Yarloop Mills and Surroundings in 1909

(By A Visitor.)

The township of Yarloop is pleasantly situated on the South-Western Railway, 78 miles from Perth, on the rising ground at the base of the Darling Range. It possesses two hotels, one on each side of the iron rails, and both do a splendid business. There are two churches —Wesleyan and Roman Catholic. The Church of England have not yet managed to raise the necessary funds. The former has been erected on the side of the hill at the back of the Combine’s workshop, and the other is on the north side of the village. The workmen have an excellent library within the walls of the public hall. There is also a very clean and well-conducted hospital under the charge of a resident surgeon, Dr. Foley, and a matron. This hospital is not subsidised by the Government, but is maintained by the subscriptions of the men at the rate of 3s. 6d. per month.

The married people have nice cottages of four or five rooms each, within easy distance of the workshop. The bachelors have one-room cottages to the south-east of the works, isolated from the other portions of the township. There is also an excellent boarding-house where the single men obtain their meals. Mr. Driver’s (the manager) house is situated on the side of the hill, and the Combine’s comfortable cottage adjoins it. The stables are of good design, and lie between the manager’s house and the hospital. All this part of the town is laid out with gravel roads and paths. On presenting our credentials to the manager at the office he deputed one of his clerks to show us over the works. Mr. J. Munro, the captain of the rifle club, an excellent companion and a kindly friend, was the officer selected. He did his duty thoroughly, for we saw all that could be seen under his direction.

We first visited the saw shop, which is under the management of the Messrs. Anderson, one brother doing everything necessary in the doctoring of saws, while his brother drives the machinery and electric light engine. In this shop can be seen saws of all shapes, makes, and sizes—circular from 6ft. in diameter to 18 in., vertical saws 10ft. long, band saws and ordinary ones. If a saw has met with an accident at the mills, such as some teeth broken off, it is sent to the saw shop, where it is reduced to the next workable size. The machinery used for cutting off the teeth and punching out new ones looks simple in construction, but its effect is marvellous. The large saws can also be ground thinner by a large grindstone constantly revolving in water. We were also shown the art of setting saws, which can only be learnt by many years’ practice. If anyone wishes to know all about saws he had better inquire for Mr. Anderson.

The next part of the works visited was the boilermakers’. Here all the boilers used in the mills and timber lines are made. The rivetting and chiselling in this shop is done with patent air machines. There are also two large steam hammers at work here. Nearly opposite this shop is the pattern-makers, where all the models for castings are made in the most artistic manner. Any part of a machine is modelled in wood. The foundry was the next place of interest, where all the castings required by the Combine are prepared from the models made in the pattern shop. There is a floor of moulding earth about 100ft. by 50ft., which is prepared to receive the whole of the castings. When everything is ready and all the moulds prepared the furnace is set going; and as much as four or five tons of molten iron and brass are poured into the moulds at one time. When cold the castings are taken out and the earth is again prepared for the next casting. This shop and its appurtenances are in charge of Mr. Bird, a son of a late prominent Perth architect.

The next shop inspected was the wheel-wrights’, which is in charge of Mr. M. Christensen, a genial naturalised British subject from the land of the Dane, and a shining light of the Yarloop Rifle Club. He constructs the largest whim wheels with a diameter of 9ft., spokes 2in., rim 10in., and hub about 30in. The whole wheel is made of tuart and white gum. The tuart will soon be all gone, as we have only a very narrow strip of this timber parallel to the coast north and south of Pinjarrah. This shop is fitted with the latest machinery for morticing and planing, etc. Mr. Christensen not only turns out these immense wheels for the hauling of timber, but constructs the bodies of trucks and the finest of sulkies, etc. The last shop visited was where the truck wheels are treated with automatic turning machinery, which cuts from the rims of the wheels spiral pieces of steel many yards in length. The workshops contain some of the best and most up-to-date machinery in the State, and to a visitor was a great surprise.

By the courtesy of Messrs. A. C. Munro and Driver we were welcomed to the cottage, which is in charge of Mrs. Thomas, a lady from Shropshire, who has a delightful burr in her speech. She was extremely kind and attentive during our stay. Mr. Driver has just had the honour of a J.P.-ship conferred on him. He thoroughly deserves this for his popularity, and the honour will not only be appreciated by himself but by all his people at Yarloop. We visited the Yarloop rifle range, which is situated in the Darling Ranges, just to the east of the Perth-Bunbury-road, three miles south of Yarloop. The range is cleared for about 1,000 yards and about one chain wide. The target is in the east, and the range runs westward. At the 1,000 yards the branches of an overhanging tree interferes with the flight of the bullets. When this tree is cut down it will eliminate a shade which at present goes over the target in the afternoon. The range is well situated, but it would be better for the membership of the club were it closer to the town, as it is now much too far to walk and those who should be members don’t own motorcars and can’t afford to drive. The present members, with the captain and secretary, are “jolly good fellows,” and made us very welcome to the town and range. We shot over the 200, 500, and 600 yards ranges, and when the shoot was over it was found that the secretary had made a record shoot for the range—98 points out of 105 possible. He scored the possible at 500 yards, which had been previously made by Mr. Christensen. The visitors, who shot well, were some points behind this excellent score.

