Gympie’s Timber History

by Dr Geoff Waldon, based on information supplied by George Venz

Gympie’s timber history began in earnest soon after gold was discovered in 1867 by James Nash.  Following alluvial fossicking, and when mining began, timber became vital for the safe construction of mine shafts.

As soon as Governor Gipps declared that the Moreton Bay region was no longer a penal colony, free settlement began.  The population increased and so did the need for timber followed.

Farming and agriculture also added to the reason for the growth timber industry.  Fencing and other farm buildings relied on timber.  The Gympie industry also grew upon the need for the harvesting of specialised timber species required in the larger centres such as Maryborough.  These logs initially had to be transported out of Gympie because the town did not have the necessary sawmill development at that stage.

In the early days of Gympie development, there was no through roads or railway to Maryborough and this even included suitable bullock wagon tracks.  The only way to get timber logs to Maryborough was via the Mary River.  Light wood such as red cedar, white beech, hoop and bunya pine were the principal and best known species.  While some logs may have been floated down stream singly, logs were mainly tied together as a float group of about six.  As the timber industry developed and grew, local sawmills were built to supply building local needs.

In the early timber industry, the snigging and hauling of logs was done mostly by bullock teams although some horse teams were used.  The timber was cut in the forest using cross-cut saws, axes, wooden mauls and iron wedges.  Men were not the only timber cutters in the region.  Women also had an important input to this key industry.  In particular, the Lynch sisters are remembered by the State Forest area named Lynches Hill.  It is just 4.1km west of Gympie on the Glastonbury Road.

By about the early 1050s, much of the manual work, particularly that requiring the use of crosscut saws and axes was replaced by chainsaws and circular saws.

Another timber location to harvest timber was the such valued forests of the Sunshine Coast close to Tin can Bay and Rainbow Beach.  Timber from this area was winched to a wooden rail tram line (recorded as Pettigrews tram line) loaded on to wagons.  It was hauled by the steam engine “Mary Ann” to Poverty Point near Tin Can Bay/Rainbow Beach.  There is was loaded on to a large barge and taken to Maryborough.  In those days there was no suitable haulage road to Gympie.  However, an access road to Gympie from the Tin Can Bay/Rainbow Beach area was built by the sand mining companies and from that time on, timber from the coast forests was hauled to Gympie by timber trucks. 

In 1889 Richard Hyne (MP Maryborough) pushed for a Department of Forestry to be established by Parliament and eleven years later the department was declared.  State Forests were established because private land was being cleared and much timber being wasted.  The new land was cleared to grow bananas etc in the scrub soil.  Dairying and other farming needs added to the waste.  Not all blame can be put on the farmers though because the timber was often difficult to harvest and the price of timber was low at the time.

As the demand for timber increased, sawmills flourished in all districts.  Such was the growth in the industry that by 1926, annual limits were placed on logging quotas obtained by sawmills from State Forests.

Plantation Planting

In 1917 – 1920, trial plantings of pine in the Imbil area were carried out to find the best way to grow plantation timber.  By 1924 – 1930 coastal wallum country was used for planting exotic pine, mostly Pinue Elliottii commonly known as slash pine.  By 1947 – 1950, scrub areas mostly on the western side of the Mary River were converted to Hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) plantations.  Bunya Pine (Araucaria bawdili) was planted in smaller areas of lower gullies and flats.  In the first stages of plantation establishment, tins of 25 tubed plants were transported from nursery by small privately owned trucks.

After the tubed plants were unloaded at the roadside, they were then taken by hand (two at a time) to the workmen planters usually on the hill slopes.  This was very tiring and exhaustive work.  By the early 1950s, a pack horse with 2 x 3 tin containers was used to carry plants to the planters.  The writer of this article was the first pack horse operator in the Myravale (upper Widgee) plantations.  There is a plant carrier two frame harness set on display at the Woodworks Museum.

As the population increases, the industry grows and by 1925 there were 257 sawmills  in the wider Moreton Bay and Wide Bay regions.  As part of this expansion, Gympie had a significant number of sawmills resulting in the greater use of local sawn timber.

By 1950, trees were marked for cutting in State Forests.  Minimum size for harvesting varied.  In north Queensland it was 120 inches GBH (Girth Breast High) and in South Queensland it was 80 inches GBH, with thinning and culling of damaged or faulty stems in both cases.  A classic example of the success in forest management is the sustainable timber volume in State Forest 451 (Cooloola, now National Park).  After 100 years of logging, there is now more loggable timber in that forest area than when logging began before tree marking.

An important factor in improved regeneration was the controlled burning of forest fuel during the cooler months of the year.  This prevented fierce fires in hotter weather damaging growing trees and destroying regeneration growth.  As a result there was a much increased volume per acre/hectare available.

Woodworks Museum

In 1981, the then District Forester Peter Cranny (Gympie) arranged for the then Gympie District Marketing Officer (George Venz) to select suitable trees from State Forest 451 for timber to be used in the construction of the Woodworks Museum.  The principle timber species elected was tallow wood, spotted gum and yellow stingy bark.  The museum was officially opened in 1984 by minister Bill Glasson.

In the 1980s, private landholders were seeking advice in forest management.  The then Forestry Department did not generally provide any management guidelines except by spoken word and not by example or field instruction.  In 1988, the first private business to assist land holders was GM Timber Advisory Service, with a coverage to the private sector in South and Central Queensland.  This service ceased by 2003 and Private Forestry Service Queensland now provide this much needed service to land holders wanting to promote timber growth in conjunction with cattle grazing.

In 1990, the Queensland government removed departmental status from Forestry and placed it under control of the DPI (Department of Primary Industries).  In the years following, stands of plantation timber were sold to private companies.  Since then there has been no replanting of the pine plantations.

In 1993, the Gympie and District Woodworkers Club was formed.  Apart from providing fellowship and a community source for woodworking with wood craft, a primary direction is to use the many timber salvage opportunities that would otherwise be destroyed from storm damage, or removal from housing sites for safety reasons.

Comments are closed.