This paper explores the work of Edward Swain, a forestry commissioner in New South Wales and Queensland in the first half of the 20th century. Swain wanted to create a forest-based society in Australia as a remedy to misjudged agricultural development. He hoped to use taxonomy to find and import the right types of trees; and to use taxation to get the right types of people out of the fields and into the forests. The right types of trees, felled by the right people, could feed a new cellulose economy, forming the basis for a fairer Australian society.


Despite new tree imports and felling royalty laws, Swain was unsuccessful in reorienting Australian society. However, he is remembered and celebrated by a generation of forestry scientists as a founder of their modern scientific work. Somewhat contradictorily, Swain is also remembered as an outsider. Analysing Swain’s use of science and law to enact social and environmental change and the conceptual work performed by outsideness gives us a new and salutary window upon the not quite modern and explicitly political science of the 1920s and 30s. Keeping dreams such as Swain’s in view is also a valuable resource for understanding the increasingly popular world-building claims made in the 21st century about trees, science, law and outsiders.


Berris Charnley is a historian of science. He is interested in seeds, genes, insects, oysters, farms, forests, and food. How have these biological resources been studied, measured, weighed, owned, or shared? And what can the history of human relations with such resources tell us about their management in the future? Berris is currently developing a research project that will look again at the birth of modern science, questioning the periodisation and associated analyses of professionalisation, institutionalisation and capitalisation, to show the heterogeneity of people, ideas, practices and politics in early twentieth-century science. Reconstructing the world-building plans of early scientists and their legal and political strategies to realise them gives us a more accurate history of science, and an environmental history that explores causation and change. It also provides a useful resource in the twenty first century when supposedly strict boundaries around modern science are breaking down and claims about the power of science to cure our problems in living by constructing new worlds have simultaneously multiplied.


01-E303 University of Queensland, St Lucia.