More than 400 scientists from around the world congregated in Cairns for the first-ever Australian hosting of the International Union of Forest Research Organisation (IUFRO) Division 5 conference.
Running from June 4 to 8, UNFRO Division 5 embraced all that natural and planted forests offer – traditional wood products, food and craft, traditional medicines, and recreation.
It explores how forests grow and produce woody biomass and how industries and local communities use forest materials. Accordingly, it is one of the most diverse gatherings of researchers interested in the utilisation of wood, wood products, and non-wood products.
This was the 11th UNFRO conference, the first in Australia, with the theme ‘The Forest Treasure Chest: Delivering Outcomes’.
The local organising committee comprised Adjunct Professor Roger Meder, Professor Mark Brown, Dr David Lee, Professor Jeff Morrell, Dr Sam Van Holsbeek, and Dr Tinh Huynh from the University of the Sunshine Coast.
More than 130 speakers presented topics ranging from the bonding and mechanical properties of cross-laminated timbers manufactured from tropical hardwoods to the economic contribution of coffee-based agroforestry in southwestern Ethiopia and the circular use of timber in Norway.
Leading up the conference, Wood Cental was provided with a draft copy of the program.
In addition, 40 young scientists participated in an elevator-pitch series; they were given five minutes to present a topic to the conference.
Fire Nations People
A major theme across the topics was community, particularly traditional owners and First Nations People’s connections with forests. Indigenous cultures have long known the healing benefits of seeds, berries, bark, and leaves in the forest, many of which are still not characterised by modern science.
Victor Steffensen’s ‘Understanding the Language of the Trees’ and David Hudson’s ‘Ancient Voice of the Future’ provided an important local context.
Victor is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, and musician applying traditional knowledge in a contemporary context. He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people from North Queensland.
As co-founder of the Firesticks Alliance and the National Indigenous Fire Workshop, Victor’s work has been based on the arts and reviving traditional knowledge values, particularly Aboriginal fire management, with Aboriginal communities and non-Indigenous Australians.
David Hudson comes from the Ewamian (oo-rah-min)/Western Yalanji (people of the north-east coast of Australia). Naturally, he makes his home in Cairns amid the beautiful reef and rainforest.
Mr Hudson has travelled extensively throughout Australia and worldwide as a solo artist with Greek composer Yanni and the world-renowned dance troupe “Tjapukai”, which he co-founded. He promotes awareness of Aboriginal culture and tradition where he travels.
Responsible Wood Sustainability Manager Matt de Jongh presented the keynote address.
Responsible Wood manages the Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management, with more than 90% of Australia’s commercial forests certified under the scheme.
“It was a remarkable opportunity to collaborate, share insights, and drive positive change in the industry,” Mr de Jongh said.
“Innovation is pivotal in driving sustainable forest product development and adoption. By embracing new technologies and practices, we can optimise resource allocation, reduce waste, and minimise our environmental footprint.”
World heritage-listed rainforest visit
Following the conference, delegates attended a special tree-breeding trial deep in the Queensland rainforest.
Delegates used the Kuranda Sky Rail to visit the Walkamin Research Facility, where the Queensland government undertakes a series of trials on different tree species.
The next IUFRO Division 5 Conference is scheduled for 2028.