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The Oldest Living Tasmanian: The Huon Pine -

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PIANO PLAYS, WIND RUSHES Well, I see it out some place. Leech-ridden, full of black snakes.

it was really a hard life. Wet, cold, It was no frills at all. there. Actually, I cried one day. I never looked forward to going I didn't want to go. they'd come at you from all angles. And those leeches, to do certain things And you've only got to stop the bush, and you'll see 'em comin'. that everyone's got to do in

the bush is full of 'em. They're there, the axe down and it cut me foot. I slipped as I was bringing It was that cold, it didn't bleed. back to the camp, And we had to go about five mile

me foot warmed up! to pain! (Laughs) That's when it started You know, it was cut pretty bad. and it froze it up. Well, I got into the creek again up beautiful. About three and it was healed itself the water. As well as frozen. Yeah, kept it lovely and clean, Yeah. There's a remote part of the world

and weather extreme. where the terrain is rugged Here lies a resource so precious, trying to obtain it. that men have risked their lives This treasure is the Huon pine. tree in the Southern Hemisphere. And it's arguably the most important

Australia is a dry continent. the "roaring forties" winds But to the south, bring plentiful rain to Tasmania.

growth of the temperate rainforest All this water is critical for the that is home to the Huon pine. The Huon pine grows very slowly - just one millimetre a year. But because it lives for so long, become a tree three metres wide a tiny seedling can eventually and 40 metres tall. that prevents the wood from rotting, Huon pines contain an oil than any other tree species so it can live longer in the Southern Hemisphere. are over 3,000 years old. Some individual living trees Once the first white Tasmanians was so durable, discovered that Huon pine ventured into the wilderness men known as piners a new Tasmanian industry was born. to collect the precious timber, and

are still alive. Today, only a few of the piners

and is now 81 years old. Bob Crane owns a sawmill, But in the 1930s, when he was 19, the Gordon River. he became a piner and worked up about going to the bush what... And there's something ..was exciting. To us kids it was exciting. going back after Christmas, To see...Christmas time, to work down the Gordon the bushman would be going back or out the King or somewhere. And you always wanted to go. going to work, You might be early in the morning are covered in the mist and all the gullies and tops of the hills sticking out. and just the trees and just...it's beautiful! Sun just coming up over the mountain The dickybirds whistling, and that sort of thing. the jays squarking

You could stand and listen. nothing at all, only silence. Sometimes you can't hear

BLACK COCKATOO CALLS when he was just 18-years-old. Gordon Abel first worked as a piner Today he's 79. I did like the bush a lot. of new green scrub. You become fond of a patch in front of it and you'd stop, And you'd see a fairy bush just amazed at the look of it. of sparkling dew, There'd be millions of little drops of this. and they'd hold millions They'd sparkle like diamonds. you couldn't go past 'em, And they'd stop you in your tracks, just amazing. you'd have to stop and look at it - as a teenager in 1934. Reg Morrison joined a pining gang most experienced piner still living. Today he is 82 years old, and the of the Gordon River was... My first impressions that'd have to be it. ..if there's any place like heaven, that was in the sky, Reflections of every thing any scatter of a cloud or anything, like it was real. you could pick it up in the water And it was a great life. But a very tough one at times. mainly in the west. Huon pine is only found in Tasmania, It was first discovered in 1804, penal colony was established, and by 1822 the Sarah Island up the Gordon River. so that convicts could harvest pine the Davey, Wanderer, By the 1880s men were working Pieman and King Rivers. And by the 1920s, pining had spread Franklin and Sprent Rivers. to the Spiro, of aluminium and fibreglass, Before the invention valuable boat building materials. Huon pine was one of the world's most and bends without breaking, Because it decays so slowly were virtually indestructible. boats made from Huon four times the value The timber became worth of other Australian timbers. became so high By 1930, the demand for Huon pine had five sawmills, that the town of Strahan or as piners. and over 150 men worked as millers the men needed a reliable boat - To reach the stands of Huon pine,

called a punt. a small blunt-bowed craft, than just a means of transport, The punt was more it was the piners' lifeline. the men could die in the wilderness. If the punt became damaged, As a youngster in the 1930s, Roy Neilson built Huon pine punts. Today he is 91-years-old. the "Gordon River punt". The punt was what they called It was around about 18ft long. It had two blunt ends. And it was built in a fashion

