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History of Ludlow

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Wardandi people lived in harmony with the Australian environment for 1000’s of years.

This forest was clean, fully stocked with tuart trees, compatible plants, animals and biotica, managed with the aid of fire – a management method well understood by Aboriginal people.

The tuart forest covered a vast coastal strip from Busselton to north of Perth. Today a mere 3% remains, much of it in critical need of restoration. Hence the formation of this passionate, motivated volunteer group.

The first record of European exploration across the Vasse Estuary and into the tuart forest is 1801, when a French scientific expedition visited the area. It’s potential was immediately recognised. The stability of millenia was about to be rocked with devastating consequences for this unique region.

The English arrived in the 1830’s, less than 200 years ago, bringing with them animals, plants and agricultural ideals, some of which have subsequently presented us with huge challenges. They began exploiting the resources of the region immediately, using the readily available timber for housing, fences, yards, fuel as well as taking advantage of a growing world-wide demand for wood.  This trade initiated the Australian economy, long before the country rode on the sheep’s back or it’s mineral wealth was even guessed at. A thought worth bearing in mind.

Tuart quickly became recognised for it’s value. It’s strength, durability, abrasive resistance and hard wearing properties, leading to high demand. It also contained natural oils enabling nails and black iron bolts to last longer. Cut by hand with rudimentary tools, axe, adze and pit saw, the timber was exported out of the tuart forest through the Lockville Estuary. Loaded onto lighters by hand, it was rowed out to waiting ships in Geographe Bay.

The heavy sands of the tuart forest made for hard going leading to the first railway system to be built across the estuary, from Lockville to Wonnerup House. The formation was built to clear the tidal water levels and horses used to pull railway wagons across the flats. In 1871 the formation was extended to become the first railway line to be built & operated in Western Australia. Privately owned it carried the first steam engine, The Ballarat, now housed in the Busselton Jetty tourist precinct.

Governor James Stirling was granted vast tracts of land including 5000 acres of Tuart forest between Bunbury & Wonnerup. Harvesting of tuart increased with large quantities exported to England, New Zealand, India, South Australia and elsewhere. In the 1850’s to 1860’s the British Royal Navy bought tuart for use in dockyards at Chatham and Portsmouth. During this period little thought was given to forest regeneration.

After 50 years of exploitation and the added desire by 1st settlers to clear the land for farming the impact on the tuart forest was beginning to be recognised and in 1880 a ranger was appointed and a size limit imposed, although this proved impossible to police.

In the 1890’s Mr. J. Edney-Brown was appointed to take charge of timber harvesting under the ‘Woods & Forest Dept. administered by the Lands Dept. His untimely death left the position vacant for another 16 years. In 1903 some people realised the urgent need for some management of the harvesting of timber. A royal commission was held in 1904 finding that ‘the best timber of the Tuart was gone,’ that it was ‘an extremely valuable tree’ and that ‘the Tuart far exceeds the value of other local timbers.’ The government of the day were convinced that action was needed.

In 1910 Charles Lane-Poole was appointed the task of bringing order out of chaos, to introduce harvesting control and forest management for all values. He was appointed Conservator of Forests in 1916 and at the end of WW1 in 1918 The Forests Act was passed. This finally enabled Lane-Poole to bring some of the Tuart forest under official government control and areas of the forest were re-purchased and dedicated as State Forest No.1 and State Forest No.2. Lane-Poole then instigated training of forest workers to address staffing problems created by the passing of the Forests Act.

This property was purchased from the Moriarty family by the forests department specifically to build a forestry centre.

The first Forestry School was built at Ludlow. It opened in 1921 with an intake of 9 students, one of whom was Dick Perry who would later become a valuable contributor, particularly to the softwood industry. The course covered a period of 4 years, although this was reduced to 3 years for subsequent intakes.  Over it’s 6 years of operation 22 apprentices graduated from the school, several going on to become strong advocates for the Ludlow forest, and forests in general. The School closed in 1927. It burnt down some fifty years later in 1979.

After the cessation of WW1 and during the 1920’s timber production picked up, reaching record levels. In 1927 2.4 million sleepers were produced, by hand, by 1000 sleeper cutters.


From the late 1920’s foresters, government and the community were reaching the realisation that WA would be unable to sustain it’s own timber demand without the introduction of a fast growing softwood forest to supplement the available hardwood. Studies began on suitable species with the majority of the original establishment and identification centred at Ludlow, where 23 species from  around the world were planted in previously cleared tuart land. Some of these still stand today.

Of the species trialled Pinus radiata and Pinus pinaster were selected as most suitable. Both species now form the basis of our softwood plantation industry as a result of the work done here at Ludlow.

Dick Perry, a graduate from the first intake of students at the Ludlow Forestry School spent much of his career researching and improving the performance of softwood in our climate and soils.

Forestry struggled during the Great Depression but by 1939 the softwood estate had grown to 12,500 acres. Planting was again curtailed during WW2, but by the end of the war the Ludlow sawmills were pressed into service to meet a growing demand for softwood products.

An education programme, initiated at Ludlow, was instigated to convince both public and industry that softwood could replace jarrah and karri in the burgeoning housing industry.  Eventually pine was accepted. It is now hard to imagine a world without. Fortunes have been made and countless jobs created within the timber, building and development sectors. Ludlow is central to this success story. At it’s peak Ludlow had 85 people on the payroll. These were real, productive jobs. Work. Hard work. Not simply ‘employment’, and in today’s world there is a difference.

Edited by Janet Wells


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