The La Gerche Trail is a 2.2 km long walking track north-east of Creswick that commemorates the life and work of John La Gerche who was a forest bailiff at Creswick from 1882 until 1897. La Gerche’s two outstanding achievements were to halt the rampant cutting of trees for mining and fuel-wood so as to allow regeneration of the forest, and the establishment of the Creswick Nursery.
The Nursery and surrounds at Sawpit Gulley became a centre for experimentation and distribution of trees, and were later linked to the establishment of the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick in 1912 (now The University of Melbourne’s ‘Dept of Forest and Ecosystems Science’, Creswick Campus).
This commemorative Trail was established in 1998 by Ronald Hateley and students of University of Melbourne, in collaboration with Victorian Landcare Centre which was based at Sawpit Gully at that time. The Sawpit Gully area including the nursery site and plantation, was granted heritage status in 2014. The site and Trail is managed by Parks Victoria, whose Creswick office is located nearby.
This summary below of John La Gerche’s history in the Creswick area is drawn mainly from the book by Angela Taylor entitled ‘A Forester’s Log’, published in 1998.
• John La Gerche was Born 22 May 1845 in Jersey. He attended the first English medium school in Jersey for 5 years. His father was a farmer, Village official and also a Constable.
• In 1865 he emigrated to Australia, landing at Hobson’s Bay. He married Nora, also from Jersey, in Geelong in 1871, and died in 1914 in Ballarat where he is buried.
• He invested in a small sawmill in Bullarook Forest near Daylesford, from 1865 till its closure in 1881, and then worked briefly for the Public Works Department.
• In 1982 La Gerche was appointed as Crown Land Bailiff and Forester for the forest between Ballarat and Creswick (about 20,000 ha), which had been devastated by cutting in the 1850s-80s Gold Rush.
• His instructions were to “supervise the Creswick–Ballarat state forest and take legal proceedings under the 1869 land act against all persons found cutting and removing timber ..”.
• La Gerche was one of many Forester/Bailiffs in Victoria. His predecessor in was W. Llewelyn Jones. However La Gerche’s meticulous diaries, correspondence and records were to ensure that his work is well remembered today.
In 1997-98 the La Gerche Trail was built to commemorate the life and work of La Gerche – by staff (Ron Hateley) and students of Creswick Forestry Campus of The University of Melbourne, with the Victorian Landcare Centre
A commemorative statue of J La Gerche was carved in 2014 from a fallen Californian Redwood, and this skillful ‘chainsaw artistry’ can be seen near the start of the La Gerche Trail at Sawpit Gully.