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Mt Donna Buang, 1914; Sawmills and War

I found this really interesting article in The Argus from Friday, March 27th 1914. Reading it made me realise that logging in the Upper Yarra Valley was already of an environmental concern even 98 years ago. Exactly three months after this article appeared in the press, World War 1 broke out and Australia changed forever. Who knows, perhaps this early show of distaste against the actions of the logging industry may have taken root had it not been for two consecutive world wars. The photograph below is sourced from the State Library of Victoria. It is titled View of track through forest on Mount Donna Buang, Victoria’ and was taken in 1911. The photograph ‘Gully at Five-Mile Bend on road to Cement Creek’ accompanied the original article.


The Argus, Friday, March 27th, 1914.

Under the shadow of Donna Buang, within five miles of the little town of Warburton, are some of the most beautiful gullies in all the Victorian hills. The longest summer does not dry their sparkling streams, nor warm the cool air in the shaded glens. Ancient peace reigned there until the ring of the axe lately drove the lyre bird from its haunt among the fern. The mountain is being stripped of its beauty for the cash value of its stately trees.

Two or three years ago the Department of Public Works entered upon the construction of a coach road from the township of Warburton to the top of Mount Donna Buang, where snow lies in the winter some times 4ft deep. From the top of this peak the traveler looks down on the valley of the Yarra and the villages clustering along its banks. Far up into the farther hills both the river and the Woods Point road wander like two ribbons through the forest’s dark green. Realising the aesthetic value of the beautiful gullies and the lofty mountain peak, the department spent the sum of £3000 on the construction of the road. There was no cooperation, however, between the Forest department and the Department of Public Works. The object of the latter was to see that the money was not wasted by the destruction of the gullies and mountain streams that were expected to attract thousands of tourists to the place. The interest of the Forestry department seems to have been to obtain the greatest possible revenue from the saw-millers in the form of royalty on the trees cut down. After a delay of nearly two years, a reservation, only three chains wide, on either side of the road has been made by the Forestry department, after some of the most beautiful gullies have been either spoiled or quite destroyed. Even if the three chain belt is left untouched, the narrow strip will not conceal the bare mountain side beyond. The beauty of the gullies will be gone.

The road winds northward round the range until it reaches the head waters of the Cement Creek. This stream flows down a deep gully thick with ferns and moss- covered beech trees through which the tall mountain ash tower like the pillars of a vast cathedral. The bottom of the gully and the valley beyond cannot be seen. Only the echoes of the stream as it splashes far below, reach the ear with a soft, inland murmur. The road makes a sharp bend here, and a space has been made, wide enough for a coach and team to turn. The water bubbles from the mountain side the whole year through. Even now, in spite of the long, dry summer, the ground is still wet, and the air so cool that it strikes the traveler with a chill. How long this will last one cannot say, for a little further down the gully, so near that the steam whistle breaks discordantly through the stillness, a sawmill is busily at work, cutting its way through the bush for the sake of a few payable trees to be obtained. Before long all but the narrow strip reserved from destruction will be cleared. The beauty of the gully will disappear, and the creek, in all probability become a winter torrent, leaving in summer a paltry stream of water trickling down the seared mountain side.

These gullies have other values than the market price of the trees now growing in them. If properly preserved, they would bring to the district and to the state far more revenue and abiding wealth than the royalty, which for a little while, the saw-miller will pay. Around the road, particularly where it crosses the Cement Creek, a sufficient area should be reserved to maintain at least the illusion that the traveler is in the heart of a mountain forest.


2 thoughts on “Mt Donna Buang, 1914; Sawmills and War

  1. Hi Glenn,
    Over the weekend I went along the Walking Into History trail in this area (plucked from your book). I was sad to see that the road you suggest up to Starling Gap was closed due to logging activities: it lent a sombre note to the beginning of the walk (I ended up starting from High Lead carpark and doing a return trip). Along the way I stopped by the Ada Tree, one of Victoria’s largest Mountain Ash trees. I was reflecting on how lucky that tree was to survive the indescriminate logging in the area and how much continued joy it brings to people that visit it. Like the sentiment in the article above, the paltry value of the timber pales into insignificance beside the lasting beauty of the trees.
    Thanks for bringing this article to our attention, however depressing it is, and keep up the good work!

  2. Phil, traditionally those harvesting timber were not indiscriminate. They were careful to only select trees with good timber that could be milled easily and always left the really big trees alone. From their perspective those trees are ‘óver mature’ and have ‘mud guts’ (they are partly rotten inside) so the wood isn’t of any worth. So while a few farmers may have removed the big trees, the timber industry had no interest in them. Secondly there was no way to get huge logs to sawmills on the 91 cm gauge tracks used on both the haulages at Donna and the tram network emanating from Big Pat’s Creek and Starling Gap.

    If you’re interested in the history of the area, have a look at Mike McCarthy’s terrific book, ‘Mountains of Ash: a history of the sawmills and tramways of Warburton and district’. While it doesn’t cover the timber industry, I will put my 12,000 word history ‘Donna Buang: the forgotten ski resort’ on the web (probably on in the next few months. Dave.

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