Lorraine Gill Galleries - The Outback Series

Ghosts at Yarloop Timber Mill

I was visiting close friends John and Janet Newland in Western Australia, and was taken to a piece of Australia's history: an old mill left bizarrely intact in the middle of nowhere, which still had cobwebs floating over the office accounts.

Timber was brought in from the Jarrah Forest, which was a long distance away, with a team of up to 16 oxen or horses pulling a huge cartwheel, 8 feet high, with the tree secured to a great axle underneath. It was dangerous work, with all that weight behind them, especially when pulling downhill.

In the ruins of the old forge were handcrafted wooden templates of the cogs used for casting into iron. These are rendered on the right of the picture. The red welding mask tied on with leather straps looking like Ned Kelly's abandoned armoury, is on the left; the huge, wooden, slatted buildings, with pointed tops, are in blue behind the silent pioneers of Australia's rugged beginnings.

Hanging on the office wall was a photograph of the workers, each man of slight appearance, neatly dressed in vest and hat, some with dapper moustaches. Eerily, I could almost feel the presence of those remarkable people.

I remember walking through the small gate into the old mill, which from the outside didn't look like all that much at all.

But then it opened into this vast network of rail-work tracks and huge buildings, and inside one of the huge buildings was a very old train, a Victorian train, which must have taken the timber from Yarloop to somewhere else.

Then into the office section itself, walking up a tiny set of wooden stairs, there to find an old tap on the right-hand side. My friend Janet said "surely you don't expect that tap to work". I turned it on and it did! It had been abandoned, that old mill, for I don't know how long, but it was certainly Victorian and covered with cobwebs and dust and ancient equipment.

Looking through drawer after drawer after drawer of paperwork, you could read a date which was perhaps one of the last transactions of a shipment of timber that had come in from the Jarrah Forests. The paperwork was covered in dust and dirt and spiders' webs.

The spiders' webs hung from the ceiling down to the tops of the desks. Even the old stamps that they used, where they would stamp the company's name in blue ink, where first of all you put it on to a rubber- like a pad, and then stamp it on to the paper itself; they were all there.

Everything was in such detail that it was as though you had entered a time- warp.

It was a place capturing Australia's pioneering history that had just been left alone, still recording the great pioneering past, and that was still evident there today.

It was inhabited by the ghosts of these remarkable people who you would have thought, in logging the Jarrah Forests (Jarrah is one of the hardest woods) would have been in the imagination very tall lumberjack men; but when I saw a photograph of the men who actually worked at the mill, they were profoundly slight, small and wiry in build, which made the scene even more remarkable to the imagination: to see this left-over temple to industry inhabited by these small, pioneering, obviously very very strong-in-character-gentlemen.

It wasn't just that; what was also still left hanging in one of the great open buildings was an old bucket which carried the iron from the old forge, and which was pulled across on massive chains. It then would be turned, using just asbestos globes, into huge buckets or into the huge moulding areas by which they made their own machinery, because it was certainly too far away from Adelaide for them to get spare parts for anything. They just had to be independent, and to carry on these enterprises in a very powerful way.

The wheels, which were so huge, and which carried those enormous logs all that way, were something that, in Australian Outback terms, could be likened to the great pyramids in terms of their unique craftsmanship. And that was another thing, their craftsmanship. With so little means, and being so far away from any civilization, these small men managed to be perfectionists, and to carry on a long-forgotten industry, leaving this extremely powerful reminder.
 


Ghosts at Yarloop Timber Mill

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