a 'spring' in your keel that you put what was called out of the water. to keep the blunt end and loose, They had to be a little bit flimsy and rocks, because as you used to hit logs

they'd bend in. instead of a hole going into them, With the aid of the punt, 90km up the Gordon River, the piners could travel dangerous gorge called The Splits. until they were blocked by a was involved with The Splits, My father

he sawed Huon pine up there. with one of the Dohertys, He got together

and they started to look at the pine and they went up with a view to milling it. They said it was too hard to get. virgin stands of Huon pine But the temptation to harvest was too great. an expedition beyond The Splits. So in 1932, three men went on were tougher than expected. But conditions Ron Penney was one of the team. He was just 16 years old. Today he is 86. She was vicious, vicious. A lot of roping and a lot of manipulating to get your boat through the gorge. As the men rowed further upstream, the Gordon River became narrow and treacherous. And we were terrified because we knew when we got so far that we had to... our boat was our lifeline. You can imagine yourself down in there with no other means of... ..being able to get out. DRAMATIC MUSIC The men had to negotiate over 100 different rapids. On some occasions, the men even carried the boat over cascades and waterfalls by hand. We just ground our teeth together and kept poking along down. The team eventually reached the Gordon Splits, a narrow gorge just five metres across. Beyond here, the Huon pine was abundant. That was one of the greatest features of my life, I reckon. Once the piners reached their destination, they spent time deciding which trees to fell. Probably 15ft one out of the other. But it depends what old Brickie'll give us for him. You only chopped a tree down that was valuable. Worth money to you - it was a lot of effort to get it from where you fell it into the river, so you didn't chop anything down that you could go around.

During the 1930s, more men worked up the Gordon River than ever before, and they established additional logging camps along the river bank. The largest camp, at Lawn Creek, accommodated seven men.

Horses were taken up-river by barge, and used in the larger camps to help transport the logs into the river. They were harnessed to a log by chains and a log shoe - a steel plate placed under the front of the log to prevent it from digging into the ground.

Bob Crane's family were experts at managing draughthorses. Horses was never drove with reins. They were drove by command. 'C'mere', sung out in very strong language. "Way c'mere" to the left. "Whoah gee back" to the right. Or 'whoah' to stop. "Git up you...so-and-so"... ..to start, or - as Dad used to do - nothin' but a whistle. (Whistles) Horses is very intelligent animals, you know that. And if you look after a horse, they'll treat you with respect too.

In areas inaccessible to horses, a block-and-tackle was used. With this hauling device, a pining gang could move even the largest of logs.

On average, a team of three would fell, transport and collect three trees a day. So when he dropped he used to shoot away. And you could hear him rumbling. He'd go under logs. And then he'd hit a log and he'd go over the log. If he hit it a glancing blow, he'd just shoot and go in another direction, like. And you had to listen for him. And follow him down if he didn't get to the river. To turn him and roll him out of trouble and get him going again. And this is how you got your logs.

Once in the river, the current would carry the logs to a designated area, where they would be gathered and rafted together. A raft may contain over 200 logs, which would be towed back to Strahan by steamboat. The piners only had the technology to access and transport logs that were close to the river. But this work was dangerous, and some serious accidents occurred.

We had a dam - probably 50 or 100 logs there. And the river took me straight in under the logs. I had to go, I would say, 70 or 80 yards at least down under the logs. And every now and again I could see the break in the logs but couldn't get up out of it. Eventually I come out the other end, just about drowned I was. Sweetest breath I ever took in me life when I got out of it. Ron Penney recalls how he nearly lost his life when he was a teenager. It happened to be very, very wet. My axe slipped and I cut me leg. It hurts, you lost a lot of blood. And I went out to it. I hardly can remember that.

He never stopped rowing till he got me to Strahan. On his own. 'Bunny' Doherty rowed non-stop for 14 hours to get Ron Penney to a doctor in Strahan. But I kept goin' semi-conscious. But whenever I woke up, Bunny was still bloody rowing. When I got to Strahan, there was no doctor in Strahan. He was away. Bill Hodgetts had the Bay View Hotel.

He was a first aid man, he understood first aid. And they took me around, put me up on the bar. I don't know whether it was whiskey or brandy or what they give me, they give me a dose of something to drink.

