Timber workers of the past Woodford Area.
My Dad, Fred Lubomirski was involved in the timber industry from an early age.
He was born in 1923 in Oakey Qld, the youngest of 3. His father was an Engine (Steam) driver at sawmills in SE Qld. The work took them to various towns and places. He moved to New Beith in Brisbane with his parents and 2 sisters and worked in the sawmills as well. Beaudesert was the place where he learnt the timber industry, cleaning up after a day’s work and going on to follow in his father’s footsteps by learning to drive the Steam Engines in the mills as well. That mill is still operating today. He passed his spare time riding pushbikes around SE Qld. It was nothing for him and his mates to pack up and ride there pushbike from Beaudesert to Allora and Millmerran near Toowoomba. No mean feat back in the 40’s. He later moved on to motorcycles. A tradition that continued through his Sons and Grandsons.
As was the norm back then, he left home at an early age and found himself in Jimna, driving log trucks in the Jimna area and was involved in the clearing of country for the pine forests you see in Jimna today. Jimna was the town where he met the love of his life Shirley, and would settle down to raise a family. Shirley was the oldest daughter of another timber family in Jimna, the Ihles. Her father Jack Ihle, worked in the sawmill in Jimna. She was one of 4 children; 3 girls and a boy. All the girls have remained in the Woodford area up to today. Married in Kilcoy in 1956, Fred worked the timber from daylight to dark. He was a jack of all trades, fixing trucks, cutting timber, dozer driving and on weekends he found still found time for his boys Chris and Terry.
In 1969, Fred and Shirley decided it was time to move on. Fred’s boss, Billy Wright, was finishing up his timber contracting business in Jimna, and obviously Fred needed to work. May 1969, Fred got a job with Woodford Timbers as a truck driver. This was the beginning of a long association with the company, later known as Grant Timbers.
The mill, at the time, had a house in Brooker Street which was rented out to the mill workers. They lived in this house for a couple of years before they purchased a house in the main street of Woodford. A house that would see them adopt a long wanted daughter, Lynda. It was also the place that they would live out their working years, welcoming daughters in law and a son in law, and their grandchildren.
When Fred started working for the company, he was driving the old B Model Mack along with another driver, Arthur Curry. The owner of the business at the time was Bill Grant but it wasn’t long after this that his son Bob took over. You would often see Bill drop in to check on the operation. Bob was a regular at the mill and quite often a young Shane Grant would be at his father’s side.
Fred’s day consisted of one or two trips into the bush around Bellthorpe and Jimna, hauling huge logs out to the sawmill in Woodford. After lunch they would load bundles of sawn timber and head off to Geebung where they were dropped at Grant Timbers outlet near the railway station. Now all long gone. This trip always meant he was home on dark. He also at various times made trips to Burnett Creek in the Boonah region, and to Linville in the Brisbane Valley.
I have fond memories of riding in the trucks with him, going for loads of logs or doing that trip to Geebung…… long before the days of OH & S, when it wasn’t a problem for kids to spend the day with their Dad at his workplace. I remember riding with him during some wet weather. We hauled out of Prattens Top area near Jimna using the old Sandy Creek/Mt Kilcoy road. A pretty steep and difficult road to haul long loads on. My brother Chris was with us. On the trip back to Woodford, Dad obviously had some concerns for us, as he made us get out and walk down the range behind him. We knew why, once he got going. I can still see the trailer sliding across the road with wheels locked in the mud….We didn’t think much of it at the time but looking back, he must have been a little worried about it, but he would never show it to his boys.
I was always amazed at the skill needed to drive the B model Mack. It has two gear sticks which are used in unison. It was known as a Quad box and it was always amazing to watch the masters at it. Often driving with both hands changing gears. This was made all the more interesting in the bush with mountain ranges and blind corners. There is one corner heading to Bellthorpe, where there is a blind corner and he had to have both hands off the wheel changing gears. Keep in mind that the trucks didn’t have power steering either. Muck it up and it made for a long slow haul the rest of the way up the range.
At times, sawn timber was sent to Hancock’s mill at Ipswich. Due to school I often missed this trip. I was lucky to join him on one trip. Once the B Model was unloaded, we headed out the gate of the mill in Ipswich and he pulled over next to a bowling green. We sat and had lunch in the truck. Sandwiches and a cup of black tea was always on the menu. We sat and watched the elderly greens keeper mowing….minding his own business…mind probably a million miles away. When it comes time to go….Dad started the truck. The B model Mack’s had an air starter on them. A big rush of air and a scream….quite noisy and scare the heck out of you if you aren’t ready for it……let’s just say the greens keeper did one row a little quicker than the others. I’m sure I used to see a slight smile on Dad’s face when he did that. As I now live in the Ipswich area, I pass this site regularly and have a chuckle every time I go past the spot we were parked. Some of my best childhood memories are in those trucks and spending time with him.
In the mid to late 70’s Fred was to become the Logging Manager for Grant Timbers. His busy lifestyle continued. I remember the day that he went to Brisbane and picked up a brand new R600 Mack. This was on his 53rd birthday. The guys in the mill would give him a ribbing about an expensive birthday present. He was to continue driving, as well as Logging Manager for quite a while before handing the driving over to someone else. Bob Williams was to take over the driving duties in the R model Mack. I would spend many a school holiday riding with Bob. My job, was to walk in front of the truck, as it crawled down the Bellthorpe range in low gear, throwing the large rocks off the road so they didn’t damage the tyres.
