HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

3 February 2015

The sleeper-cutters.

The first timber cutters could easily be regarded as the first pioneers, long before graziers and land speculators came to to the area and from the first instant when the timber on the south coast was recognised for it’s value, Cedar cutters, known commonly as “sawyers”, lived hard physical lives, in the bush, housed in meager tents, teams of men would venture into the unknown landscape to cut the valuable Cedar, Iron Bark, Spotted Gum, Stringy Bark and Bloodwood, used for fencing, shipbuilding and general use.
The first sawyers were mostly convicts out on a “ticket-of-leave” employed by timber speculators and others.

”Many of the blackest dyed ruffians of their times were found amongst the ranks of Illawarra sawyers”

I found this poem in a copy of the Sydney Mail June 24, 1914.

The poem gives us an insight into the daily life of these hard men of the bush.

The broad axe rings where the bushmen work
On the slope of the scrub-clad ridge,
Above the creek where the crayfish lurk
In the pool beneath the bridge.

Loud sounds the beat of the hardwood mall
As the splitter drives the wedge;
It downs the din of the waterfall
That leaps o’er the rocky ledge.

You may hear a crash as a tree comes down.
And the thud as it meets the earth;
And the bushman knows to half a crown
What the wood in the tree is worth.

At last the billets are squared and trim,
And ready to load they stand;
And the sleeper-cutter who’s name is Jim,
Strikes each with an iron brand.

With the wind a whiff of the pungent smoke
Comes up to the men who toil
From the fire beneath the forest oak
Where the billy was put to boil.

They light their pipes when the meal is done,
And yarn of the times they knew,
And chaff each other in healthy fun,
In the way that bushmen do.

It’s pass the hat for a shave for Joe,”
And Joe, as he puffs a cloud,
Says,  “This is the fashion,  doncher knows?
No clean-shaved blokes allowed!”

Their smoke is done, and they make their way
To the trees they mean to fell;
And this is the order every day
Of a life that suits them well.

This image described as “Timber workers pictured with the fruits of their labour” is from a fantastic web site called South Coast Time Traveler.

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