Cyril Duncan sings ‘Bullocky-O’ a song learnt from his bullock-driving father who operated in the Nerang district of Queensland in the 19th century. It mentions various types of timber and some of the men who worked the teams. Recorded by Warren Fahey, Hawthorne, Qld, 1973.
Australian forests have been an asset and a curse. One of the first things the First Fleet convicts lay their hands to was cutting timber for construction purposes. Trees were felled to make housing, signposts, stockades and household goods from plates to bedsteads. As the colony grew trees were felled for modest and major buildings, roadway supports and as ever-needed firewood. Farmers used trees to build fences and stockyards. Sawmills were built and a solid export business quickly grew. Australian timbers, especially Tasmanian, can be found right across England. Entire industries grew up around the forests and timber cutters, teamsters and sawmill hands, especially box-makers, became their workforce. Australia has hardwoods, medium and brown wood. Gumtrees, ever the smell and look of the Australian bush, come in many varieties and join cypress, turpentine, brigalow, pine, conifer, blackwood, redwood and sandalwood, to name a handful of the better known varieties.
Early settlers gave little thought to the environmental impact of felling the timber. Some forest areas were particularly ravished, especially those close to the main urban areas, with bird, marsupial and reptiles heading to the hills. Soil erosion was also a problem and many the fine property was ruined by over-zealous timber cutting.
Bushfires, ever the curse on the Australian bush, was, of course, part of an age-old natural cycle of regeneration but it created havoc on the early settlements because few understood the concept of the cycle and hardly anyone had a clue about fire protection methods such as burning off. The other main problem was the placement of housing too near the forest areas and the fact that buildings were made of timber and brush.