Morris Lake, 74, welcoming me into his Queenslander style house, really isn’t the individual you would believe most likely to wage war on illegal logging practices. .but that’s in reality what he’s doing. I need to admit I’m in awe of Morris. Over 450 books and publications, Morris has put out in the span of his 37 years as a technical officer together with the Department of Primary Industry. We’re not talking literary fluff here, these are works predicated on data numerous research projects as well as lots of trekking round the back blocks of Queensland Visiting pig, dairy, steak and bee farmers, as an example. On top of that a wrote for and edited World of Wood, journal of the International Wood Collectors’ Society (IWCS) for another seven years. ‘For my whole working life’ says Morris, ‘my aim has always been allow it to be accessible to other folks and to require knowledge ‘
Morris reels off statistics at a dizzying speed that merely keeps going. In comparison to other continents, Australia has a staggering number of native tree species. A whopping 5300 in fact. To put that in view, the UK has 4 and Western Europe has 67 (For the record, Morris listed 4500 Australian species in Australian trees and woody shrubs – common, local and scientific names, in 20061) Of our 5300 native species, 1200 may be classified as rainforest. Woods2 Morris’s newly published book, Australian Rainforest lists 141 of the most significant. What makes this novel special for woodworkers is that, unlike custom outdoor furniture perth botanical publications, their wood is also described by it. It is not surprising that wood is in his house, nor is it mainly scientific names as he describes some of its contents that Morris uses. ‘To me, every part of wood that I pick up tells Its own story about itsgenetics, how it develops and where it evolved from’ he says.
Descending a beautiful custom made red cedar (Toona Ciliata) stairwell past the estimated library of novels takes the Visitor into Morris’s real world of wood. Of his 3,000 or so wood samples, more than half are catalogued and filed in purpose built cupboards made from mulga (Acacia aneura) – by Morris of course. (The next group of drawers will likely be made from beefwood (Grevillea striata) by the way).
Through the door and into a woodworkshop. Bandsaw, drill, tablesaw, lathe, linisher, drop saw, walls covered in tools, jars, bits and bobs make this an actual ‘shed’ – and the laundry doesn’t take up too much room. Meetings with other members of the International Wood Collectors Society always involve swapping and sharing samples of species local to members. For the collector these will be processed into normal sample sizes. The ‘leftovers’ can become cartons with attribute lids that Morris
Enjoys to give away. Another publication is on the way, this one may take up to two years and will cover Australian forest woods to complete but in the meantime there are important endeavors to launch. It’s clear that Morris is passionate about wood and trees. However trees have a considerably more profound importance that he points out in other writings and in his novel. ‘We have a direct evolutionary association with trees’, Morris says. ‘Plants, through their chlorophyll, produce nearly all of the oxygen we breathe. As well, trees suck up enormous amounts of rainwater that would otherwise flow back to the sea. In just one day a big rainforest tree can pump into the atmosphere over 1,000 litres of water.’ Rainforests represent a ‘birthplace of biodiversity’, essential for sustainability of all kinds of life. Less than 0.12% of Australia’s land mass is now covered by rainforest – once upon a time that figure was 60%. However of greatest concern are current rates of deforestation which are happening through the planet. In a paper presented to the IWCS and to the International Wood Anatomists Society in July, Morris wrote: ‘IfI am to respect the advice from my peers at the Australian National University and also the University of Papua New Guinea that with the massive escalation, of mainly illegally harvested rainforest hardwoods, throughout most of the tropical areas of SE Asia, and now the recent re-escalation in south America, then more than 80% of the world’s rainforests will be gone by 2025 at the latest.’ The effect of this is manifold, decreased rain and biodiversity are at the very top of the list yet.
One great factor that lets the demand for illegally harvested logs to exist, is the fact that it’s really difficult to identify the wood along with the resultant supplying under other names of them obfuscates this even more. We should be able to’ control species and quotas to be able to control sustainable harvesting of the world’s rainforest hardwoods’, Morris said. At the same IWCS assembly Morris launched a project which aims to ease the creation of a worldwide species identification database enabled by the streamlined procedure for preparing endgrain samples for macro photography developed by fellow IWCS member Jean-Claude Cerre in France. This would draw on existing computer pattern recognition technology expanded with algorithms that will allow for variability. With Cerre’s system, one technician can process up to 30 specimens a day, making this type of project feasible. Existing techniques are far more time-consuming and currently of the world’s wood can be identified without accompanying botanic specimens.
I asked Morris what the ordinary person can do to at least not add to the deforestation of the world? Buying wood certified as sustainably harvested should be the answer, nevertheless it’s not that simple as Morris feels that surety of imported and even local species is not always possible. Part of the response is for folks (so woodworkers) to learn more about wood species and the way to identify them, while endeavouring to seek out sources that are reputable. Sharing knowledge is always the initial step.