Logging and a world war

The Kirrama Range Road was built in the 1930s from near Kennedy to Society Flat by the Queensland Public Estates Improvement Scheme (PEI) and was later extended to Kirrama Station by the Civil Construction Corps in the World War Two period. 

The aim initially was to provide jobs during the Depression, and expand Queensland’s timber production. Kirrama opened to logging in 1940, which accelerated with the Second World War. The demand for timber resources to support the war effort saw the extension of the road in the 1940s. Through European settlement and the road’s construction, Society Flat changed from an Indigenous meeting place into a settlers logging community.

The Kirrama Range Road was primarily built to log kauri pine, and for its proximity to Cardwell and the railway. Trees such as silver ash, silky oak, maple and walnut trees were also sought after. However, kauri was not selected for their beautiful grain, but for their value as timber for construction and plywoods.

During the early logging years, timber cutters would cut trees by balancing on a springboard to avoid buttress roots and use an axe and crosscut saw. Two cutters could cut 4000 super-feet (almost 12 cubic metres) per day. However, when chainsaws were introduced in the 1950s, the amount doubled to 14 000 to 18 000 super-feet per day! Despite this large haul, cutters rarely had insurance. Their dangerous work, teamed with rugged terrain and wet conditions made the insurance premiums unaffordable.

In order to assist the war efforts, the Timber Control Board allowed unrestricted and unsustainable quantities of forest to be logged. Timber cutters cut kauri pine for ammunition cases, maple silk wood for plane propellers, silver ash for frames for fighter planes (such as mosquito bombers) and other woods for rifle butts. Mill workers worked for free on weekends to contribute to the war effort. The logs were made into ply to rebuild Darwin after its bombing in 1941. Additionally, esteemed for its straight grain and superior burning quality, kauri pine was used in matches. Enormous kauri pine logs were cut into 6 foot (1.8m) long pieces and placed on a lathe. The lathe would cut the log into a roll 1/8 inch thick (about 3mm), which would be sent to Bryant and May Match Manufacturers in Victoria. Almost all Australian homes used Bryant and May matches, but these households did not know they were also holding a piece of ancient rainforest kauri pine in their hands.

Hidden wreckage

On 15th December 1942, during the Second World War, a B-25 Mitchell bomber plane crashed on Kirrama Station. The plane was returning from service in Papua New Guinea, and became lost in a storm. The plane was found six months later near Smoko Creek by an Aboriginal stockman named Alec Collins from Kirrama station. All 11 passengers were killed in the crash, and buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in America. The exact location of the wreckage site is not officially recorded, but there are few people alive today who do know its location. In 1967, a recovery of the plane was attempted by three men. They were unsuccessful, and one man became lost in the Herbert Gorge and had to be rescued by the army.

In 2008, an expedition involving a group of locals located the wreckage site, and later a plaque was erected to honour the victims. Today, little is left of the wreckage, as much has been removed for scrap metal or souvenirs. Some of the parts have been located in the Cardwell region, and are now being collected for a memorial.

The unprecedented logging of the rainforests in Kirrama Range during the Second World War caused significant damage to the rainforest. This added to the sadness of the Indigenous people as they were distressed at the loss of trees, an important part of their unique culture. The trees were seen as the founders of the rainforest with important stories to share. These stories were lost when the trees were cut down and removed. Among some groups the trees were used as calendars, showing the change in seasons and breeding periods of animals and plants that were valuable resources for survival. Today, many Aboriginals still feel a sense of loss for the rainforest in the Kirrama Range region.

After the Second World War, forestry management and a selective logging process was introduced to the Kirrama Range. Forest rangers were employed to control the process; from managing logging permits, assigning timber cutters to logging districts, selecting mature, damaged or less valuable trees and branding logs and stumps.

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