Timber was vital commodity in the economy of Colonial Australia and different species are often recorded in the Journals and Accounts of the early explorers and travellers, but were the names used then the same as we use now. James Atkinson in An Account of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales, published by J. Cross, London, 1844, gives us some idea.
“Rose Wood. - Found principally at Port Macquarie, and Hunter’s River. The trees are large, and generally sound quite to the heart; the grain is close and fine, and the texture and appearance when worked extremely beautiful, resembling the best mahogany. This wood is much used by Cabinet-makers, and makes very excellent furniture; it also makes very good shells for blocks, not being liable to split.
“Cedar. - Found principally at Port Macquarie, Hunter’s River and the district of Illawarra. Its grain not so compact as rose-wood, but it still makes good furniture. Hunter’s River cedar is the most seteemed, the texture being very fine and beautiful; in colour it resembles Honduras mahogany. It works readily when fresh cut, shrinks greatly, hardens by exposure, and when dry is very light. It is much used for doors, window frames, and wainscoting in houses; and also makes good board for boat building, and useful pannels [sic], frames, &c., for gigs or other ight vehicles.
“Coal River Pine. - Found at Hunter’s River; is not much used, but seems more of the nature of ash than any other European tree.
“Moreton Bay Pine. - A valuable timber, almost equal to the New Zealand Kauri. The tree from in every part of the Moreton Bay district, and might supply the whole of the pine timber used in the colony. The plant is very slender in proportion to its height. One which had a hundred and fifty annual rings, was but two feet diameter, although a hundred and seventy feet high. The wood splits well and is used by the northern settlers for all purposes.
“Blue Gum. - This is perhaps the most generally useful of all the Australian woods. The grain is close and compact, the timber heavy, and of a red colour. It is found almost every where, but the largest dimensions, and most abundant, near the sea coast. Large quantities of it have been exported to England in the shape of plank, and its merits have been duly appreciated in the London market. It is extensively used in the colony in ship and boat-building, and has been found very lasting and durable. The smaller sticks make good lower masts, yards, and booms, being extremely tough. It is used in house-building for beams and flooring boards, and also by turners in common articles of furniture. It makes good posts for fences, resisting the alternations of wet and dry better than any other wood. It splits well, and saws easily when green, but gets extremely hard when seasoned. It is bent into hoops for the tilts of waggons and carts. In the county of Argyle this tree grows smaller, and seldom splits well, but is very sound, and useful for sawing.
“Black-butted Gum. - Grows mostly in low lands near the sea coast; is a very large tree, and probably next to the blue gum in usefulness; the grain is not so compact, and the wood is of a brown colour.
Flooded or Water Gum. - Is found in low situations, like the last variety, which it much resembles in quality; both kinds are much used in house-building. These trees are among the tallest in the world; they may often be seen upwards of two hundred feet high. Like most of the Eucalyptus family, these trees generally produce very few branches, and thos few are a very small size, even at the top, a circumstance which, although it may not add to their beauty, enhances the value as timber trees.
“Spotted Gum. - Found in abundance about Shoal Haven and Jervis’s Bay. Is remarkable for its lofty straight stems, with grey bark, spotted with white; it has not been much used, and is probably an inferior variety.
“White Gum. - Is found in the county of Argyle, and other places westward of the Blue Mountains. It is a tough wood, very fit for wheelwright’s work, but the grain is not compact, and it is probably not very durable; when free of gum veins, to which it is very liable, it makes good flooring and weather boards, being of a good white colour.
“Red Gum. - Grows principally about the sea coast, is very full of gum veins, and when tapped yields an immense quantity of a dark attractive matter, highly astringent; it is esteemed an inferior quality.
“Woolly Gum. - Found in the county of Argyle, and country to the southward. Has a ow trunk with wide spreading branches, and more foliage than the generality of Australian trees. The wood is very inferior, of a coarse texture, and not durable. These trees are more like those of Europe than any other species of Eucalyptus. They are often feathered with branches down to the ground like well-grown trees in an English park. Their rapidity of growth renders them valuable for ornamental purposes: at Camden, Mr. William Macarthur planted five of these trees, of which the largest, after twelve years’ growth, was about fifty feet high and two and a half feet in diameter, at about a yard from the ground; this plant, which would be a tolerably large tree in England, must be considered as quite an infant, as it has not yet seeded.
