and the last in 1999. The photographs were acquired in 1994–97.
The People’s Forest Collection contains 88 interviews recorded by Borschmann in all six states between 1992 and 1997. There is a total of 242 audio digital tapes. The great diversity of perspectives that are documented is evident in the occupations of the interviewees. As well as foresters, axemen, sleeper cutters, logging contractors, sawmillers, nurserymen, farmers, graziers, conservationists, botanists, native plant propagators and writers, there is an engine driver, riverman, wood merchant, plantation manager, forest ranger, photographer, teacher, botanical illustrator, artist, wood craftsman and historian.
During the course of the project, a number of interviewees lent old photographs for copying. The 86 photographs date from about 1920 to 1960. They depict forests and tall trees, foresters and timber workers, timber workers cutting, loading and transporting timber, sawmills, sleeper cutters at work, a foresters’ camp, axemen, steam engines, bullock teams, and timber trucks. In addition, there are photographs of most of the interviewees taken by Borschmann at the time of the interviews.
The People’s Forest oral history interviews are kept as a collection within the Oral History Collection. They are individually catalogued and the call numbers have the prefix TRC 2845. The photographs collected during the project are held in the Pictures Collection at various locations. A few have been catalogued and digitised. The photographs of interviewees taken by Borschmann are also held in the Pictures Collection at P1875. They have been individually catalogued and digitised.
Gregg Borschmann, Oral Forest History and the National Library, Australia’s Ever-changing Forests II: Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Australian Forest History, Australian Forest History Society, Canberra, 1993, pp 283–94.