The colony of Van Diemen's Land was only a few years old when explorers first found ancient tree trunks buried in the mud of a river south west of Hobart. They were intrigued by the fact that the logs had evidently been lying there for many years, but were intact, untouched by the rot and insects that normally decompose fallen timber. They speculated that this timber might be the solution to the previously intractable problems experienced by wooden boat builders - how to stop the voracious marine borer or screw worm. They were right; it turned out to be the best boat building timber in the world.
Because they were first found in the Huon River the trees were called
, but further
explorations showed that this river is only the eastern extent of their
range, and the wet temperate rainforests of the Gordon River and its
tributaries are the centre of their distribution.
It was to exploit the rich stands of
growing nearby that
Governor Sorell sent two ships and 200 convicts and guards to establish
the penal settlement on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour in 1822.
In a process that, today, would be called 'value -adding', the
settlement quickly developed into a boat building yard - the biggest
in the British colonies at the time. They built 131 vessels in 12 years on
Sarah Island, and the largest was even bigger than the cruise boats
which now visit the island daily.
It was 'green gold' - Huon pine
- which drove this amazing enterprise.
The town of Strahan was established in 1887 principally to provide services
to the mines in the hinterland, and it also became a base for the timber
getters - called 'piners'. Families such as the Abels, Doherty, Cranes
had several generations of men working on the banks of the
Gordon River and its tributaries harvesting the trees with axe and crosscut
saw, and moving them into the rivers using just block and tackle, and lots
Very few piners went back into the forests after World War ll, and the
felling of green trees stopped completely by the 1970's. But because the
timber does not rot and the logs float green, they can be utilised by
sawmillers decades after they were first cut. These days the industry is
carefully controlled, with stockpiles of logs collected prior to the flooding
of their habitat by hydro electric schemes being the mainstay. There are
just three sawmills in the world with a license to cut
Huon pine sawlog
, and we expect
the supplies of salvaged, dead timber, carefully husbanded and managed with
skill and respect, to last at least two more human generations.
Meanwhile in the rainforests of the Gordon River, deep within the Tasmanian
Wilderness World Heritage Area, 8,000 hectares of
Huon pine habitat
- containing trees from tiny seedlings through to ancient giants -
ensure that this remarkable Tasmanian will grace our planet for hundreds of
generations to come.