Bellbrakes, Bullocks and Bushmen

by M.J. McCarthy.

Light Railway Research Society of Australia, Melbourne 1987, Reprinted 1998.

Mike McCarthy has produced this thoroughly researched history of sawmilling in the Gembrook district of Victoria from 1885 to 1985, covering in all some 60 mill sites and focussing upon the system of timber tramways which fed mostly into the VR narrow gauge terminus at Gembrook.

The strength of this book lies in its lucid account of the bush people, their sawmilling activities and the central role of the numerous timber tramways which provided the commercial and social thread of life to these scattered communities. Many anecdotes, both tragic and hilarious, and personal accounts of oldtimers convey a feeling for the constant hardships and hazards of bush life.

The. book traces the advance of timbergetting through four distinct phases during the expansive years down to the 1930s. These phases were influenced by the arrival of the VR railway at Gembrook, sited on a ridge of land high above the surrounding forest valleys, and by advances in transport methods to deal with the steep hauls to Gembrook. Thus, in the early days timber was cut to the south and taken to Nar Nar Goon. After 1900 timber was brought initially from forests on the ridge along tramways feeding into the new VR terminus. Then the area northeast toward Beenak was tapped. Finally, improved technology of the 1920s opened up the Black Snake Creek to the southeast, the long difficult haul being accomplished with a well engineered tramway using locomotive power. This system featured Russell's large articulated steam locomotive and the equally famous Morris Cowley "Canardly" converted to a personal railcar.

Besides the larger mills, a careful account is given of the many small and often obscure mills, presenting whatever scant information has survived. Concise, informative appendices, and notes on many personal interviews reflect the thoroughness of the work.

Production of the book is excellent with ample high quality maps (McCarthy pen), and photographs from many sources which capture the bush life superbly. A most worthy companion to Powelltown (LRRSA 1984) with which it contrasts in many ways, it is the definitive work on this subject

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