Timber tramway in operation. SOURCE: Daylesford & District Historical Society

The sorry end of the Anderson brothers grand timber tramway

The sorry end of the Anderson brothers grand timber tramway

The six Anderson brothers sailed to Melbourne from Scotland in 1850 intending to farm. While they were briefly enticed to try their hand at gold digging in the Blackwood goldfield, they soon struck ‘gold’ of a different sort when they switched to logging timber in the Wombat Forest. Starting at Dean, they set up a small manual sawpit sawmill, then a steam-powered mill at Adekate Creek. Transporting cut logs with horse or bullock powered jinkers, they quickly stripped the area of useful timber and needed to go further afield into the forest on top of the Divide.

They built a tramway of timber and pulled flatbed iron wagons with two horses abreast to transport logs. Initially, the tramway was 5km, but as the forest fell before their axes, they continually extended the tramway until it reached a total of 23km, ending at this site. It was to become not only the longest, but also the grandest tramway in the Wombat Forest.

A new larger sawmill was built at Barkstead, at the halfway mark of their tramway system. As their prosperity increased, the brothers became the first in the timber industry to replace horse-drawn wagons with two specially commissioned steam locomotives made in Ballarat. They replaced wooden rails with iron, and they constructed cuttings and long trestle bridges to ensure the smooth and steady progress of fallen trees into the maw of their Barkstead mill. In its heyday, the Barkstead mill employed 60 men, and Barkstead grew into a thriving settlement.

All was going well until they reached near this site, triggering a dispute with another timber operation run by Thomas Crowley and Patrick Fitzpatrick. Having exhausted their patch, the Andersons looked to virgin timber on the nearby headwaters of the Werribee River. They were, however, encroaching on the licensed territory of two other powerful sawmillers. A bush war ensued, with Crowley and Fitzpatrick complaining to the authorities with increasing force that the Andersons were ignoring boundary lines, cutting where they pleased and “ravaging” the forest.

Finally, Crowley and Fitzpatrick’s lobbying bore fruit. In 1879, the Andersons lost both their sawmill and tramway licenses in the Werribee River region. Although they retained their license for the Barkstead mill, there was only enough timber within reach to keep the mill going another five years. By the mid-1880s, the Anderson brothers had abandoned Barkstead and concentrated operations on their large bluestone, waterwheel-driven flour mill at Smeaton.

After closure of the Barkstead mill, Anderson’s mill fitter, John Dalziel, set up a mill here on his own account in 1888. He used one of the Andersons locomotives in a stationary capacity to drive the mill plant. The mill battled on with dwindling timber supplies until the 1893 recession. The mill was known as ‘The Toerag’ as the timber workers were considered too poor to own proper shoes.

The area to the south of here was logged by more modern ‘shelterwood’ methods until the 1990s, when most logging in the Wombat ceased. A magnificent stand of smooth-barked Mountain Gum (Eucalyptus dalrympleana) remains. Mountain Gum is closely related to Candlebark (E. rubida), which sawmillers considered of poor quality due to its tendency to ‘shake,’ that is to radially crack, rendering it useless for construction. Perhaps that’s why the Mountain Gum stand escaped felling and remains.