“Box. - This is a very useful wood, of a firm compact texture, tough and durable. The trees are quite handsome and well grown, the bark is strong and close, possessing much of the tanning principle, and is very useful in constructing huts and temporary buildings; this tree abounds in all forest lands in the county of Cumberland and Cow Pasture district; and is much used for boards and joists in house-building, and also in wheelwright’s work.
“Iron Bark. - Is a tall and straight tree, with a small top, and scanty foliage; the bark is extremely rough, of a dark colour, and very hard, from whence it derives its name. The wood of this tree is of a dark red colour, very hard and heavy; it splits readily, and makes excellent shingles for the roofs of buildings and capital rails for fences. It would make treenails for ship-building; would be useful in millwork, or any other purpose where strength and durability are required. This tree abounds in the county of Cumberland, and many other parts of the colony.
“Stringy Bark. - This tree is perhaps the most useful to the colonists of any in the country. The wood is of good quality, of a brown colour, splits and saws well, not much subject to gum veins; is very much used in building and wheelwright’s work, and in fencing and paling. It is found diffused in all parts of the colony; the bark is much used to construct huts and temporary buildings, being of a fibrous, tenacious texture, and parts readily from the wood; the inner bark is frequently twisted into ropes for many temporary uses.
“Turpentine. - A tree resembling the stringy bark, but not so rough coated. The wood is of a dark red colour, hard and heavy; much used in building, and also by turners, for bed posts and other articles of common household furniture.
“Sassafras or Kalang. - This is a beautiful tree found in vine brushes near the coast. The bark, as already mentioned is aromatic, and used medicinally in the shape of a decoction. The wood is white and very light, but I am not aware that it has been applied to any useful purpose.
“Whitewood or Boula. - Found in the same situation as the last. The wood is white, but heavier than Sassafras, but like it, I believe, its qualities have not been tried.
“Forest Oak. - This tree in outward appearances much resembles the Scotch fir. The wood is well known in England by the names of Botany Bay wood, or beef wood. The grain is very peculiar, but the wood is thought very little of in the colony; it makes good shingles, splits, in the colonial phrase, from heart to bark; these shingles are not near so durable as iron bark, but possess the advantage that they may be nailed on without boring with a gimblet. Is found almost every where.
“Swamp Oak. - Much resembles the last; grows in wet places, and along the sides and in the beds of rivers and streams. It is also used for shingles.
“Red Honeysuckle. - A low tree, found about the sea coast. The wood of this tree is of a close short texture; and much used for timbers of small vessels; and makes excellent naves for wheels. The ashes yield a considerable quantity of pot ash for the soap-boilers.
“White Honeysuckle. - Found in various parts of the interior. It resembles the red. The wood makes good shoemaker’s lasts.
“Myrtle. - This is a shrub growing about the rocky banks of creeks and rivers in various places; it reaches the height of twenty or thirty feet, but does not assume the form of a tree, growing clustered together in the nature of underwood. The wood is very compact, tough, and heavy; bends readily when green, but gets very hard when seasoned: makes excellent swingels for thrashing flails, and is used by the natives for their clubs or waddies.
“Light Wood. - A small tree found in the county of Argyle and other places; makes good axe helves, being tough and light.
“Black and Green Wattle. - Are very common every where. The bark of the black wattle contains a large proportion of tanning, and is much used by the tanners of the colony. In the shape of a solid coagulated extract, obtained by boiling the bark, it has been sent to England, and used with success. The young saplings of these trees, cut and seasoned, make excellent handles for pitch forks and rakes; the old wood, when of curly growth, makes good heads for mauls.
Currajong. - Is found in many parts, but not very plentiful; the inner bark of this tree, beat and Twisted, forms ropes nearly equal in strength to Manilla coir.
Flindersia Australis, called at Moreton Bay, Yellow Wood. - Is a fine tree, producing a timber well suited for cabinet work; its texture is closer and its weight greater than those of the common cedar, to which tree it is botanically allied. It is strange that this wood is not used in the colony for ornamental purposes, as it is so much harder than cedar, and from its greater hardness is not so liable to be injured.
Moreton Bay Pine - Arancaria Cunninghamiana. - The wood of this tree is used at Moreton Bay for boards, split rails and other purposes. It is brought to Sydney and sold under the name of Clarence River Pine, has a good reputation with builders at Sydney, and is doubtless equal to any imported pine timber; its grain is very fine, and the colour and general appearance of the wood is that of the New Zealand Kauri. This tree grows in great abundance on all the alluvial brush lands and steep sides of hills in the county of Brisbane. Enough of this timber might be cut to supply the whole of Australia, if labour was a little cheaper than it is at present.
