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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 4

I Management Of Native Forests

II Plantations-high Productivity Resources

III Protecting The Resource

IV Harvesting The Resource

V Solid Wood And Its Processing

VI Minor Forest Products

VII Reconstituted Wood Products

VIII Pulp And Paper

IX Export Woodchips

X Future Directions

XI Acknowledgements



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Harvesting The Resource

In the early days Australia's forests were harvested in a manner similar to that used throughout the world for centuries -felling by axe, crosscut saw and wedges, cutting to manageable lengths in the forest, and extracting by horse or bullock. There were differences to contend with, however, as many of the trees were larger and their wood denser. Felling often had to be done at a height of some metres above the ground to avoid the tapering butt. The logs were extracted by dragging or carrying on a variety of simple vehicles such as sleds and jinkers and whims, the last being a two-wheeled arch, with wheels up to 3 metres diameter, from which very large logs could be suspended. As logging moved into steeper terrain, such as the ash regions of Victoria at the end of the 19th century, steam winches were sometimes used with later a few high leads. Steam traction engines also started to appear at about this time.

Most sawmills were small in size and located in the forest, but where the nature of the latter was such as to justify larger mills, such as the jarrah forests of Western Australia and the blackbutt forests of NSW, extensive tramway systems began to be installed from the 1870s, some initially using horses. Later, tramways also became an important part of the logging operations in the Victorian mountain ash areas. In many cases they served not only to move logs from the forest landings to the sawmill but also to transport the sawn timber to locations from which it could be transferred to the State rail systems.

The first crawler tractors were introduced for extraction in the 1930s when the use of motor vehicles generally was becoming more common in the industry. In the pine plantations of South Australia favourable terrain and short distances led to the introduction in the late 1930s of crane trucks with a winch and loading boom. These were used until the mid-1970s to skid and load sawlogs and transport them to the mills. It was not until after the Second World War, however, that the full benefits of mechanization started to be realized, thanks to the advances in earth-moving and road-making equipment and heavy motor transport that had been made during the war. The greater ease with which roads could be built in forest areas gave greater flexibility in the siting of sawmills in relation to forests, as well as the ability to get economical access to new and more remote stands of timber. These factors in turn led to the building of larger mills and the opportunity for technology upgrading and increased productivity. Two other factors important at that time were the tragic lesson learned from the death and destruction caused in Victorian forest sawmill settlements in the 1939 fires and the increasing expectations of the work-force after the Second World War, expressed in part as a preference for living in urban communities. Most new large mills built after the Second World War were therefore located outside the forest area close to a town, and drew their logs from a wide radius, relying on road transport rather than timber tramways.

The Second World War also saw the introduction of mechanized felling methods to replace the axe and crosscut saw. Petrol-driven drag-saws designed for cutting felled logs were adapted for felling purposes as, too, were small mobile circular saws. Two-man chain saws were introduced in the late 1940s, to be soon followed by the forerunners of the modern one-man chain saw. Despite early problems this new technology became widespread quickly and its use resulted not only in very large gains in productivity but also in reduced wastage, as trees could be cut closer to the ground.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 212 - 213, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher