Recollections of Jim Walker, 1986

A year or two after we (Gwen, myself & son Ian) came here (in the early 1950’s) there was quite a lot of discussion at Fruitgrowers’ Meetings, touching on the great quantity of cedar, pine, beech etc that had been taken off the range & back country in the old days. I was interested, for the reason that my Grandfather Walker & his brother John were almost lifelong employees of the Campbells, (of Coochin Creek & Brisbane) & were experts in heavy haulage. A couple of their diaries & letters dealt in detail with timbergetting activities in the Blackall Range scrubs. Much of the following has been extracted from family records. These two hardy characters were Scots shipwrights, building the fast tea & wool clippers. They objected to sail & timber giving way to steam & steel. Queensland timbers, including cedar & satinay, were finding their way into the yards at Dumbarton & Dundee. They decided to emigrate to the country producing such valuable timbers. They brought their lifting & shifting gear with them, & together with experience, proved invaluable in shifting huge logs in mountainous situations. I still have one of their original 12½ ton boxjacks, with blocks & kidney links, used initially to launch (load?) the clippers, then carried aboard. These were used in the holds for screwjacking baled cargo, before dumping & banding.

In the winter of 1955, we rode down the Obi & into some of the country now submerged by Baroon (Pocket) Dam, looking for the big cedar stumps. These trips were always rough on horses, the place was lousy with Gympie Tree Nettle, the cause of quite a few pig-rooting sessions. Many stumps were in fair condition, a bit weathered on top & sides charred, the largest had been cut off at least nine feet above ground. They would have been felled by axemen working on stageing, obviously before springboarding. This was necessary to get above the massive root buttresses. Traces of the old snigging tracks could be picked out on odd sections of the pinches, as were rotting remains of the falling stages. There must have been a fair number of men camped down there at times. There were groups of fire places, some a mile or so apart, traces of where the smiths’ forges had been, still some coal fragments about, broken barchain links & twisted heavy swivels. The inevitable square-faced gin & champagne bottles, to label a few of the discards wherever old bullock drivers’ camps are found around here. It is common for bits of champs to be present, the heavy glass stood up to the jolting in the tool & swag trays slung under the wagons. This cheap stuff had the added advantage of lighting up the booze artist again after a drink of water!

About five years ago (c.1980) we went down again, this time on foot. The whole lot had gone; couldn’t find a stump. They had been cut off in sections at ground level. The advent of the large chainsaw made this possible, plus the ease of removal by crawler tractor; a different world to that of the seven-pound axes & long lines of bullocks. The grain in those old, well-seasoned stumps would have been absolutely beautiful, a dark lustrous red, & no doubt was built into very expensive furniture.

Early in the 1880’s, the British (government) decided to stage an Expo (sic) in London to display Empire products. James Campbell and eldest son John thought it would be a good idea to show some Queensland cedar logs. Naturally, they wanted the largest possible but, at the time, had no idea of the problems & expense involved in heaving a mass of 4000 or 5000 superfeet out of trackless mountainous jungle. They were exporting milled cedar to the U.K. mainly for ships’ cabins, fittings and lifeboats, as well as for domestic furniture, house doors, window frames etc. Quite a number of Scottish churches, both over there & here, are fitted out with Campbell cedar. The old Valley Kirk in Warner St. is a good example.

There were some huge cedars 7 or 8 feet through, that had been left up to this time, for the reason that the logs were too heavy & awkward to handle, being deep in the Obi Valley. A number of these trees were felled, barked, cut to 12 or 14 foot lengths, & left for over 12 months to dry out. Four sixteen-yoke teams were taken down in the winter of 1884; feed had to be packed in, as the scrub was so thick there was no grass. An ingenious snigging cradle was used for the first time, the idea was to avoid the leading edge from ploughing. The two-wheel arch lift was in general use for smaller diameters. The new cradle was fitted with long, large diameter rollers, which went under the end of the largest logs, securely chained. This eliminated the rolling risk, so avoiding bullock injuries.

Double teams were used to get the timber up the nearly thousand feet to Maleny, across the top to McCarthy’s Shute, where the logs were pushed over the range. They were hauled to Coochin Creek, floated with the tide down the (Pumicestone) Passage, then towed across the (Moreton) Bay to Brisbane, where they were left to dry out & season, before being shipped as deck cargo, arriving in London in time for the 1886 Exhibition.

(James Cameron Walker lived at “Braemar”, the house next to the Mountain Inn in Main Street. He died in Montville in 1995 – both his father’s family, the Walkers, & his mother’s family, the Gillies, were involved in early timbergetting. Jim was the joy of my early days in the Montville Post Office, with a ‘tale to tell’ almost daily).

(Gillie Warren) Montville Gazette