The Timber Industry

THE east coast of Australia is abundant with a rich variety of hardwood forests. The coastal band of good forests is not great in width but is recognisable around Tomerong with evidence of selective logging, regrowth forests and stands of managed tall straight timber. The most valued commercial timbers occurring include Spotted gum, Blackbutt, Ironbark, Mahogany, Woollybutt and Turpentine. These timbers were used for axe handles, bridge girders, railway sleepers, wharf timber, boat building, mine props and telegraph and electricity poles.


The first timber industry on the south coast was the exploitation of Cedar. Growing from Ulladulla north the native Red cedar is a rain forest tree that grows individually or in small clumps and was found in the moist gullies of the creeks. It is easy to cut, durable, light, resistant to warp, straight growing, seasons quickly and floats. As a deciduous tree, the Cedar’s red tips could be located from afar amongst the evergreen woodland. A cargo of Cedar from the Shoalhaven arrived in Sydney in 1811. By 1815 Cedar cutters were active in the Shoalhaven River valley and no doubt stretched further afield as by about 1850 little workable Cedar was left. The cedar getters moved to the forests of northern NSW.


Whilst Cedar cutters may well have been the first Europeans to pass through the Tomerong area, it would have been difficult to extract any cedar discovered as the creek was too small to float it out. The timber would have needed to be pit sawn and carted out.


The first settlers of the area had a major impact on the forests. The forest was seen not as a resource but as a hindrance to farming. The extent of the woodland would have appeared so vast that the waste of timber by clearing and ringbarking would probably not have crossed the selector’s mind. Good use was undoubtedly made of some timber for building, fencing and fuel but the urgency of constructing a dwelling and getting a crop in to feed the family and earn a living, were paramount considerations. Even though some timber may have been marketable, the distance to those markets may have made the process unprofitable.


George Dent was born in Hunter Street, Sydney in 1822 and spent some years as a sawyer and gold prospector before commencing his shipbuilding yard on Currambene Creek. As early as May 1861, the ‘Illawarra Mercury’ reported that Dent was ‘looking’ for timber for the Sydney market at the Creek. He probably didn’t need to ‘look’ for long. Farmers from Tomerong would have been only too happy to have an outlet for their timber almost on their doorstep. In the late 1860s the Sydney firm of Goodlet & Co. and later Goodlet & Smith were extracting Spotted gum and Woollybutt from the district, shipping it ‘in the log to Sydney by sailing vessel’. These ventures were the seeds of an industry that would come to dominate the area and sawmills would soon follow.

Reuben McGuire and his bullock team.

The McGuire mill steam engine at South Tomerong.

The Axe Handle Factory about 1920. Located off Yerunda Road.

Workers at the McGuire mill, South Tomerong.

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Charlie Kells remembers Freeman Hart as a laid back teamster. ‘Freeman Hart was a funny old man. “Come on boys, come on!” he would say to his bullock team, but they would have stopped way back!’ Peter McGuire told his son Ken, ‘He’d (Freeman) come in to the mill and he’d be talking, then his bullocks would arrive about five minutes later.’ Like many locals Freeman combined the timber industry with work on his farm. He had a patch of watermelons and he knew some timber cutters working on an adjacent property were stealing them. So one day Freeman cut up some melons and took them down to the cutters saying, ‘I thought I’d save you blokes the trouble!’…


For More Information on the Hotel, Post Office, General Store, the Timber Industry, the Tomerong Creamery Company, the Salt Evaporation Works, Butcher, Blacksmith, Baker, Boat Building, the Quarry and Apiary consult “From Bullocks to Bypass”.




Bullock teams were used to snig (drag) the log to the mill. After the introduction of log trucks, bullock teams were used to drag the logs to log dumps. Local bullock drivers (also called bullockies or teamsters) included: John (Jack) Andrews, Freeman Hart, Clyde Garrett, William Parnell, Frederick Taylor, Ronald Holland, John Henry Parnell, George Walker McGuire, Reuben McGuire, William Andrews, Samuel Gould, Bert Parnell (Bert called himself an Oxen Conductor!), Peter McGuire, Bert McKinnon, Alan Watt, Joseph Barham, Reg Ison, Reg McGuire, Fred Thomason, Ernie Pepper, Mick Parnell and Bill and Ian McKinnon.