And he stitched me leg with the hair of a horse's tail or something. That's my first experience, and it was terrible. On my 21st birthday, I boarded the train in Strahan and never come back. Following an average of four months in the bush, then men would return home to Strahan for a few weeks' break.

We'd be down there for damn months and months at a time, I did. Go in at...after Christmas. And you'd be down there till Easter. You'd come out then - you might have probably a month or six weeks at home - then you'd go back again till Christmas. You might have one break in that time. I loved my family and I didn't like being away from them for so long. I had a little girl. A little girl - she's a big girl now. She would love you almost to death.

When you got home, she went up me like a rat up a rabbit. Never felt so good in all me life! As a teenager in the 1930s, Eileen McDermott worked in the largest grocery store in Strahan. Today she is 82-years-old. In Strahan we had a picture hall, a picture show, which broke down regularly. And we had a dance every time the 'Kakariki' came in, because there wasn't enough men in town usually,

with the men down the bush. The Morrison boys used to always try to come up for a ball. There were three or four of them, and they were always quite popular with the female people there. And they were quite a... ..catch for somebody! OLD-TIME DANCE MUSIC PLAYS

I did look forward to getting home. I had wonderful nights, plenty of dancing and so on. Any new girl that came to town was always a big attraction with the Morrison boys. They were very... ..keen on any "new blood". Go and have a dance. We might drink a drop of wine or something too. Just the same as any lad would do. They played up a bit. They'd get a big cheque, you see, and some them wouldn't get out of the bloody pub until they'd blown it all and that sort of thing. CROWD CHATTERS Had I ever been a drinker, I'd have lapped it up. Because most of their time was spent in the hotel, until their money had run out. They be blind drunk - day and night - for a week or a fortnight. After a week or so that would wear off again, and you'd be right for the next trip back.

From the mid-1930s the piners were forced further afield

to obtain Huon pine timber.

They ventured away from their permanent camps, and up several remote rivers where very few white men had been before.

Because they spent longer in the bush, taking the right type of food was critical. We had to get together of course and order. It would consist of a bag of flour, a side of bacon, several...cases of corned beef, mixed vegetables and steak and onions. And it was typical of the men that'd come in and say,

"Here's our order", and they'd bring it in

about half-an-hour before closing time on Saturday, and say, "We want this order today

"because we're going at 6 o'clock in the morning." So we'd work like mad, only to find that on Monday they were still there, which would make us very irate! BLACK COCKATOO CALLS Come dusk, the piners would go ashore to set up a temporary campsite.

This would be set on a slab floor,

then built about a wooden frame and covered by a small canvas tent.

At dinner time, a meal would be cooked in the coals of the campfire. Usually this was damper and stew. You had to rely on wallabies for meat and that sort of thing - fresh meat - otherwise you had to just eat tinned meat.

On the Sundays, it was a special day. You know, we worked a seven day week. But Sundays my elder brother Charles would knock off early. He'd go and cook a loaf of currant bread. And we would have hot currant bread and macaroni with a tin of condensed milk in it for sweets,

and that was the highlight of the day or the week, that was a marvellous day, and we used to look forward to Sundays. But what they didn't look forward to was the frequent bad weather. In western Tasmania it rains over 300 days a year, and has an annual rainfall of over three metres, making it one of the wettest places in Australia.

It was wet and cold miserable winters. Always wet because the scrub held the raindrops all the time. Whenever you hit a scrub it showered you with water, so you always all the time. So we used to wear flannel clothes. Long flannel underpants, a flannel shirt next to your skin.

When you were wearing flannels it didn't matter how wet and cold it was, you was always warm and dry. It was in 1939 that perhaps the most courageous of all river journeys too place.

Reg Morrison and his brother Ron rode their punt up through the upper reaches of the Franklin River

to seek new stands of Huon pine. A trip my brother and I did was up through the Deception Gorge in the Franklin River. And... ..it was a pretty rough old trip.

Lose the boat and you just about lost yourself. Once you got in a certain part of the gorge, it was nearly impossible to get up out of.

So the boat was the most important thing, to make sure you kept her safe. Well, I said, "Unless God does something for us here,

"we look like we'll be bones, the lot of us." We used to cut skids and lay them to haul the boat along.

