Jarrahdale Forest Heritage

"Such a sight will never be seen again..."

From a speech by Ron Chapman, 18 June 2009:

Before we discuss the impending threats to our local forests, I would like to present a brief overview of Jarrahdale's forest heritage and why it is so important to us.

I will begin with two quotations. Jesse Hammond, who worked as a 16-year-old at Jarrahdale in the early days of the timber trade, recognised the beauty of the forest:

'I will never forget the Jarrah forest at Jarrahdale.
I think it was one of the most wonderful natural sights I saw
before the Wanliss Timber Company put their mill there and cut it all out.
Such a sight will never be seen again in Western Australia.'[1]

In The Mills of Jarrahdale, published in 1972, V.G. Fall also gave his impressions of Jarrahdale's forests:

'Even at the present day, when it has been cut over for a hundred years,
the forest at Jarrahdale is an impressive sight.
A hundred years ago, before it had ever heard the sound of an axe or saw,
it must have been magnificent.
The great Jarrah trees rose a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet to the sky…"

The history of Jarrahdale's timber industry began in the early 1870s with a period of intense activity.

Timber Railway

In 1871 the Rockingham Jarrah Company, promoted by Thomas and William Wanliss, James Service and Peter Lalor, leased 250,000 acres of prime jarrah forest. The first timber mill by the Gooralong Brook and a 32 kilometre tramway to Rockingham were in operation in 1872. During the boom years of the 1890s following the discovery of gold, timber was in great demand and Jarrahdale grew in importance as a major contributor to the growth of Western Australia's economy. From 1893 to 1900, 62 million tonnes of Jarrah blocks were shipped from Rockingham port and exported to pave the streets of London, Paris, Glasgow and Flinders Street, Melbourne.

There were churches, schools, stores and taverns in the thriving township, plus small communities of workers and their families who lived beside the railways that snaked through the forest. In the late 1890s Jarrahdale was the fourth largest community in the state after Perth, Bunbury and Kalgoorlie. By the turn of the century there were six mills operating in the town and at camps in the forest. Locally, over 2,000 people relied on the famous West Australian Jarrah for their livelihood.

After the 1890s boom years, the timber industry in Jarrahdale fluctuated between periods of 'boom and bust'. The output from the mills was reduced during World War I, but increased activity took place after the war when there was a demand for railway sleepers, paving blocks and building timber. During the 1930s Great Depression mills were closed, and many timber workers swelled the ranks of the unemployed. Additionally, over the years, many of the town's mills were destroyed by fire, which considerably hindered production. Jarrahdale's long association with timber milling finished 125 years after it had begun when Bunnings closed its mill in 1997.

The year 1997 was not only historically significant for the closure of Jarrahdale's last major production timber mill, but also for an important event which signalled a new direction for the town's future. On 14 July 1997, The National Trust of Australia resolved that the Jarrahdale Townsite be entered in the National Trust's List of Classified Heritage places. In the Trust's forty years of operation, Jarrahdale was only the seventh Western Australian town to be so classified. The Trust considered Jarrahdale to have heritage significance 'as the last timber mill town within the confines of the larger Perth metropolitan area' and recommended that 'any future development of the town site will always be guided by the fact that it is an historic town.'[3]

A movement towards heritage-based tourism had started well before the closure of the Bunnings mill. Since its foundation in 1988, the Jarrahdale Heritage Society has recognised the importance of Jarrahdale's forest heritage by conducting regular guided walks through the forest. The walks have gained in popularity over the years, with Society volunteers blazing new walk tracks through Jarrahdale's historic timber areas and places of natural beauty. In 2001 the Society's walks committee received the National Australia Day Council's 'Community Event Award' in recognition of its work.

The Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale commissioned a report to progress the implementation of a park to interpret Jarrahdale's heritage. The draft report stated that Jarrahdale had played a key role in the exportation of jarrah timber around the world, viewing this as 'a significant chapter in the history of WA, akin to the discovery of gold in the goldfields'. The purpose of the proposed Heritage Park was to 'make accessible the rich industrial history of Jarrahdale that was once so important to the growth and economy of WA'.[4]

More recently, on 17 May 2009, Liz Constable, the Minister for Tourism in Western Australia, launched the 'Serpentine-Valley' tourism brand, which was designed to promote tourism in the area and highlight the key attractions of Serpentine National Park, Serpentine Dam, Serpentine Falls and Historic Jarrahdale. In its back-page news feature in last week's Examiner newspaper, the Serpentine-Jarrahdale Shire affirmed its intention to ensure the preservation of the Serpentine-Valley as 'an incredible economic, environmental and cultural asset' and 'to advocate for the protection of this rich landscape from the adverse impacts of development, mining and logging.'[5]

For over 125 years Jarrahdale's magnificent forests have been plundered for commercial exploitation. However, in the last 20 years, the pendulum has swung in a different direction. Today the forests represent not only a treasured part of the Jarrahdale community's cultural and social heritage which we must preserve for future generations, but also pathways towards a new economic future for the town. It is now time to afford Jarrahdale's forests the protection they so richly deserve.

Thank you.

[1] J.E. Hammond, Western Pioneers: The Battle Well Fought, Imperial Printing Co., Perth, 1936.

[2] V.G. Fall, The Mills of Jarrahdale, C.M. Advertising, Publishing, Willetton, 1972.

[3] National Trust of Australia (WA) to CEO, Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale, 'National Trust Assessment - Jarrahdale Townsite', dated 11 August 1997.

[4] Jarrahdale Heritage Park Management Plan, draft report, 11 December 2002.

[5] Examiner, 11 June 2009, p.48.