Teams usually consisted of twelve to fourteen bullocks, but could be made up of any number depending on the load to be pulled. Pairs of matched bullocks were coupled together using a wooden yoke secured to each bullock by an iron bow. The yoked pairs were connected by a chain, which ran from a central ring on each yoke down the centre of the team, thus keeping them together. Yokes were made from different kinds of timber, but in the Tomerong area, River oak, a tight grained timber, was considered the best for this purpose. Ken McGuire’s father Peter was one of a few locals who made their own yokes, but others had Fred Thomason make up their equipment. The bullocks pulled with their shoulders on the yoke. The largest but shortest bullocks, the polers, were closest to the log, and the more active and longer legged steers were in the lead. Bullocks of differing experience and graduated size were located between with the young at the front and the stocky at the back.


A report in the ‘Shoalhaven Telegraph’ of 1894 gives an indication to the possible hazards of breaking in a bullock team. ‘On Saturday last a rather strange accident happened at Tomerong, resulting in the loss of a fine young bullock the property of Mr Thomas Crawford. It appears Mr Crawford was breaking in the animal, and yoked it for the first time with one of his old workers. On being yoked the pair bolted, but had not gone far when the young bullock turned a somersault, breaking its neck and nearly causing the death of its mate. The owner of the animal although cheated out of a promising worker, has had his cask filled with prime meat’.


Whilst the bullock teams could snig the logs for short distances, a timber jinker was required for long hauls. Timber jinkers could carry very large logs up to seven feet in diameter. Jinkers had two very large wagon-type wheels, six or seven feet high with the axle bent to a crank shape and the bend turned upwards. The wheels straddled the log and it was loaded on to the jinker by a jack attached to the crank and secured with chains. The other end of the log was left trailing. Alternatively two grooves could be made in the earth on either side of the log. The jinker wheels were positioned either side of the log in the grooves and the log was chained to the jinker. When the bullocks pulled the jinker its wheels rode out of the grooves and the log was lifted clear of the ground. For even longer distances or larger logs, two jinkers could be connected to either end of the log. The back jinker was connected to the first by a pole log between the two, which could be chained to the front jinker. Firstly the back jinker pole is tipped up into the air so that the axle moves lower towards the log. The log is chained to the back jinker and the bullocks are used to pull the pole down. As it is pulled down the back of the log lifts off the ground. The pole is then chained to the front jinker.


In 1875 timber-cutting licenses were granted to A Mathie, J H Parnell, J Parnell, J Pepper, T E Pepper, J McGuire and D King. Every person who was engaged in the felling, sawing, splitting or removing of timber from Crown Lands was required to have a license. The tools of these cutters were the axe and the crosscut saw. They would select a tree for its type of timber and the ease of access. Surveying the shape of its crown and any lean, they would cut a belly scarf in the front of the tree using the axe and aim the scarf in the direction of the required fall. Moving to the other side of the tree they would use the crosscut saw, sometimes called a ‘peg and rake’ saw, to cut through to the scarf using wedges to keep the tree off the saw. The saw had two long teeth for cutting and a smaller tooth to rake the sawdust out of the cut. If the wind caught the tree before the saw was through to the scarf the stump could ‘slab up’ leaving a vertical split. The most danger was caused when the falling tree hit others nearby. These trees could whip back and strike unsuspecting cutters. Charlie Kells and Cecil Thomason were felling a tree one day; ‘’..Cecil got behind a tree and I got behind another, waiting for it to fall. Something told me to look up and there was a great big limb slithering down the tree that I was behind. I remembered a chap telling me the same thing had happened to him and he layed on the ground. So I leapt straight on the ground and all I got was a bit of scratch on the back of the neck. Cecil rushed over to see if I was alright because it frightened him too.’


Trees with buttress roots, unusually shaped stumps or of poor quality at the stump would be cut further up. This would make them more manageable to transport and easier to mill. The timber cutter would climb the tree using boards inserted in a hole in the tree cut by an axe. If only one board was used the cutter would cut a scaffold hole for the board and alongside this a toehold. After inserting and mounting the board a second scaffold hole and toehold would be cut higher up. The cutter would drive his axe in high and using the lower toehold and holding on to the axe he would move the board to the upper scaffold hole. This would be repeated until the appropriate height was reached for the cut. Not all the selected trees would be suitable for milling. Some trees have centres of decayed wood or are hollow. Others have white ant infestation, gum pockets, gum rings or water marks which can make the timber unsaleable.


Prior to the establishment of sawmills, timber was split or pit sawn. The pits were often a dry creek bed and the logs were rolled across supporting timbers so that one man operated above and one man below the log. The saws were often 8 feet long to permit room for the log and the sawing action. They cut on the down stroke only.