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Magnificent Red Cedars dot the region

Felling a giant red cedar.
Felling a giant red cedar.

WE OWE the initial opening-up of our area to a magnificent and rare species of tree which people named Red Cedar.

It was a soft light wood with good grain and rich dark red colouring. It was excellent to polish and was very durable.

One of its best features was, however, that it was resistant to the white ant. It was rare to get a light timber which was also strong.

Red Cedar could be used for building, including boat- building, fencing, and many other purposes such as formation work under roadways.

Red cedar was discovered soon after the First Fleet arrived. According to historian Arthur Cousins some early settlers went to the Hawkesbury River in the late 1790s where they found a type of forest growth unknown to any they had seen before.

It was very dense with trees different to the eucalypts. Among these new trees they found the red cedar. Specimens were taken back to settlements and merchants were quick to realise their potential.

Samples were sent to England and here again the value, especially of Red Cedar, was recognised.

All land at this time of course was considered Crown Land but this did not stop settlers taking advantage of the new product.

As well, men spread out to see whether the "red gold" as they began to call cedar was growing in other areas. The South Coast was soon invaded and by the 1830s cedar cutters turned further northwards. The Clarence was soon invaded and then the Richmond in the 1840s.

There was another reason for pushing out into unknown areas -government control.

The authorities had originally announced that no cedar could be cut down without the approval of the Governor. However, this was found to be impossible to enforce. A system of licences was then introduced.

To avoid the licence fee (which some found excessive) men pushed out into unknown areas where there was little possibility of police interference. Some of these men had been convicts or were wanted by the authorities.

Merchants and sea captains asked no questions in the remote districts - the product was all they were interested in. Many shipments were not reported but simply sailed away to lucrative overseas shores.

Cutting down these giant trees was no easy task. First the vines and other entanglements had to be cut away and then the lower buttress climbed so that springboards (planks) could be pushed into grooves cut into the sides of the trunk.

The broad lower part of the trees could not be used commercially as the root structure was too uneven and knotty. Axemen climbed up and stood on the springboards - usually one on either side of the tree.

When the tree was about to fall they had to jump quickly to the ground to avoid being hit by the tree or its branches. It was very dangerous work. Felling the tree did not finish the job of course.

The branches had to be removed and the tree had to be dragged from the forest to the creek or river where it was usually floated downstream.

Cedar cutters are said to have been strong, hard-working, and hard-drinking. Many sold their trees to the local inn-keeper who held the cheque and kept supplying the grog until the cheque money ran out.

The cedar cutter then went back to cut more trees down. Some of course saved their money.

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