Timber and rail lines

The first report of the quality of jarrah I can find is of the repair of HMS "Success". The "Success" was originally used by Capt James Stirling to explore the Swan River area in 1827 to locate a settlement site for the colony. The "Success" was run aground and damaged in 1830 and repaired with jarrah felled from what is now Kings Park. In January 1831, "Success" was repaired and sailed for England via India, with a letter from Stirling praising jarrah. Inspection of the ship revealed the jarrah repair had not deteriorated even though green wood was used. The Admiralty ordered a consignment of jarrah and so the demand for the timber began. Jarrah was originally called "Swan River mahogany" as it was a good substitute for the Central American hardwood.

The WA timber industry relied predominantly upon the Jarrah forests of the Darling Range and the Karri forests of the Southwest. Initially, timber close to Perth and other ports was harvested first. The first sawmill in the State was operating at the foot of Mt Eliza in Kings Park by 1833. Mr J Monger was associated with this mill and also the first steam sawmill in the State, which began operations at Guildford near Midland in 1844. Sawmilling began on present day State jarrah forest in the Kalamunda area near Kelmscott in the 1860s, and in the 1870s near Serpentine Dam as well as near Bunbury and Busselton. As the timber fellers had to go further out to collect timber, more transport was required. Wooden rails were laid on sleepers, and trolleys were drawn by horses or bullocks, such as at Quindalup in the 1850's and the Mason & Bird line near Pickering Brook in the 1870's. Other early mills were Monger & Cowan (1844) in Guildford, Hancock (1844) in Belmont and Graves in Murray St in 1881.
Sawmilling began in the karri forest at Karridale (near Augusta) in the 1880s and Denmark in the 1890s.

Later, steam locomotives and steel rail became the preferred transport system. Early steam powered locos included 'Ballarat' used near Busselton from 1871 (on display in Busselton) and the 'Governor Weld' used in Jarrahdale (last seen there derelict in the 1890's). The main feature of logging railways, or timber lines, is the narrow gauge, and lightness of the locomotives compared to permanent railways (This results in a rail trail that is not as compacted as rail trails made from permanent railways, such as the Railway Heritage rail trail or Denmark Nornalup Heritage Trail). Normally the first timber timber lines to be built in an area was the one to convey the sawn timber from the mill to the nearest shipping point. Then lines were constructed leading into the bush to enable logs to be hauled to the mill. Often these lines were planned to be used only temporarily so it could be relocated when the harvesting was completed in that area. Earthworks were kept to a minimum by using timber trestles, and gullies were spanned by tall but flimsy bridges. Sleepers were laid directly on to the forest floor with only every third one dog spiked. Steep grades were scaled by using winches (such as "Polly" in Collie). Isolated milling settlements were totally dependant on the train lines for their every need. Bush locomotives remained in general usage in the jarrah forest until around 1950 when the huge cost of pulling up and re-laying lines made their operations uneconomic and trucks and tractors started to take their place. Some locomotives continued to be used by timber companies, especially in the karri forest, until about 1965. Since then, all log hauling has been by log truck. Chainsaws first replaced hand saws in the 1940's, but did not gain wide acceptance until the 1950's.

Plenty of evidence of the rail lines still exists in the bush, although unused forms can grow over, bridges can collapse and earthworks can be levelled. Some of these old train lines, or forms, were utilised to make the Munda Biddi trail. Even now, it is possible to locate old forms and find neglected bridges hidden in the scrub.

At least 260 sawmills operated throughout the south-west forests before 1930. The best model of a saw mill I have found is of the Barragup mill at the Busselton historical museum.The best full size replica of a timber mill I have found is t he Kauri Museum is in Matakohe , NZ.

