Sawmilling at Bellthorpe from 1945 to 2000

From David Keir

With the exception of a few stints working at other sawmills for short periods of time, and a year at Gatton College, David Keir has spent the past 84 years at Kooringa, Keirs Road, Bellthorpe.  His father, Hector Keir, started his first sawmill at the back of the property in about 1945. The mill was run by a Titan engine from an old two-cylinder tractor which was kerosene and petrol driven. Hector later bought a Southern Cross engine from ‘Nugget’ Brooker of Brookers Case Mill at Woodford. In around 1948 Hector built a second sawmill closer to his home at the front of the property.

Hector and his son David became partners in the sawmill (HM & DRL Keir). The Keirs did their own cutting, hauling and snigging. Timber was cut by cross cut saws and pit saws and was hauled by a team of horses. At one stage however, with no horses they had to haul the logs and sawn timber with an old Reo bus that David Keir bought in Gatton. They made a cab for it and it had an 18 foot wheel base.

On Hector’s passing David took over the running of the sawmill by himself and renamed the business Bellthorpe Box and Timber Company. David employed four people and with them cut timber for fruit cases.

Bellthorpe Box and Timber’s fruit cases were delivered far and wide around Australia, with orders going to Humpty Doo in Darwin, and thousands of tomato cases were sent to Bowen for just one farm. The sawmill also cut 90% of the pineapple bins required in Queensland. At one stage, in addition to David himself building the case boxes, he employed up to ten men to meet demand.

As well as cutting the case timber, sawn timber was cut for building. David’s brother Hux was a builder and built the Housing Commission houses in Ipswich with timber from Bellthorpe Box and Timber Company.

With cardboard and plastic boxes being used more and more in the fruit industry, the demise of the timber fruit case was inevitable. Bellthorpe Box and Timber Company closed its doors in 2000.


Keir’s property, Kooringa. Bellthorpe. Photo courtesy David Keir.


Keir Road before it was named Keir Road. Photo Courtesy David Keir.


Brothers Lionel and Hector Keir sawing a log. Photo Courtesy David Keir.


Stan and Hector Keir working in their Blacksmith shop. Photo courtesy David Keir.


David’s sister Hermione on their Caterpillar 15. Photo Courtesy David Keir.


David still has the sawmills dial gauge. It was used for putting set on circular saws.


David Keir and Fred Worthington breaking down a log when Bellthorpe Box and Timber was operational. Photo courtesy of David Keir.

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David Keir receiving a certificate from Andrew Powell MP for 40 years service as a Justice of the Peace in 2016. Photo courtesy of Andrew Powell.