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By 1856 ships were calling in to the Camden Haven specifically to pick up Red Cedar (then Toona australis now Toona ciliata). They dumped their ballast of Sydney sandstone before proceeding upriver to present-day Kendall where the first organised timber milling took place as early as the 1860s.

Cedar was prized by many for its beauty but its ease of working meant that its use became indiscriminate. Whole houses were built of it, public buildings, fine furniture, packing cases, paling fences, farm buildings. There was so much of it that it could be used as deal.

The cedar getters developed a special technique. Crosscut saw, axe, standing boards were their only equipment. Cedars are buttressed, the bases are often hollow, so they felled them at heights up to six metres off the ground. They would cut a slot about shoulder height – they called it a scaffold hold – drive in a board, stand on it, cut the next slot and drive in another board, perhaps another and another. Since boards were awkward to carry through the bush, many used one board only. After they had cut the second slot they would cut a toe hold to stand in while they moved the board up. Getting down as the tree was beginning to fall required great dexterity.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century attention turned to the valuable hardwoods of the area and, with occasional exceptions, the last of the great cedar trees remained in their hidden gullies and gorges.

The New South Wales Government, aware that the superb softwoods had been almost completely cut out, was anxious not to have this repeated with the excellent hardwoods. From 1883, Crown Land in the Port Macquarie district was 'set aside from sale for preservation and growth of timber’. Forest Reserves were established in 1892 and, in 1907, a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Forests was set up. The enquiry took local evidence during which Robert Longworth reported that his Laurieton mill had a weekly output of 75,000 feet [225 cubic metres] of sawn timber, mostly ‘Blackbutt, Tallow-wood, Brush Box, and several species of gum, including grey gum’, drawn from areas around Kendall. Most of it was exported to England, America and Germany. As a result of the Royal Commission, the 1909 Forestry Act was passed to endeavour to ensure a sustainable supply.

Wherever they were accessible, the very big trees were taken out first. Boards rammed into slots were used there too, shod boards were used for extra security.

Timber worker with shod boards
Shod boards

The average yield per tree decreased as the size of available trees decreased, although there would still have been some 'giants' taken as mechanisation - crawler tractors and haulers - allowed access formerly denied by the steep conditions.Large quantities of timber left the Kendall district for use in mine shafts and props. Rufus McCarthy, timber getter and agent, and Ray O’Neill, who worked with him for 23 years, cut poles, piles, girders and bridge timbers: bloodwood for poles, turpentine for piles, tallowwood, grey gum, grey box and white mahogany for bridge timbers. Hundreds of bloodwood poles moved to the dry country around Bourke when electricity lines were installed.

Following the Second World War, management of native forests was driven for the next two decades by the material demands of a building boom and post-war expansion. Extensive new areas were dedicated to State forest tenure and large areas of forest were opened up to intensive logging and management for the first time.

In the 1950s and 60s, it was realised that Australian native forest resources were insufficient to sustain the increasing rate of cut indefinitely. Furthermore, the rate of timber importation was of concern. In 1976 NSW native forests were covered by the Forestry Commission's landmark Indigenous Forest Policy in 1976, which recognised that the best and most accessible of the State's native forests would be managed on a carefully controlled sustainable basis. Kendall Management Area became a showcase of this approach.

Since then, many pieces of legislation have had an impact on forestry practices and timber in the Kendall district, among them Regional Forest Agreements, Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act. In 1992, the Commonwealth and States reached a landmark agreement in the National Forest Policy which drove the subsequent Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRA) and Regional Forest Agreements (RFA).

Within the Kendall region, significant areas of public forest were transferred from State Forests' management to that of the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to enshrine their primary purpose of conservation. Under the regime of the last fifty years, large areas have re-afforested.

The older timber men of the district say that there are now five times more trees than there were at the time of the arrival of the settlers. Their claim is undoubtedly correct, re-growth is not only prolific but some species attain a great size very quickly.

Eric Isaacs with  old tree
Eric Isaac with 45 year old Blackbutt
Boardholse in an old stump
Old stump with board holes

Missing in many places, however, are the forest giants that were hundreds of years old when they were cut. Many of them were cut by private timber getters on private property before the establishment of regulation and legislation to protect timber and to set up systems for its sustainable management. The many enormous grey stumps with board slots that can be seen beside major roads as well as along forest roads tell the story.

John Fulton, Forests NSW, Wauchope for information about changes in Forest Policy, Legislation and Direction during the last 60 years.
Ray O’Neill.
Photograph - Forests NSW collection; Elaine van Kempen.
More Reading: Elaine van Kempen, North Brother – Dooragan (2005), available at Kendall Craft Cooperative.

© Elaine van Kempen 2006

© Kendall Community Centre May 2006