Potted Histories

Heritage of Timber

This article, written in 1933, gives a quick history of the timber industry until that time. Companies, managers and politicians who were major players in the industry are of particular interest as their influence spanned many years. 


The Industry Reviewed.

UNTIL 1870 there were few records of exploitation of the Colony’s extensive hardwood forests. The early settlers’ homes were made of wood, reed and swamp-mud— very durable and comfortable materials, if plain— and some of them are still habitable. Scattered through old archives are some brief records of tenders called for piles and decking, for public works (like the Barracks) and for schooners to trade along the coast and to the Eastern Colonies, to London, Singapore and China. To “The Perth Gazette” we are indebted for much of the information that is available. Enthusiastic delvers into these old files have made useful compilations for the help of future inquirers. Government departments have supplemented the work and issued occasional bulletins, but until the years following 1870 the records were anything but frequent or methodical. An indefatigable worker in this direction was the late Mr. J. S. Ogilvie, editor of the little forestry magazine “Jarrah.” His name will ever be associated with the tasks of researches in timber history.

The early colonists discovered magnificent jarrah and karri forests. They had crude methods of dealing with them, but they did find out the special virtues of the hardwoods and sought to let the world know about them. At long intervals small shipments were sent abroad of what the settlers called “mahogany,” sometimes to win favour and be sold, and sometimes to meet a contrary fate and involve the shippers in heavy losses. The first tender for timber supplies appeared in 1833. In 1845 attention was drawn to some difficulties exporters had in transporting a large jarrah log from the Canning River to Fremantle, and the exporters had to leave it. There is a record of 2,550 cubic feet of timber having been sent to England in 1846 to the British Admiralty. Some trading was done with American whalers, who were common to our coast in those times, with Albany their favourite port of call. Jarrah, karri and tuart do not reach down to the sea like the big timbers of Tasmania; hence there is no water movement of the sawn product. Great difficulties faced the pioneers in getting their product to such ports as then existed, and much of the conversion of the big logs was done by pit-saws. Time has not obliterated all evidence of these. Mr. D. E. Hutchins, late Conservator of Forests of South Africa, who visited Western Australia in 1914, recommended a revival of pit-sawing to deal with trees beyond the scope of sawmills and to find employment.

THE COMMERCIAL FOREST. Roughly, the commercial forest begins in the region of Chidlow’s Well and extends southwards from the Darling Ranges some 350 miles, broadening to an expanse of 25 to 35 miles and approaching to within a few miles of the coast. Forestry maps indicate much wider areas, but the actual milling forest is more limited. The milling districts have been, or are, Lion Mill, Canning, Pickering Brook, Jarrahdale, Roleystone, Dwellingup, Marrinup, Wuraming, Holyoake, Nanga Brook, Waroona, Yarloop, Hoffman, Waterous, Mornington, Worsley, Collie, Muja, Wilga, Dardanup, Noggerup, Kirup, Jarrahwood, Nannup, Manjimup, Pemberton, Denmark and Karridale. One of the latest classifications gives the areas of the respective forests as follows:— Jarrah, 3,900,000 acres; karri, 400,000 acres; jarrah and karri mixed, 359,700 acres; tuart, 5,932 acres; tingle-tingle, 16,000 acres. The forest policy has meant the planting of various kinds of pines and already the department has secured substantial cuttings from these plantations. It was in the seventies that the forests were first entered by the big pioneering sawmillers and hewers. Conversion of the trees followed at a rapid rate. The Forestry Department from time to time has issued bulletins of the progress. In 1836 only about 10,000 cubic feet went abroad, valued at £2,500. By 1928 the exports had reached 291,714,991 cubic feet, valued at £27,740,755. In 1913 over 1,000,000 sleepers were shipped to South Africa. One of the busiest periods was just prior to the war; another began about 1924 and ended abruptly in 1928. The past few years have seen a further contraction of the orders, numbers of mills having to be closed down and others put on a part-time system of three days’ work a week. During the heyday of the industry 5,000 men (mill-hands and sleeper cutters) found constant employment; today probably little more than 1,000 could be mustered. This has meant incalculable loss to the city and the country.

COLONY’S FIRST MILL. The first mill in the Colony was built at Guildford; another followed it at Gooseberry Hill: but the first modern standard mill was erected at Quindalup, near Busselton, where another mill followed a little later. One of these was running until 1902, when Quindalup was absorbed in the amalgamation of sawmilling companies. Its manager, the late Mr. H. J. Yelverton, then took over the managership of Wellington mill, near Dardanup, established by the Canning Jarrah Co., which had mills near Pickering Brook— called the Canning— with which was identified the late Mr Frank Wilson, afterwards Premier of the State. Karridale was the next centre of importance. Here the late Mr. M. C. Davies, of Adelaide, erected a mill (at Coodardup, three miles east of Karridale proper). His family remained long identified with Karridale, his sons all holding important executive positions with the amalgamated company. Contemporaneously with them, the West Australian Jarrah Sawmill Company established itself near Busselton. This concern imported to the Colony its first locomotive — from the Phoenix Foundry, Ballarat. The wreckage of it is still lying near the old mill. In the late eighties and until the early nineties, extensive sawmilling and hewing was done in the Chidlow’s Well-Sawyers Valley districts, and the Mundaring and Roleystone districts, and city people who love hiking and rambling there must have noted the many large butts of trees that constituted the old forest. Names that will long be remembered with the district are E. G. Lacey, Joe McDowall, Edward Keane, J. Farnland, Lionel White, Alex. Forest, W. Peechey and Frank Wilson, and, among the companies, the Gill McDowell Jarrah Co., Port, Honey and Co., the Canning Jarrah Co., and the Rockingham Company.

It was a Victorian syndicate— Robert Reid, W. McLean, H. Rigg and John Whittingham — who launched the old Rockingham Jarrah Company. It was merged into Jarrahdale Jarrah Forest and Railways, Limited, and was afterwards absorbed in the amalgamation. It had a concession of 20 square miles at Jarrahdale, and from it enormous quantities of timber have been produced and shipped to all parts of the world. It still has one of the largest and best equipped mills in the State, but it is unhappily idle. Among names which will be long remembered at Jarrahdale are those of the late Richard Speight, Neil McNeil and W. J. George, Jas. Ainslie and, among others, Alec. McNeil, A. C. Munro, James Ainslie, and F. L. Brady.

THE AMALGAMATION. The largest private sawmilling concern of the State is Millars’ Timber and Trading Co, Limited, which was founded by the late Edwin F. and C. G. Millar, railway and general contractors, of Melbourne. They first came in contact with Western Australia in connection with the West Australian Land Co., of Albany, which entrusted to them the building of the Albany-Beverly railway. To cope with the undertaking they secured karri areas at Torbay and erected several mills at a later date, after exploiting karri and jarrah both in the States and abroad, mills were opened on new areas at Denmark. The opening up of the goldfields brought a new lease of life to these mills and much prosperity to Albany and Denmark. At one time there was a community of 1,000 people at Denmark, dependent on the timber industry. Millar Brothers’ interests were acquired in 1897 by Millars’ Karri and Jarrah Forests, Limited, with the late Henry Teesdale Smith general manager, the late H. Cairns manager of Albany, the late John Coughlan manager of Denmark, and the late Thomas Boyne manager of Fremantle. This company was absorbed in the amalgamation in 1902 with the following companies:— The Jarrah Timber and Wood Paving Corporation, Worsley; Jarrahdale Jarrah Forests and Railways, Ltd., Jarrahdale and Perth; the Gill McDowall Jarrah Timber Co., Waroona and Lion Mill; the Jarrah Wood and Sawmills Co., Ltd., Jarrahwood; the Imperial Jarrah Wood corporation, Newlands and Quindalup; and the M. C. Davies Karri and Jarrah Co., Ltd., Karridale. Among names prominent in the affairs of the amalgamated company have been those of the late Henry Teesdale Smith, Herbert Davies, Jas Ainslie, Harold E. Smith. H. J. Yelverton, Jas. Kelly and S. Drysdale, and, either recently or still with the company, Lionel White, Sydney Smith, W. Merry, R. Driver, J. C. Kerr, Harry Smith, F. L. Brady, A. C. Munro, Frank Davies, R. Rutherford, C. Angell and J. and C. Craig. The present executive consists of Sir Edward Wittenoom, M.L.C., A. J. McNeil, W. Macmurtrie, and Norman Temperley.

INDIVIDUAL CONCERNS. Those who remained outside the amalgamation included Bunning Bros, Whittaker Bros, J. C. Port and Co, and Buckingham Bros. Bunning Bros. have carried on saw milling at Lion Mill, and in the Collie district and at Argyle, Alco and Yornup; and Port and Co. at Pindalup and Maylands. Mr. Port was one of the pioneers of sawmilling when the work was done under the roughest of conditions. The Kauri Timber Co., of Nannup, was formerly West Australian Jarrah Sawmills, Ltd., owned by Melbourne merchants, J. Bartram and Sons, who opened up at Kirup under the management of Edmund Shepherd. The Kauri Co.’s new mill at Nannup is a very large one of modern type. Its output, with that of Millars’ Jarrahwood mill nearby, goes to Busselton for shipment and finds work for neighbouring farmers as lumpers. People identified with the Kauri Company are Harvey Paterson, Sir Frederick Sargood, Robert Harper, John Sharp, George Lush and Robert Smith. Other timber companies operating in the West have included the Australian Lumber Co., with mills at Bowelling, Hotham, Plavin’s siding; the Timber Corporation, of Greenbushes and Palgarrup; the Adelaide Timber Co., of Wilga and Wichcliffe; the Wilgarrup Karri and Jarrah Co., of Jardee; the Swan Sawmills, of Claymore; the Sussex Timber Co., of Dellerton; Buckingham Bros., of East Perth and Muja; the Collie Timber Company, of Collie; the Worsley Timber Co., of Worsley; and Douglas Jones and Co., of Guildford.

STATE UNDERTAKINGS. Shortly after the advent of the Scaddan Labour Government in 1913, the first State sawmill was opened. The Government took over the concern of the South-West Hewers’ Co-operative Society and was reported to have paid them £80,000. As there were only 300 shareholders each profited by the sale substantially. The Government extended its operations and founded mills at Manjimup, Pemberton and Wuraming. The Government owns or controls most of the karri forests. Only the Wilgarrup Company has a karri area beside. People prominently associated with the State mills have been, or are, Douglas Humphries, J. W. Properjohn and E. B. Sinclair. There have been some great personalities among the leaders of the workers associated with the timber industry, a few of whose names should be mentioned — Denny Jones, M.L.C., Tom Ryan, A. J. Wilson, M.L.A., Peter O’Loghlen, M.L.A., J. B. Holman, M.L.A., Tom Naughton, Tom Anthony, and Miss Holman, M.L.A. (West Australian, 5 January 1933.)