We did it that often that I think we just about wore the boat out. Taking the boat overland, of course you had to carry all the stuff up and around and over the rocks and get it over first and then we would take boat over and then reload the stuff in. And I think we done that about 70-odd times on the journey through, which took us ten days altogether. From the 1940s to the early 1980s, pining declined as many men found work in other developing industries. In 1983, the Gordon and Franklin Rivers were declared a National Park and World Heritage Area. 90% of Tasmania's Huon pine forest gained protection, as felling within park boundaries was banned. Today, Huon pine is obtained not by felling, but by utilising logs from stockpiles or salvaging old logs washed up on river banks.

The Gordon River is much the same as it was when the first piners explored it nearly 200 years ago. The era of pining may have passed, but the timber these resourceful bushmen collected still remains. Nearly all of the piners have now died. Only their stories remain.

We're gradually fading away. We're very few and far between now.

Just about all gone, I think. Huon pines still thrive in Tasmania's wilderness.

But it will take another 1,000 years before they reach the size of the trees felled in the last century. With protection, they are destined to remain the oldest living Tasmanian. If could return to an age to be able to do it, I would do it all over again.

You look at something that's made out of pine and the memories flood back and you say,

"Well, I used to do that. That was my life. It was great." I'm sad that I've grown old and I can't be there anymore. GENTLE PIANO, WIND RUSHES

PIANO PLAYS GENTLY Closed Captions provided by Captioning and Subtitling International Pty Ltd

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This program is not subtitled THEME MUSIC

In this driest of continents, there's a vast green landscape that stretches for thousands of kilometres round Australia's edge. This is the Australian bush - its most characteristic landscape. The first European settlers pushing through it 200 years ago

didn't like the bush. It was daunting and alien, and so big, you could get lost and die. In these hot endless forests, the very trees seemed to droop. These, they said, were "forests in rags." And from one end of the country to another, they all looked strangely alike...

..because these thousands of kilometres of green are dominated by just one kind of tree - the eucalypt or gum tree. And around these trees live Australia's oddest and most charismatic animals.

(Hisses) The eucalyptus transformed itself into over 800 different species, some growing monstrously tall.

Some thrive in the baking north, some in the chilly south, and some even grow in the snow. PARROTS CHIRP Wherever they find a foothold, gum trees attract a vast assortment of wildlife. Australia is the eucalypt's native home. It was born here. But how has this peculiar tree managed to spread itself over the entire continent? And why is it that so much lives around it? 50 million years ago when the climate was wetter, much of Australia was covered in rainforest. In this lush land, eucalypts barely existed.

But the continent was gradually drying out and the eucalypts seized their chance. Far better able to cope with the harsh new conditions, they rushed out and thrived.

Now eucalypt bushland encircles Australia in an almost unbroken line. But in this vast land, every gum tree landscape is different. The tropical north is 'Crocodile Dundee' country,

where the year swings between months of crackling dryness and weeks of pouring rain. It's a hot and sultry place. But eucalypts thrive here. And up in these trees live big and watchful lizards. A frilled lizard can spot its prey from three metres up a tree. All it has to do then is jump down and catch it. For their size and big teeth, frilled lizards have moderate tastes. They eat almost nothing but insects.

A good feeding area like this is worth hanging onto. A frilled lizard won't tolerate a rival in its territory. (Hisses) Competing males hiss and lash their tails, raising their frills to make themselves look bigger than they really are. But it's dangerous down there on the ground. SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC Whistling kites eat frilled lizards round here.

All that frill waving and hissing forgotten, the lizards make a two-legged dash back to the safety of their trees. The eucalypt's rough bark helps them get a grip as they climb.

Once safely back up there, they make themselves look as small and inconspicuous as possible. And for 90% of their lives, this is where they stay, using the gum trees as lookout posts and boltholes. In these tropical northern woodlands, the temperature most days can top 30 degrees Celsius. But Australia is a land of enormous contrasts. Move from the far north to the far south at the same time of year, and the change couldn't be more extreme. Here it's mountainous and metres deep in snow.

Australia is so big it can have baking heat in one place and winter in another. And eucalypts can cope with both.

On the ancient mountains of Australia's Southern Alps grow woodlands of snow gums. MYSTICAL MUSIC They can tolerate temperatures as low as -20, twisted and dwarfed by the wind and the cold. And in these snowy uplands among these hardy trees, there are parrots.