Each spring I set aside a day to walk the remarkable tramways that weave through the forested hills surrounding Poweltown in the upper reaches of the Yarra Ranges. In 1912 Poweltown was born when the Powell Wood Processing Company opened a large mill on the banks of the Little Yarra River. The steam train had arrived in nearby Warburton in 1901 and the timber industry flourished in its wake. Hundreds of men were employed to fell the tall trees, mainly to supply the rapidly expanding growth of Melbourne and Geelong. In those days it seemed that the forests stretched forever. This was an era of selective logging, long before mechanisation stole most of the timber-worker jobs and long before wood-chipping and clear-felling became the norm. Ninety nine years ago the loggers of Powelltown would cut the trees by hand, using cross-cut saws and axes. It was a dangerous game and loggers were a genuinely tough breed.
Steam-powered winches would pull the logs up through the forest to narrow-gauge tramways, which were used to transport the timber to nearby sawmills. One of the best walks in the area follows the Walk into History, which utilises various tramways linking Big Pats Creek with Starlings Gap and then on through the Ada Valley. Along the way there are plenty of reminders of the past. Occasionally you will find a collapsing trestle bridge balancing across a creek or gully, thick green moss hanging from its now rotting beams. Twisted metal tramlines hide among the leaf litter, sometimes still attached to their original sleepers. Large metal boilers, rusting bogies, pin couplings and various bits of machinery sit quietly beneath the blackwoods and mountain ash. Ninety nine years of history, slowly being swallowed by the bush.