The timber export industry was the biggest export industry in Western Australia until World War 1. It began with the arrival of Charles and Edwin Millar in WA. The Millars were alerted to the potential of the timber industry so in 1887 they sent a trial shipment of jarrah blocks to London for testing as street pavement in place of cobblestones. Favourable reports followed and in 1895 the first mill began operations at Yarloop. Yarloop developed and became the centre of Millars milling operations in the south west, servicing 26 mills. The workshops (these workshops began operations in 1901 and closed in 1978) manufactured rolling stock and serviced steam engines, which were essential for driving the mills. Most importantly the workshops constructed replacement parts, thus avoiding long delays in acquiring these from the United Kingdom. The patterns used for this purpose are still housed within the complex. By the 1930s Millers boasted the largest private railway in the world with eight railway systems and 25 locomotives, 100 people working at the workshop and Millars employed an additional 500 for their operations in the Yarloop area.

The below link shows tree harvesting in WA in the 1920's and 1930's. The first 10 minutes shows karri trees being felled, transported by bullock teams and whims, and then trains, to a mill, where it is processed. I think this is an early copy of "Among the Hardwood", as it is nearly identical footage without the screen text. There was no OH & S in those days - it is fascinating viewing. I can not establish where it was filmed. The rest of the video followers a sleeper hewer as he cuts down a tree and hews it into sleepers in the bush. Mat Thomas contacted me to say he is James Thomas and he is Mat's Great Grand Father. It was filmed in the Yarloop region as James was a local there. He improvises a set up so he can use a two person saw by himself. Even though he was a hard working man, he lived to be 91 years of age before he passed. The driver of the cart was a Mr Dundon who was also a Yarloop local. James Thomas also sets up camp and cooks his dinner. It is really interesting. Hewn sleepers last 10% longer than sawn sleepers because the action of cutting with an adze tends not open the pores of the timber grain and keep moisture out. Mat's family still have  the saw and axe which were used in the video.

Logging of forests on Crown land in areas in DEC's Swan and Central Forest began in the 1870s or 1880s. Since then, many easily accessible areas have been harvested for logs three or more times, with two areas near Jarrahdale logged 5 times to 1989. About half of the jarrah forest on Crown land in the Swan and Central Forest Regions has been harvested twice. Access to the forests of the Southern Forest Region was much more difficult and logging did not commence until after 1900, apart from some pit-sawing near Walpole in the 1860s and logging by Millars in the Denmark area in the late 1890s. Most of the karri forest has only been logged once.

Evidence that forests were being over-exploited first emerged in 1874 when forests were considered as farmland-in-waiting. Popular opinion at the time held that trees should be cut to make way for agricultural land. Sawmillers selected the trees they wished to cut, and left behind the poorer trees. This meant that some areas of high quality forest were heavily cut while others had a very light selective cut. Sleeper hewers also operated over large areas of forest, selecting only the best trees. It wasn't until 1916 and the appointment of professional forester, Charles Lane-Poole (1885 - 1970), who pursued legislation for a 'Forests Act through which to manage and protect the State's unique timber resources. He was the Commonwealth's first Inspector-General of Forests and was appointed conservator of forests for Western Australia in 1916. He vigorously set about providing a sound forest policy and a school to train foremen and rangers. The Forests Act (1919) which he formulated was regarded as a model in professional circles, but lack of support and opposition to its implementation prompted his resignation in 1921. Lane Poole Reserve near Dwellingup is named after him. Between the early 1920s and 1940 a group selection system was employed. Areas for felling were treemarked by Forests Department foresters to create gaps for regeneration, leaving groups of immature trees intact.

The nominal cutting cycle for jarrah forest has typically been 30 to 50 years between cuts (in the higher rainfall areas and where a selection cutting system has been used). In less productive forest (such as in the eastern low rainfall sector) the cutting cycle has been longer and many areas have been harvested only once or twice since 1829. Most multiple use karri forest is intended to be managed on a rotation length of at least 100 years. A paper by Abbott and Christensen (1994) shows that the jarrah and karri forests are in ecologically good condition after up to 120 years of timber harvesting.

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