Introduction to – ‘A Timber History of Western Australia’

The variety of soils and rainfall in the Southern regions of Western Australia have supported a large variety of trees; from imported species – the conifers (Pines) to natives – the Eucalypts, the Proteaceae (Banksia), the Allocasuarina fraseriana (Sheoak), the Acacia (Wattles) and the Santalums (Sandalwood and Quongdong). From the first ship arrivals on the coasts of Western Australia – the trees were used as a resource for vessel maintenance, shelter and heating. Later the timbers were utilised for local consumption, export to other Australian States and overseas and ultimately establishing an industry and a valuable income for the new Swan River colony.

The first Western Australian Eucalyptus to be identified and subsequently named was the Yate (E. cornuta) by the French botanist Jacques Labillardière, who collected it in 1792, at what is now the Esperance area.

Some of the pioneer timber men were – John Henry Monger (Perth Lakes, Mt Eliza, Guildford & York), William Pierce Clifton (Leschenault/Bunbury), George Simpson (Wonnerup/Lockville), Henry John Yelverton (Quindalup), Benjamin Mason and Francis Bird (Canning), Thomas Wanliss (Rockingham & Jarrahdale), Maurice Coleman Davies (Collie, Karridale, Hamelin & Flinders), Brothers Charles & Edwin Millar and Henry Teesdale Smith (Torbay, Denmark and ‘Millars’ Karri & Jarrah Co. 1902’).

Initially they developed a major source of income for themselves, shareholders, supporting industries, their employees and the fledgling Western Australian State. To enable the timber to be utilised for local, international and interstate consumption; ports, vessels, timber mills, tramways, railways, harbours, jetties, roads, bridges, worker’s homes, fencing, furniture and many other ancillary facilities – hospitals, churches, schools, sport grounds, general stores, butchers, bakers and other allied businesses and services were also established.

The captains of the transport ships, became the middle men in the export timber trade and would haggle over the value of the wood on the beach which sometimes proved a death knell for a number of producers. If Captains were able to get their cargo cheap, a handsome profit could be made on arrival at the delivery port, where further haggling occurred.

Exploitation of this valuable resource waned in recent times and the preservation of the native forests has become a popular activity; to use the buzz words – ‘for our children’s children’. So it is with the number of National Parks which have developed in what the early ‘saw-millers’ viewed as a never ending resource, now being able to return to their original state, with under-story flora and fauna increasing.

Don Briggs May 2019

 

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