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The Importance of Wood in Walhalla

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From the Walhalla "Chronicle" of May, 1997

Wood played an important part in domestic homes during the lifetime of Walhalla. There would have been some kerosene stoves, primus stoves, etc. but wood was the accepted manner of heating and cooking.

Stacked timber in the Long Tunnel Mine yard at the junction

Stacks of purchased timber in the Long Tunnel Mine yard at the junction, pre-1900

The mines alone used 30,000 tons of wood a year during their peak of production and the tramlines to collect the timber are reputed to have extended many miles from the town.

The majority of houses would have relied on wood for all heating, hot water for washing, baths, etc., and of course, the cooking. By the 1890's the hills around the town were denuded of trees and the necessity of keeping a steady wood supply at the many houses, huts, etc. winter and summer must have been a constant chore.

Here are some examples of the manner in which the wood box was kept filled:

Andy Templeton often told me how he and his brother Arch would have to replenish the wood heap each Saturday. They would only have been 10 or 12 years old at the time, possibly younger. They lived near the Walhalla Railway Station and as they did not have the luxury of owning a horse, Andy and Arch used to drag a hand cart up Little Joe towards Happy Go Lucky. Armed only with an axe they set off to get enough wood to last the week.

It does not take much to visualize the task they faced each week. They were only boys, the roads were not good, the responsibility of handling a sharp axe and dragging a hand cart a few miles makes you appreciate how selfreliant they became.

Doreen Hannan told me that after the death of her father, maintaining the wood supply was a constant worry. At one stage their wood supply came from the side of the hill above the cemetery. It was cut into two or three foot lengths and stacked on the flat where Weare's house was built. It was then transported across Brewery Gully (the path to the Cemetery crosses Brewery Gully) on the flying fox and stored in the wood shed. Logs often fell off the flying fox and had to be physically carried up the hill. As Doreen was an only child it was her responsibility to saw the wood into shorter lengths and then split them to a useable size.

After the railway line from Moe to Walhalla was opened and farmers were clearing their land, it was possible to buy a truckload of wood. This was brought in by the railway and unloaded in the railway yard, loaded onto a horse drawn dray and taken to the bottom of Brewery Gully. It was again physically carried in armfuls up the hill to the house and then split and stacked.

On other occasions wood was purchased by the dray load and brought in along the old road. This enters Walhalla from Seaton near the hospital. The hill down to the house was too steep for the dray so the wood had to be unloaded onto a sledge and dragged down to the house.

In 1920 when John Hartrick was approximately 10 years old, one of his chores was to collect the family firewood. At this time they lived near the band rotunda and John would go up past the Masonic Hall until he found some good straight poles of silver top approximately 6 to 8 inches at the base. These would be regrowth timber from the extensive clearing mentioned earlier. With his plumb axe he would fall these, strip the bark off them and being green, they would skid down the hill in front of the Masonic Hall. This saved the job of carrying them down. They landed in the vicinity of the band rotunda and cordial factory, where they were cut up and left to dry out.

John worked during the summer months to build a stack of wood sufficient to last through winter.

The Reynolds family obtained their wood in the same manner -- their supply came from the cricket ground hill.

Many boys had hand carts and on Sundays when the mines and wood contractors were not working they were allowed on the tram tracks to collect any timber that may have fallen off the trucks. They also collected stumps, branches, etc. from the sides of the tracks.

Timber awaiting transport into Walhalla

Flatland farm timber stacked for transport into Walhalla

All timber being cut for the mine belonged to the contractor until stacked on the mine property. Splintered billets were collected by people and used at home.

Apparently people would enter the Long Tunnel Mine yard and collect any wood unsuitable for the boilers. It is reported that a boy was killed by a billet of wood which rebounded from a buffer wall into the back of his head. This unfortunate accident did not deter people in their search for fuel and the next day in No. 7 woodyard the local policeman had to remove a woman and her child from under a wood shute.

Whilst wood was not as precious as gold, it was certainly valuable and none was wasted

Valma Plant
Walhalla "Chronicle",
May 1997 p 14

For another view of timber in the Long Tunnel Mine's yard at the main junction, and an explanation of its part in Walhalla's world-leading use of electricity, look also at this earlier story.

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