THE TIMBER INDUSTRY
Contributed by Keith Whitehead
The timber industry around Edenhope has varied over the years, from the early settlers using crosscut saw, axe and adze, through the development of machinery to the present day, when sadly, only one or two one-man saw benches remain active on the area.
Years ago, a lot of timber was cut with the broad axe and adze to build slab huts, sheds etc. Fence posts were split with wedges and sledge hammers, progressing to pit sawmills and steam driven engines for stationary, circular saw benches and engine driven auto loggers. The trees would be felled in the bush and hauled mostly by bullock teams to the mill. Probably the earliest commercial sawmilling was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when thousands of paving blocks for Melbourne streets, sleepers for the Victorian Railways and bridge timbers were cut on these primitive sawbenches.
Over the two world wars and depression years, the industry slowed somewhat until the 1950’s, when the chainsaw was the next progression, and the timber industry became a major part of the Edenhope economy and employment. The product was mainly red gum and whitegum sleepers which were sold predominately to the South Australian Railways, with a lesser quantity for the Victorian Railways. Late in the 50’s, portable saw benches were introduced, being driven by tractors and ex-truck motors. These “spot mills” could be shifted quickly and easily from paddock to paddock, and made the expensive haulage of logs obsolete. Going into the 60’s, chainsaws became more reliable, making the felling and breaking down of logs, faster, easier and safer. Occupational Health and Safety was not a big issue in those days – everyone knew they were in a dangerous occupation and relied on common sense and self reliance, resulting in relatively few major accidents.
In the early 1970’s, hardwood timber became less available and more expensive. Some sawmillers shifted north to the Murray and Darling rivers and others went mainly south into pine milling, cutting flitch timber for commercial timber yards, and sleepers, which were treated with creosote, also for the South Australian Railways. About this time, some farmers started planting commercial pine plantations close to Edenhope for future timber supplies. Some of these are now becoming available but are not being harvested by local sawmillers.
Late in the 80’s, the Government decided on new Native Vegetation regulations that prohibited the removal of hardwood timber on private property – except for farmers own use – which more or less brought an end to the timber industry around Edenhope as we knew it. The firewood industry has survived the ages even though it is getting harder to source. There is a smaller industry using redgum and buloke slabs cut from the odd windblown or suitable dead tree, air or kiln dried and polished, then made into fine house and garden furniture and ornaments for a niche market.
From the middle 1990’s to present day, thousands of hectares of private land, south of Edenhope, has been sold and planted to Tasmanian Bluegums, which may be harvested for chips and pulp. It is yet to be seen, considering the drier years, and if the yield of chips actually obtained at maturity is a viable quantity, whether this will be classed as a continuation of the Edenhope timber industry .**This a very brief outline of the timber industry around Edenhope – the recently re-formed Historical Society continues to research information for a detailed history. If you have any relevant stories and/or photos, we would be grateful to have them