There were a number of incidents that I recall which could have ended so badly. It is well known that timber working and truck driving are some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The most serious involved a well-known gentleman in the Woodford area who used to cut for the mill. From what I remember of versions from different people involved, the cutter, Don Cochran dropping trees, whilst a dozer driver was snigging logs. Doing as they always did, they kept an eye out for each other, it was noticed that they hadn’t heard any noise from the chainsaw for quite a while and went to check on him. He was found at the base of a tree after being hit with a falling branch. He was in a bad way, but teamwork swung into action and an ambulance was in the bush after a short while. He had lost a lot of blood. Due to the paramedics needing to attend to Don, Dad drove the Ambulance to a clearing where a helicopter was flown in to evacuate him. Don is still with us today through the team work and expertise of our medical people. They will never get paid enough in my books.
In the afternoons after school I often would go down to the mill and watch the comings and goings of the workers. I was always particularly interested in the machinery. Guess I got that from Dad. Back in the 70’s, if you drove down George Street towards the mill, once you passed the pub on the corner, you could see most of the mill yard. I remember riding down the street after Dad had just come in with a huge log on the truck. Obviously there was enough weight in it that it would cause issues unloading with the forklifts. I happened to look at the right time to see Dad unloading the B model, and see the log move too far one way and the truck rolling on its side. Not much damage but sure puts the concern in your mind that everyone was ok. There were a couple of other incidents in the bush, and also one in Brisbane. The Brisbane one was in the early 80’s when one of the newer drivers, was taking a load of sawn timber to Geebung. Something failed in the trailer hitch and the truck rolled onto its roof. The driver was pinned in the cab but was cut out and lived to drive again. Unfortunately his much loved dog, who always rode in the truck with his master, didn’t survive the accident.
One story that I remember Dad telling us was that in the 70s, the time of free love etc., there was a hippy commune out towards Stoney Creek. We regularly saw them come into town, not bothering anyone and doing their own thing. One day, Dad was returning with a load of logs from Bellthorpe and approaching the Stoney Creek bridge, which was basically a cement causeway. Most of the time, there was water running over the causeway. This one day as he rounded the corner, he found his path blocked by a Morris Mini and 2 naked young ladies washing the car. Guess it made for an interesting day. I believe they didn’t waste any time getting out of his way.
In the 70’s and earlier, there was no major issues in regard to burning waste, smoke etc. Woodford to me was not complete without the smell of the fires which were burning at the mill. Most of the offcuts were burnt in a big fire at the end of a high conveyor belt. It was a haven for kids back them. We never got burnt, well seriously anyway, but was always exploring the mill yard. Piles of sawdust were moved by an old blitz truck and dumped in the back of the yard and burnt. That was our playground. Later in the 80’s a wood chipper was installed and the sawdust was recycled to landscaping businesses. Woodford doesn’t seem the same without the smoke and smell of the fires.
I recall many of the workers that worked in the mill and bush….Frank Swenson (Mill Manager), Ted Mitchell (Canadian and Bench Operator and Saw Doctor), Arthur Jones, (Docker Operator) Sonny Clohessy (Timber Cutter), Arthur Curry (Timber Cutter and Truck Driver), Lance Reason (Maintenance and Truck Driver), Bob Williams (Truck Driver) Mick Gosper (Truck Driver), Pat Gloynes (Timber Cutter and Truck Driver), Les Fester ( Cattle and Bush worker), Ian and Brad Grigor (Haulage Contractors) and Gavin Roberts (Haulage Contractor) and Gus Hodges (Forestry worker). These men, were the ones I looked up to, as role models and Dad considered them mates. It has been surprising that through my RAAF career, I have come across numerous relatives of some of these men, and we shared similar opinions of them. There is something about the old timers who worked in the timber, gentle at heart, but could be hard men when they needed to be.
Fred continued to work at the mill until his retirement on 08/08/88. He and Shirley did the Grey Nomad thing and travelled the country with the caravan. He couldn’t get away from driving….he loved it. When he would return to Woodford after travelling, he was still involved in the timber industry by doing some stints of driving for Gavin Roberts, who was now hauling the logs for the mill. I have a much cherished video of the last run he did in the R600 before it was sold.
Old age was bearing down on Fred, now at the age of 71, he decided that it was time to slow down a bit in life, so he and Shirley sold their much loved house in Woodford and moved to Caloundra. He still stayed in touch with his closest friends from Woodford. He spent his time fishing with his son and grandsons and enjoyed wood working and his gardening. He doted over his grandkids and they loved teaching him how to use a computer and play video games.
In February 2003 at the age of 79, Fred passed away at home with Shirley by his side, after battling Bowel Cancer for some time. His ashes were scattered from the Fire Tower in Jimna, there was no better resting place than this to celebrate the life that he had in the area and the industry.
The world lost a true gentleman that year, and I lost my best mate.
All photographs courtesy of Terry Lubomirski.