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22
Jun '16

The Goldfields Woodlines
Moya Sharp Posted by
Moya Sharp

At first timber was cut for domestic use and to fuel the condensers supplying fresh water. However these needs were nothing compared to those of the big company mines. Vast quantities of timber were needed as props to support the ever growing number of underground shafts, to power the steam driven winders that hauled the gold bearing ore to the surface and to feed the sulphide roasters processing the ore.

Single Gauge Woodline sleepers

Single Gauge Woodline sleepers near Higginsville.

By 1900 the timber around Kalgoorlie had been cut out. Timber companies moved to hauling huge daily tonnages across a vast network of rail lines. One of the largest rail systems in the country radiated out from the Golden Mile. At their peak the firewood companies were delivering around 1500 tonnes of timber per day to the mines and towns. It was one of the largest industrial uses of timber for fuel anywhere in the world in the twentieth century.

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When reading the history of gold in Western Australian and in particular the Eastern Goldfields, we hear of rich gold finds, deep mines, so many ounces of gold per ton, lucrative profits, booming towns with numerous hotels, breweries, stock exchanges, newspapers. None of this would have been possible without wood to fuel steam boilers and gas producers for lighting, pumping and ore treatment. Large quantities of firewood were also used by the Goldfields Water Supply pumps to bring the preciously needed water to the goldfields. Timber was also used in construction of buildings and railways and for structural supports in mines.

Firewood was brought into the main mining centres via railway lines or woodlines as they became known. Woodcutters lived and worked at the end of these lines, in what could only be described today as the most basic of conditions. The chopped wood was delivered to the rail line by carters using horse and drays, where it was stockpiled for loading onto rail wagons.

The important and crucial role the timber cutter played in the gold mining industry can be shown by the 1911 wood cutters strike, when more than 6000 men in the gold mines were to be thrown out of work if the strike did not cease. In the 1944 strike, all the gold mines in Kalgoorlie were to close down when the firewood stock-pile ran out.

I would like to recommend the following books to anyone who is interested in the Woodlines of the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia.
 

Early Woodlines of the Goldfields The untold story of the Woodlines to WW11 by Phil Bianchi

 

Available from Hesperian Press:- http://www.hesperianpress.com

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Timber for Gold: Life on the Goldfields Woodlines by Bill Bunbury (Out of Print)

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Rails Through the Bush – Timber and Firewood Tramways and Railway Contractors of Western Australia by  Adrian Gunzberg and Jeff Austin
Available from www.railheritagewa.org.au/sales/rttb-sales.html
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Lakewood Woodline 1937 to 1964 : its origins, operations and people by Phil Bianchi
Available from Hesperian Press:-   http://www.hesperianpress.com
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Woodline: Five years with the woodcutters of the Western Australian by Larry Hunter (Out of Print)

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