Centenary Bulletin 11 – Grand Ridge Timbers Pty Ltd – Boolarra, Victoria

October 19, 2018

The introduction of Timberjack machines in hardwood forest areas was proving very effective, and Norman G Clark was concentrating in a lot of sales effort in the Bairnsdale area.

Jack Irish was one of APM’s contractors, and a dedicated Timberjack owner. Jack had previously operated only in softwoods, and while some attempts had been made to involve him in hardwood operations, he had declined and instead suggested that we talk to a company which owned a small timber mill at Boolarra, south-east of Morwell – with a one million superfoot forestry allocation for hardwood.

They had never been able to extract this timber because of difficult ground conditions, but since we had probably oversold the Timberjack’s capabilities said to us “What you should do is buy the mill and do your own logging”!

Grand Ridge Timbers

Timberjack delivering log to Grand Ridge Timbers yard.

We thought about this proposal for about a day, and had a brief look at the allocation area, which was frighteningly steep, but with good timber. Nonetheless it did look ‘Timberjack’ possible. We also talked with the Forestry Commission, and they confirmed that they would transfer the licence, consequently, the next day we were sawmillers!

The mill to the ‘new owners’ was a bit of a shock, as apart from being typical of bush saw mills, it had nothing to do because there were no logs in the yard. Just to compound the issue, none of the equipment was in working order.

Ivan Crawford joined us in the venture, and took responsibility for log supply, and John Clark became Chief Engineer.

Grand Ridge Timbers

Grand Ridge Timbers

With the Mill we inherited two aging GM Diesels, one a 4-71 and the other a 6-71. Seldom were the two going at the same time, and our first decision as management was to initiate an immediate overhaul of both engines. We subsequently got so much extra power that all sorts of other machinery simply fell apart, which then meant our rebuild became more and more extensive as time progressed.

The structure of the Mill was like something that the ancient Britons might have constructed, and we regularly referred to the bush architect who designed and sited the structure. He was always in our thoughts whenever it rained. The uprights were very strong Mountain Ash logs supporting a galvanised iron roof, and whatever the logic might have been, this sloped to the uphill side and discharged all collected water on the hill side above the mill. The result was, that when it rained, all water ran down the hill and right through the mill!

On wet days it was better to just go stand in the rain, as the water was much more concentrated under cover.

We always believed that Boolarra locals were convinced that water did run up hill, so we made no structural changes to the building, however, we eventually got the saws and other equipment going around, which was quite an achievement.

Soon we had a yard full of Mountain Ash, as our one million superfoot allocation only took about a month to extract, and for the first time ever, the mill had achieved its extraction target.

Even the Forestry Commission were impressed, and gave us another one million superfoot allocation. One month later we had that on site as well! The time had come for a more exotic name, and we subsequently became known as ‘GRAND RIDGE TIMBERS PTY LTD’.

Also, it was about time we started milling some of our impressive stock pile, and soon after commencing that, we got a very nasty shock.

Basically, we did not seem to be able to cut anything straight, and although we blamed our bush architect, it seemed that the real problem was a combination of technique and equipment. In the meantime, we were simply producing lower than seconds quality from A grade timber.

Of our three saw benches, we only had one that was almost useable, so we did a lot of work on it, had the saws reset at an outside source. We then lined everything up, fired a few people and replaced them with others who were worse!

As we were into a rather hot summer, our log pile was drying out and logs were splitting, so we had to devise a sprinkler arrangement to keep them damp. The run off, of course, finished up in the mill.

We were not getting anywhere, and decided to sell some of our log stock. This was snapped up by other millers because of its extremely high timber quality. If the Forestry Commission had been more co-operative, we would have bulldozed the mill down the hill and carried on selling Mountain Ash logs. But, the Forestry Commission said, “Hey what the hell are you guys playing at”, and it was reasonably obvious that wasn’t the way it was going to work for much longer. One day a man rang up and said, “Are you interested in selling Grand Ridge Timbers”, and the answer was “Yes, how much” and very soon we were no longer in the saw milling business.

Somehow or other Norman G Clark still owned the company name “Grand Ridge Timbers”, and finally it wound up as the owner of the leased Air Chart premises at Moorabbin Airport. The company (with its lease intact) eventually sold to Phoenix Airways who just wanted the building.

Grand Ridge Timbers wasn’t the most prosperous adventure we have undertaken, but it did sell at least three new Timberjacks in Gippsland because of the extraction record from the Grand Ridge Road area. It can definitely be claimed that Grand Ridge Timbers opened up the use of rubber-tyred machines in hardwood logging.