Urban Salvage

The Drum


      MAY 2010

  • Thoughts From The Hattah Lakes
  • Recycled Red Gum And Other Hardwoods

Thoughts From The Hattah Lakes

Solitude is a relative concept. It seemed we brothers were the only campers along this shore of the Murray River on an Anzac Day weekend, but in the arid zone between Australia's agricultural outposts and the dry centre, you are never completely alone. The flies still abound in late summer populations sustained by April rains. And the Murray with its trailing lagoons, billabongs, creeks and flooded lakes becomes Federation Square for migratory and squatter forms of birdlife. 

At dusk the corellas chase regent parrots from prime nesting red gums on the river edge. It's a permanent game of Cinderella's slipper as the smaller regent parrots eventually find nesting locales much too squeezy for corellas and remain unchallenged therein. The mauking moans and mewling of the corellas is overwhelmed by shrieking from a formation of sulphur-crested cockatoos. In several half-hearted attacks on corella nesting trees, they cause alarm but don't hang round to capitalize on the havoc. Hit and run. Wings vivid white as they swoop low against brown Murray waters darkening under a pink-hued sunset.

I am no dedicated twitcher. Being in the timber life, I am much more a tree bloke. Flora over fauna. My thoughts over this weekend were on Red Gums, which dominate the canopy of the shore forest. Apart from word games devoted to besting each other for a collective noun for birds - a lamentation, a persecution or a grief of corellas; a jihad, a detonation or a shrill of cockatoos - we wondered with what expertise could we guess at how different, or how unchanged, this section of river in Murray-Kulkyne National Park would have been before European settlement.


'Tis a useful skill, imagining - particularly in the absence of knowing. You cannot always know, but you can be as curious as you like. Brother Mole, with experience of the mid-north coast, imagines a dense understorey removed by settlers or aborigines and kept barren by 4WD vehicles. And certainly off-roaders have degraded parts of the bank. But brothers Ratty and Toad both believe the present low grassy understorey with fallen branch and sparse juvenile Cooba Wattles, is close to the original open canopy forest. Filtered sunlight reaches the ground. Leaf and branch litter pile against onshore logs or accumulate in washouts and depressions.

To my mind, the greatest change over 200 years lies on the very banks. No doubt erosion and undercutting always took place. Red Gum thrives in the impact zone. Flood, current, and piled debris. However, I believe fallen trees and captured floodwrack would have provided a texture of anarchy and disorder to the river bank we do not see today. It may have facilitated flooding or diversions to runoff lagoons and creeks as break-offs caused larger chokes downstream. For always in the pattern of occurrence and propagation is the driftline of same-age trees. Seedlings on the sandbars, young trees on new shorelines and mature trees leaning from vertical both ways on higher banks. A linear drift which mimics downstream flow of water.

Here on the banks in the closing decades of the 19th century, paddleboat crews cleared log jams to make navigation safer - and cut the logs as fuel for their steam engines. Later, their bow waves helped undercut unprotected banks - as ski boats do today. The cattle we see wandering onto the beaches on the NSW side is a sign that 22 years of established landcare principles have to be constantly put to all persons who share the common resource of waterways - not to regard them as a personal right, but rather a shared privilege to be protected. 


Camped on the banks, it is easy to imagine an always-present open forest glade that allowed breezes in summer to cool the river dwellers. This is a forest type unlike other forest types in Australia. It does not resemble coastal forests, nor does it resemble other inland forests like the Box-Ironbark forests of Victoria, or the Callitris-Ironbark forests of NSW. It is part of the uniqueness of our forests.

Who - except in Dreaming - ever imagined a River Forest? A forest that defined, and was defined by, a river system. Was only as wide as a verge or a connective woodland belt? A narrow linear drift forest occasionally bursting like an aneurysm at a chokepoint or obstacle on its wide flat journey, to create lagoon or flooded forest, then rolling slowly onwards to a distant sea.

Upriver, Red Gums merge in open woodlands with Yellow Box, Grey Box, Ironbark and foothill species of Eucalypt, but maintain single species intensity in the river zone and its feeder creeks. Downstream - especially in the arid zone - the linearity, the sinuous, life-giving river and its narrow attendant forest, is stark in the landscape.

We don't pay much for forest management in these national parks - and it shows. Many of the degraded features of the parks can be remedied by Parks Victoria staff if the budget allows. Park fees could include firewood collection at the entry, to stop collection of strategic fallen habitat log. People using the park for camping can be catered for and so can landcare objectives. It lies within our traditions of use and care. More measuring, reporting and assessment can be done to improve park management. It's what we have science for, after all. In the meantime, it belongs to our imagination, to visualize an ideal for the Murray River and its forests.

-'Badger', Hattah Lakes April 2010


Recycled Red Gum And Other Hardwoods

Red Gum T & G   90 x 16mm Flooring   Rate $89.00/m2

Red Gum was often used as a structural timber in the river towns of the Murray - though it did not lend itself to length. For its mass, River Red Gum is not a strong structural timber. It works well as bulky post but it has a low spanning index. Its appeal lies elsewhere - as anyone who owns a Red Gum table will tell you. We reported a year ago that stocks of overlay flooring were available from joists salvaged from the Younghusband Woolstore in Albury, and good quantities of this batch are still available despite regular sales since that release.  



DAR Red Gum   175 x 65mm   Rate $65.00/m

These 2400mm dressed old sleepers are some of the last from the Robinvale Bridge demolition a couple of years back.
They are seamed with gum and grain lines, and punctuated by spike and bolthole.
They look exceedingly rustic and would suit table, bench, seat and composite stair treads in building or furniture projects.




DAR Spotted Gum   175 x 65mm   Rate $65.00/m

Some of the sleepers referred to above were brown in tone, and included White Mahogany, Blackbutt and Ironbark, as well as Spotted Gum.
They have the same sweep of fracture, gum and feature as the Red Gum sleepers, and would work well in similar applications.




DAR Posts In Red Gum   120 x 120mm   Rate $90.00/m

3.0 metres is a great length for verandah or pergola posts. These were resized from 300 x 150mm bridge 'kickers' - used as an edge on the top deck of country bridges. The original lumps of wood in rough-sawn state are also available ($90.00/m) if you are looking for a rustic oversized pergola post.



Red Gum DAR   170 x 170mm   Rate $170.00/m
     140 x 140mm   Rate $120.00/m  

No lengths exceeding 2.8 metres left, but 2.4 to 2.7 metre lengths in superb condition are available in both these sizes.

Will do deal for several in a purchase.

Red Gum Shorts DAR   100 x 85mm   Rate $40.00 ea (std) or $30.00 ea (feature grade)

Lengths 900 to 1300mm.


DAR Spotted Gum   140 x 140mm   Rate $150.00/m

3.0 to 4.0 metre lengths of recycled timber squared from round pole stock and dressed. Good colour and minimal attrition or rustic feature.



DAR Douglas Fir   220 x 40mm   Rate $33.00/m

3.0 to 4.0 metre lengths of fine-grained, dense Oregon timbers remilled from deep joists. You have to love the old-growth sections of this species that are obtained from the early salvage record. There is no equivalent in new forest product today. This is furniture timber, but priced to give service as structural beams. But please don't hide it behind plaster. All of our timber is sourced to be seen and touched.