“This arancaria is probably the slenderest of its gigantic family the Norfolk Island Pine has been seen two hundred and seventy feet high and twelve feet in diameter, but this tree is rarely found more than three and a half feet in diameter; it is very tall in proportion to the size of its trunk and branches. One of these trees, which had been cut for splitting, measured across the stump exactly two feet; the section shewed it to be a hundred and fifty years old, if the concentric circles really indicate the age; the height was a hundred and seventy-five feet, yet the largest branch was not thicker than a man’s arm, and only about six feet long. Although beautiful in the gardens of Sydney, these trees are exceedingly ugly in their native woods, and do not present any any of the symmetrical outline which renders the other arancarias so remarkable, and which even in this plant is sufficiently evident during its youth.
“The above are the principal Australian trees; the are some others distinguished by the colonists by the names of bastard iron barks, bastard box, bastard stringy barks, gum box, &c. but they differ little from the kinds from whence they derive their names.
“Much care is requisite in seasoning wood in the colony, especially in spring and autumn; any long continued exposure to the sun at those seasons, when they contain most sap, causes such a rapid evaporation of the juices, and such a quick contraction of the timber of the vascular system of the timber, that the wood is apt to cone and cast extremely. I have found it the best way to cause the timber to be sawn, for the purpose intended, as soon as it is felled, and then to immerse the board, &c., in water for at least six months; the juices are thus gradually drawn off, and the vessels contracted; it may then be taken out and dried, but should not be too suddenly exposed to the full influence of the sun and air.
“The greater part of the full-grown trees are decayed at the heart; and the best timber is found to be, if not exactly the sap, at least the newly-formed spine. The first specimens sent home were squared logs; the hearts of these being decayed, caused them to be rejected by the ship-builders. The late exportations have all been made in sawn plank, of various thicknesses; none but the prime wood has thus been sent to market, and the prices obtained have shewn the plan to be judicious.
“No very certain inference of the quality of the soil can be drawn from the species of timber found growing upon it. - The iron bark, stringy bark, and spotted gum, generally grow in poor gravelly land. The box, blue and white gums, grow in good clay or loam; swamp oak abounds where the land is wet, cold, and generally poor. With the exception of good alluvial land, good timber is very seldom found upon good land. The fertile plains in the interior are wholly destitute of it. The best whinstone forest lands in the county of Argyle are very thin of timber, and the trees are small, stinted, and useless, except for firewood. In the county of Cumberland, the best forest lands are invariably the thinnest of trees; and in general it will be found the best lands are least encumbered with timber; this, however, does not hold good of granitic soils, which are generally open and free of timber, and sandy weak land.
“Very few of the shrubs have as yet been converted to any beneficial purpose; many of them might probably afford useful materials in the arts, and also in medicine. The excellent and indefatigable King’s botanist, Mr. Cunningham, * [Footnote - * In the death of this gentleman, the colony has to regret the loss of a most useful public servant.] has, I believe, pointed out many to medical gentlemen, which he imagined might be possessed of particular properties; but no person has yet been found possessed of sufficient science or inclination to make any experiments on them. A plant, resembling a sallow, growing about the sides of rivers, furnishes good materials for basket-making, though not equal to osiers. The wood of the warrataw [Waratah] or native tulip, the most magnificent flower of New Holland, has also been applied to the same purpose. At certain seasons of the year, the dwarf honeysuckle, which is very abundant in barren scrubs and brushes, yields an immense quantity of beautiful transparent honey; it is found standing in large drops among the filaments of the flower cone, and might easily be collected by simply pressing the cones in a jelly bag. There are few indigenous fruits worth mentioning: the native cherry, five corners, jibbong [Geebung], and others, are mere tasteless berries, eaten by children as haws are in England. The native currant is a fine pleasant acid, resembling the cranberry; it makes a very agreeable preserve with plenty of sugar. The burwan [Burrawang] is a plant with leaves very much like the cocoa-nut, growing out from the stem about a foot high; at certain seasons it produces a flower, which is succeeded by a cluster of nuts, enclosed in a hard woody shell; this nut in its raw state is a poison; the natives, however, convert it into a very pleasant and nutritive article of food. They first roast the nuts in the ashes of their fire for a short time; then crack them between two stones, separating the kernels and breaking them up; they then roll up a piece of bark in the form of a tube, and placing some grass or other substance to prevent their escape, immerse them in a running stream for twelve hours; they are then good and wholesome food, tasting much like roasted chestnuts. The burwan is found in great plenty in the scrubs and poor forest lands near the coast.”