A Survey of Steam Power in the Victorian Hardwood Timber Industry

Matthew Churchward

Keywords: Steam Power; Sawmilling; Boilers

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Victoria’s first steam-powered sawmill was established in 1841. From the 1850s, with the enormous demand for timber created by goldmining and the development of railways allowing greater access to eucalypt forests of the Great Dividing Range, timber harvesting and sawmilling became one of Victoria’s largest secondary industries and a major employer of steam power. By 1910, Victoria had 298 steam-powered sawmills operated by engines totalling a combined 7,000 horsepower, while in addition steam was also being used for kill-drying and curing of timber. Steam-power continued to be a major power source in Victorian sawmilling until after the Second World War and the last commercially operated steam-powered mills continued until the late 1990s.

This paper will present the results of a study into the use of steam power in Victoria’s eucalypt sawmilling industry. Based on an examination of Victorian boiler inspection records, historical images, government publications, other archival sources and fieldwork the paper will provide an overview of the historical role of steam power within the industry and the impact of factors such as changes in boiler technology, boiler safety legislation, new processing requirements and the changing geographic location of mills. The paper will feature case-studies of several historic sites dating from the early 20th century which retain extant relics such as boilers and associated equipment.

REFERENCE: Churchward, M. 2007 A Survey of Steam Power in the Vicotrian Hardwood Timber Industry.  Fourteenth National Engineering Heritage Conference Perth, Australia, 18 September - 21 September 2007.  The Institution of Engineers Australia: Conference Papers.