Rafting giant cedars down the river
THE first cedar cut on the Northern Rivers, including the Richmond, was along the river banks. Cutting down a tree was not simply a matter of getting an axe and doing a little chopping.
The first tree to be cut down on the Richmond is said to have been at Ballina near Shaws Bay.
Some may wonder how this happened as the first cedar cutters came overland from the Clarence before rowing down the river to Ballina.
They simply rowed back to camp, packed up, and went back to the Clarence where they hired a ship to bring them back to the Richmond.
Why not cut down a few trees when they first reached the Richmond at Codrington or even at Ballina?
When they returned on the "Sally" they cut their first trees, great massive things requiring time and expertise to fell them.
They had had the expertise before, but they needed the time, this being one reason they had delayed. They also needed a ship on which to load the logs. Soon the little vessel was well laden and sent off with her load.
As timber became scarce along the rivers and creeks the cutters had to go further inland. This meant that they had to man-handle the logs with lever poles and skids to get them to the waterways for floating down the River.
Later bullocks were used to drag the logs through the forest.
Often the logs could not be moved until the water was in flood.
If this was the case they were taken to the bank and stacked.
They were also stamped or branded with an iron punch so that each man could claim his own property when the trees eventually arrived at their destination.
When the rains came all cutting stopped and everyone helped push and drag the logs into the water. Larger logs were sometimes a problem as they tended to block the passage of other logs. To avoid blockages the men had to follow downstream, cutting away any overhanging vines, etc. which might stop progress.
If a blockage occurred they had to act quickly, springing onto the slippery logs and, using their axes, try to free them. It was very dangerous work.
Sometimes men had to dive under the logs to clear a blockage. Men were often killed in this way.
Rafts were seen as one answer to these problems. Logs were lashed together to form a firm platform. These were often put together by men who specialised in this task. Some of these rafts were so stable that they often erected a tent or bark shelter complete with cooking facilities.
Families would live on them with a rowing boat hooked at the back for emergency transport.
Washing could be hung out to dry and even chickens could be kept for fresh eggs and meat.
When one journey was over the family simply moved to another raft and another journey.
There was plenty of work to keep them occupied throughout the day and sometimes the night. They would drift with the tide and tie up when the tide ebbed.
A lookout had to continually be aware of snagging as well as overhead dangers. According to historian Windsor Lang, in later times some raftsmen built and used utility rafts which they used to carry people and goods up and down the River.