There ought to be a good future for the club, provided the younger members of the community take a livelier interest in shooting. Mr. Logue, the secretary—the most prominent farmer in the district—is having a rifle range cleared on his own estate. His present trouble is that he cannot get labouring hands to work his farm, and there are many more who suffer from the same complaint. Mr. Logue offers 30s. per week and keep for farm labourers, and although there are hundreds of unemployed about the towns, he and other farmers can’t get workers. Mr. Logue is very emphatic on the labour question. He says: “The Government are doing too much for the unemployed, to the detriment of the farming industry. The farmers, much as they would like to develop their properties, cannot do so for want of labour. It appears to be the same all over the State. Surely 30/- and keep is good enough for an ordinary farm labourer. If the Government didn’t bolster up the Labour Party with public works near the principal centres, the labourers would be compelled to look for work in the country districts. The labour unions and the everlasting unemployed question are the curse of Australia and the cause of so much capital being locked up.”

The next day at 5.30 a.m. we started in the train for Nanga Mill, a journey of 28 miles. It was beautifully cool going up the zig-zag, of five dead-ends, on the western slope of the Darling Range. We had a lovely view of the plains at the foot of the hills. When we arrived at the fifth end we were 1,100ft. above sea level. The scenery over the hills is similar to that on the Eastern line — jarrah and redgum forests, with blackboys and ferns in the gullies. Getting over to the Eastern slope the train has to negotiate two dead-ends of a zig-zag, and afterwards it is a fairly easy grade to Waterous Mill, which is situated on a brook in a valley at the foot of the hills, about half-way to Nanga.

Waterous is the name of a patent log-grip with attached trolley which works automatically, gripping the log and running it along on the trolley to the double circular saw, which cuts the log through in a few seconds. This mill is supplied with splendid water, reticulated all over the works and cottages from a tank placed on piles 30ft. above the ordinary ground level. The timber has been largely cut out in the vicinity of this mill, as it was one of the first erected by Millar’s. In a few years there will be little marketable timber handy to this mill. Here there is an excellent planing machine which does all kinds of pattern work of different designs.

We continued our journey at 7.30 a.m. to Nanga Mill; it is situated at the junction of Nanga Brook with the Murray River, where there are some splendid pools of running water. The water supply is excellent and is reticulated from a running brook a mile and a half away. The land at this place is first-class alluvial soil with a slight mixture of ironstone gravel in places, and is a good red chocolate colour. Vines and tomatoes and other plants were set here only a few weeks ago and have grown luxuriantly. When the timber at this mill is cut out, the land should be cut up for selection, and should prove one of the best agricultural centres in the State, and could produce every variety of fruit.

The buildings at the mill are laid out symmetrically. Parallel to the terminus are two large stores. At the back of the stores, and a chain away, there is a street one chain wide. On this street on each side are five four-roomed cottages, built for the married people and families. Each cottage has a nice plot of land for garden purposes, and the whole is fenced in sub-divisions with 6ft. close palings. Further along the line there is a large substantially build boarding-house. Further east are the manager’s and clerks’ houses and the offices. These buildings are lined inside with varnished jarrah. The next buildings are the bachelors’ quarters, consisting of sixteen one-roomed cottages right in a row. In front of the office are the mills and skids, etc., The building is about 200ft. long, in two sections of 30ft. wide. There are three boilers, twin circular saws, vertical and a number of other circular saws. One mill is very like another in its work, but this is the largest and the best owned by the Combine. Mr. Wass took charge of the train arrangements, and Mr. Quirk is in charge of the office.

When travelling amongst the mills and hills we heard several “snake yarns,” one of which was told in this way — it may be new to some readers. A sawmill married man, who kept fowls, noticed that the eggs were disappearing in a peculiar manner. After setting a watch it was discovered that the culprit was a large striped and spotted iguana. A trap was laid, the reptile caught and skinned. On opening the “goanna” there were found inside four eggs, two “were” and two “weren’t.” Next morning the fox-terrier pup was heard barking furiously and worrying the carcase of the “goanna,” when the mill hand, much to his astonishment, saw the “goanna” turn and try to swallow the pup. Fact. Another story was told us by one of the principal farmers of the district. One morning, hearing a peculiar noise on the path in front of his house, he went out and found what he thought was a large snake with two tails and no head. On examining the object more closely he discovered that a large long-tailed iguana and a carpet snake were fighting and the snake had swallowed more than half the “goanna,” leaving the tail end out. They died choked and suffocated. This yarn is also true. In conclusion we wish to acknowledge the kindness and hospitality to us by all our friends at Yarloop and its neighbourhood.

(West Australian, 6 March 1909.)