Up Up and Away!

Story and Photography by Colin Kerr

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

Peer skywards to see the best of West Australia's tall timber county

Most of us recognise that life is full of ups and downs. But in the southwest of WA there is nothing but ups everywhere you look. From Boranup to Manjimup, from Balingup to Nyamup, from Beedelup to Palgarup, and from Quinninup to Nornalup in this part of the world the operative word is up for this is Tall Timber Country.

When the first settlers arrived in Western Australia, tall hardwood trees covered much of the southwest corner of the state. The early timber merchants called these trees Swan River Mahogany, and soon felled them to build houses for the settlers, and for sleepers for the railway lines that were rapidly spreading through the new colony. They were also milled to make blocks to pave the streets of Perth, and some even found their way to become paving blocks in the streets of London.

This is why it's called Tall Timber country!

Those early years saw small rough timber towns springing up everywhere, and huge timber jinkers could be heard creaking their way through the forests. 

Over the years the rough shanty towns started to take on a more permanent look and it seemed nothing could stop this prosperous timber operation from going on forever but virtually stop it did. World War I and the Great Depression of the early 30s saw the whole of the timber operation on its knees.

With more homes being built from brick, and timber railway sleepers being replaced by steel and concrete, the appetite of the community for timber had taken a breather. But timber towns were not to die altogether, and some of the larger settlements and the better-run mills survived.

 With a more balanced approach to managing the forests with reforestation programs set up in the 1950s and 60s, and modern equipment being installed into the mills, an orderly rejuvenation of the West's timber towns was well on the way.

 Today, a visit to this part of Australia reflects the new and the old. Some of the old settlements have been taken over by the forest, and there are no bullock-drawn timber jinkers lumbering through the bush.  There is memorabilia everywhere indoor and outdoor museums, and relics of the past.  The larger timber towns now have a modern look about them, with new homes springing up, shops opening and high-tech equipment churning away in the mills still standing on the edge of town.

 But for all this modernisation, they are unmistakably timber towns and always will be.  Many old mill workers cottages, long-abandoned, have now been restored and some public halls built in a bygone era have been brought back to life.

Town life is more diversified and new industries are being established, but their allegiance to timber lives on wood turners, wood sculptors and craftsmen abound, satisfying a new demand for the timbers that these folk know so well.

Take a walk around the timber towns as you tour this Tall Timber Country; you wont find it hard to see how much of the former charm has been retained and in a wave of nostalgia try to imagine just how mill town life must have been a century or more ago.

And out in the forests, now strictly controlled to ensure that the demand for timber is handled in a way that will see that the resource is renewed and regenerated for future generations, modern forestry management is giving the Tall Timber Country back to the people.

It's not just the trees that will captivate you...

Today, much of WAs giant karri, jarrah, marri and tingle tree country has been opened for

visitors to explore and enjoy. The famous 640km Bibbulmun walking track from Perth to Walpole winds its way through sections of the forest.

Many picnic, camping and recreational sites have been established, and even a tree-top climb or two are available, like the one towering 60 metres above the ground at Pembertons famous Gloucester Tree, which was the worlds highest fire tower lookout.

There are many well-maintained mountain walking tracks, both short and long some with wheelchair access  and also horse riding trails and drives to be found gently winding their way through some of the most picturesque tall timber country to be seen.

Trees can be a hole lot of fun (sorry)

To stand or to walk among some of these giants is a humbling experience. Some may be 1000 years old, some measure over 80 metres in height and weigh up to 200 tonnes!

At Dwellingup a Forestry Centre has been opened, giving visitors an excellent eye-opener to the world of timber and outside walk trails, and another tree top boardwalk has also been established. In any visit to WA's south-west, don't miss these fascinating attractions.

Tallest Of The Tall

Diamond Tree: 10km south of Manjimup. At the top of this 55-metre karri tree is the only wooden tower in the world. This tower supports a wooden cabin lookout that was used as a fire lookout from 1941 to 1974.

Gloucester Tree: 3km from Pemberton. The world’s highest fire lookout – this huge karri tree has 153 rungs (to ascend) leading to the lookout platform and cabin 61 metres above the ground. It was set up in 1947 as a forestry lookout tower – now used only by tourists. It is definitely not a climb to be undertaken on a windy day or after a few ales.

Dave Evans Be-centennial Tree: Towers more than 60 metres above the ground near Pemberton. There are 130 climbing pegs on the tree and from the top climbers can gain a superb view of tall timber country around 40km away.


One of the best centres for tall timber country travellers is Pemberton, 335km south of Perth. In addition to the local drives and walks (and climbing the Gloucester Tree) is a novel way to view the forest – by tram. Every day the Pemberton Tramway Company takes passengers along a stretch of disused railway line in Warren National Park. This leisurely two-hour trip includes a commentary by the driver and frequent stops at various trees, waterfalls and places of interest. Mill tours are available in a number of different centres, including Pemberton and Manjimup.


Pemberton Tourist Centre, (08) 9776 1133. 

WA Tourism web site: http://www.westernaustralia.net

Ours are from Hema’s Road Atlas. Contact (07) 3340 0000 for stockists or visit the On The Road Online Country Store.
Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.