© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2011, Shoalhaven Timber Festival, Southern Shoalhaven, NSW.

Our timber industry was born, amidst an atmosphere of scorn
from convicts who despised this hot and humid barren place.
The Sydney redgums first to fall, were cut with wedge and splitting maul,
but useless for construction, whether bearer, beam or brace.

The cabbage tree was next to go as they were soft and quick to grow
until their slabs had moulded rapidly into decay.
When seeking wood with more appeal, they came across some trees like steel,
with timber that was durable in shades of brown and grey.

They’d found the iron and stringybarks and blackbutts with distinctive marks
and trunks that towered high above the forest canopy.
Majestic, tall and solid through with grain that split so straight and true;
providing lumber needed for the growing colony.

With cross-cut saws they brought them down to float them up to Sydney town
where timber mills converted them to planks of building wood.
The convicts penalised for crime, had paid the price and served their time
and turned to cutting timber, seeking wage and livelihood.

The timber cutter came of age and shrugged the chains of England’s cage
and revelled in the wilderness and joy of being free.
They cleared along the waterways, around the harbour and the bays
and floated logs towards a mill they’d built beside the quay.

But when they’d plucked the shorelines clean, they needed muscle and machine
to move the heavy logs that broke the backs of man and beast.
The bullock teams would haul the loads across the scrub on furrowed roads
to reach the mills to trim them down as distances increased.

When next you meet a timberman and wonder where it all began;
remember that they started out as convicts bound in chains.
The legend’s seeds had just been sown to germinate and call our own;
those men with eucalyptus oil still running in their veins.

Americans had lumberjacks to clear the land with hewing axe
and waterways to float the logs when ice and snow would thaw.
But we prevailed – our west was won – we didn’t need the sword or gun;
but did it with a maul and wedge and two-man cross-cut saw!

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