As with all populations, Tasmania’s first peoples identified that different timbers have characteristics that better suit them for different purposes. Tasmanian special timbers were used for shelters, hunting tools, clapping sticks, baskets, watercraft and a myriad of other uses over millennia.
Following this tradition of inquiry, the unique and special nature of some of Tasmania’s timbers were later identified by French naval officer, Captain Huon de Kermandec when his expedition discovered beached Huon Pine logs in 1792. British settlement in 1804, soon led to the practical use of local timbers and in particular Huon Pine logs salvaged from the shoreline in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Huon River.
It was observed that although many of these drift logs had been dead for a long time, their timber remained sound. Exploiting this timbers ease of working, was the basis of boat building, building internal fit-outs and for the production of furniture and a wide range of household items necessary to support settlement.
On-going demand led to exploration for the source forests. The Huon River was the eastern boundary of its range, providing only limited supply, so, in the hope of locating more timber, exploration extended to the West Coast.
By 1816 harvesting of Huon Pine, primarily from Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River on the West Coast on behalf of the colonial administration and private interests had commenced under license. In January 1822, the now infamous Sarah Island penal settlement was established to harvest Huon Pine for the colony. Some of the harvest was retained at Sarah Island for boat and shipbuilding, leading to the construction of 86 vessels ranging from whaleboats to 250 ton ships between 1823 and 1833.
This settlement and further exploration resulted in other, different and useful special timbers being discovered and utilised. Celery Top pine was harvested for masts and spars, along with Eucalypts for key structural uses and Myrtle.
Van Diemen Land’s isolation and transport limitations led to a practice of making what was needed from locally available timber. In addition to utility pieces and applications, the crafting of high quality decorative furniture emerged and became sought after, especially when made from rarer, figured examples of the timbers.
Throughout Tasmania, each region has a history of makers and their production specialties, ranging from chairs to boats.