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Dahl, Bjarne (1898–1993)

by Peter Evans

Klaus Bjarne Dahl was born in Kristiansand in Southern Norway on 23 March 1898.  He arrived in Australia in March 1928 aged thirty as one of three Norwegians employed by the Victorian Forests Commission as Forest Assessors. The work of a forest assessor involved mapping areas of forest in detail and calculating the volume of standing timber, an essential tool for wise forest management. During his long career Bjarne Dahl probably saw more of Victoria’s forests than most foresters ever did, and quickly developed an affection for Eucalypts, especially Silvertop Ash.

Assessment work acquired a new urgency with the declaration of war in September 1939, when timber quickly became a critical commodity. During this same year Victoria was also subject to widespread bushfires. Bjarne and other forest assessors of the time must have been devastated to see much of their assessment work lay in ruins after the 1939 bushfires. However, loss of men to the armed forces contributed to a chronic lack of staff and, in 1942, it was decided to suspend further work. In 1944, money and manpower were once again invested in this task as, after the war, there was likely to be a boom in new housing construction. By this time Bjarne Dahl was in charge of Forest Assessment and, in early 1945, he started an assessment school near Toolangi. The young foresters attending the school found Bjarne Dahl a very quiet and private man who let little personal detail slip. His wife Ann, whom he had married in 1932, impressed the young foresters as an attractive and refined woman, and more out-going than her husband. Bjarne Dahl resigned from the Forests Commission of Victoria in August 1948. He left a fine legacy. Almost single-handedly he had re-started Forest Assessment in 1944, managing the task on a tight budget, and enabling the Forests Commission to put itself in a position to meet the post-war need for timber.

Dahl’s new job was for Australian Paper Manufacturers, which had established a major pulp mill at Maryvale in Gippsland in 1939. Dahl was employed to create a private forest estate for APM and, by all accounts, he did a particularly fine job. He purchased abandoned farmland at low prices and, where APM decided the land did not suit its purposes, Dahl sometimes bought the land himself, paying for the outlay in the first thinning of the forest and then profiting from the sale of the timber and the capital gain on the land. In this way he built up a considerable fortune. Bjarne Dahl retired from APM in 1961. His legacy lived on in the forest estate he had created for APM, a large element in the continuing success of the Company.

In late 1976 Bjarne was widowed and increasingly became more reclusive. Ann’s death profoundly changed Bjarne Dahl, and he seems to have become more reclusive thereafter.  In July 1988 he made a new will leaving his entire estate to the Forests Commission of Victoria. Upon changing his will he is known to have said “how much I owe to Australia which… helped me to stay alive and prosper with the loving help of dear Ann.” When he died on 25 October 1993 at the age of 95, that estate of some $2.5 million was the foundation from which the Bjarne K. Dahl Trust was created to perpetuate Eucalypt forests.

Original Publication

  • Bjarne K Dahl Trust, 2010

Citation details

Peter Evans, 'Dahl, Bjarne (1898–1993)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/dahl-bjarne-20811/text31549, accessed 14 August 2020.

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