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3-032 (Original)

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author,male,Henderson, John,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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THERE ARE, moreover, a few rather pretty kinds of wood found in the brushes besides these, of which I may mention the tulip-wood, rose-wood, and one or two other woods used for flooring, etc. It is the red cedar, however, that is the most valuable; and the MacLeay, at the time of my visit, produced the best. Now, the greater part has been cut, except that which is so far above the first falls, or fords, as to be unavailable. It is found not to pay, when cut at any distance from water-carriage: and, consequently, the sawyers at first confined themselves to that which grew below the point to which the tide flows. That becoming scarce, they attacked the brushes, ten, twenty, thirty, and at last forty miles above tide flow, felling timber ultimately eight miles up 'Henderson's Creek', which falls into the river ten miles above the point where I first struck upon it.
These sawyers and their mates are a strange, wild set, comprising in general a good proportion of desperate ruffians, and sometimes a few runaways, they themselves commonly being ticket-of-leave men, or emancipists. Two or three pair, accompanied by one or two men for falling, squaring small timber, and digging pits, shoulder their axes and saws, and with a sledge or dray-load of provisions, proceed to some solitary brush, where they make a little 'gunya', or hut, with a few sheets of bark, and commence operations. They labour very hard, stripping to the waist in the hottest summer days; but they live in extreme abundance, and, indeed, wastefulness, though their fare is but simple, consisting only of salt beef, damper, tea, and sugar. From their migratory habits, they are unable to have any kind of vegetables, but they invariably indulge in flour of the finest quality.
The timber is only squared with the saw into large logs, and is left at the pit, a new pit generally being dug, when all the trees in the immediate vicinity of their former one have been felled and squared. After working for two or three months in this way, these men will go down the river to receive their wages, or 'have a settlement', as they call it.
Though, generally, from one hundred to two hundred per cent, is charged by their employer, on the rations and clothes supplied to them, they have always a large amount to receive, on getting which (invariably in the shape of orders, etc.), they start off to the nearest public-house, (perhaps a distance of forty miles), there to remain till they have spent every farthing, often exceeding thirty or forty pounds, when they return once more to the brush, in order to resume as before the same labour. They are certainly the most improvident set of men in the world, often eclipsing in recklessness, misery, and peculiarity of character, the woodcutters of Campeachy, and the lumberers of the Ohio and Mississippi. [181]
In riding along some path leading through a brush, and bewildered and lost amid the various and endless mazes of cedar tracks, one will often stumble upon a miserable cabin, shut out from the genial rays of the sun, instinct with life in the shape of gigantic mosquitoes and other vermin, and inhabited by a lonely sawyer and his dirty and forbidding wife, or mistress, probably a ticket-of-leave woman, or emancipist. If there are any children, which is occasionally the case, they are in the last stage of squalor and filth, their pale and emaciated features already showing that fever and ague - the demons of these brushes - have begun their work with them.
When rum is brought to these abodes of labour and wretchedness, and a few sawyers are convened, then begin the scenes of riot and mischief, It is well known that men have been killed on these occasions; and I have been assured that in lonely places one or two sawyers have combined to make away with another, in order to share the fruits of his toil. Their usual carelessness of money, when they have it, is well exemplified by an instance which fell within my own observation. Out of a spirit of bravado, or 'flashness', as it is called, one of them actually used a pound-note as wadding for his powder and shot; an application to which the Bank would doubtless have no objection. These extraordinary habits are attributable to several causes: the depraved and degraded class to which most of the sawyers belong; their loneliness and seclusion, being cut off during their whole time from any chance of good advice, or example; and the comparatively high pay for their work, together with the large sums which they receive at onetime. The rafters are of the same class and partake of the same habits.
When the sawyers have completed their work, the bullock-drivers go up with their teams, and draw the logs to the bank of the river. The rafters follow them, and, with levers, throw the timber into the stream, where (if below tide-flow) it is fastened together at once by means of ropes, sometimes vines, passing through an iron staple in each log. A raft is thus formed, on which the men, and sometimes their wives, float down to Trial Bay, a distance of about forty or forty-five miles from the first falls.
The timber cut higher up the river, after being thrown in, lies waiting for a flood to take it down, and is sometimes in this predicament for a twelvemonth, or more. If. however, there happens to be enough of water at the time of its immersion, the rafters follow it, commonly in a canoe, getting out at every fall, or ford, and pushing onwards every log that is aground, taking care also to examine every pool and corner, in order to extricate all logs that may be caught in bushes, or cast ashore by eddies.
It often happens that a large flood will occur when there is timber in the river, on which occasion it is carried far back upon the flats and forest land, and left high and dry on the subsiding of the water. I have often, after such a flood, seen immense flocks of cedar perched up in the tops of the oaks and other trees, and the ends of others peeping out from such masses of wreck, and at such a distance from the river, as renders it not worth removing. [182] To catch those logs floated singly down the river a rope, or chain, is stretched across below the lowest falls. But many logs float out to sea, and occasionally a whole raft will break adrift, and share the same fate.
The brushes have now been well nigh exhausted, and most of the sawyers have migrated to the Nambucca, the Ballitean, the Clarence, Richmond, and Brisbane. Wherever they have been at work, they have left immense numbers of cedar slabs, generally from eight to twelve feet long, and from one to three feet broad, sawn flat on one side, and forming a useful material for building rough bush houses. The settler, whose station is near these brushes, finds them very advantageous on this account; as, instead of falling and splitting gum-trees, he has only to send his team to the brush, and spare-chain these slabs. They are not to be recommended, however, for dwelling-houses as they are always found to harbour vermin.