Stanley Oswald (Dick) Aldridge

FCV Overseer

"On reflection, a tribute must be made to the Forest Overseers who had the grass-roots control of the forest management during the 1960s. Tim Hodgetts at Gorae, Stringy Aldridge had Narrawong, Central Cobboboonee, Dunmore and Tyrendarra, Alec Murphy looked after Greenwald and Dartmoor, Dick Aldridge had charge of Drumborg, Annya and Myamyn while Bob Riley was at Digby and Hotspur. These five officers had the welfare of the forests and treated their respective charges as they would have done if it had been their own farms. They were all quick to defend against any desultory remark or criticism of their methods by outsiders or external departmental personnel." {Source: K Morrison, DFO Heywood, 1960s.)

This article is taken directly, with permission, from
"Of Sawyers and Sawmills. A History of the Timber Industry in Victoria's Far South West. Garry Kerr. 1995

Dick Aldridge and his forebears have long been associated with the forest industry in the Heywood area. After a number of different jobs in his youth Dick joined the Forest Commission at Heywood in 1940, and rose to become Forest Overseer. He retired in 1976.


In October 1990 I spoke to him at his Heywood home about his years in the forest ...

"My father was a bullock driver and I remember him telling me how they carted the piles to Portland when they were building the big pier. They went on from there to carting logs for the sawmills. I went through the forests as a kid with my dad, when he was log hauling. Every chance I got I'd be out on the wagon with him."

"I just forget the year that the dad changed teams with Harry Bartlett from Mount Gambier. Dad's team of bullocks for his team of horses. Where Bartlett was logging from was more suitable for the bullocks, so he dealt a level swap to my dad for his team of horses. Dad would have had anything from fourteen to eighteen bullocks, which he swapped for an eight horse team.

"Bullocks were much slower. Therefore it was easier to handle the bullocks and keep pace with them. The horses of course, were much more fiery - when you got a team of horses together you had something to handle. Not saying that the old bullockies didn't have something to handle either, because they had a long string of them didn't they."

"Fourteen to sixteen bullocks in a team - it would be a very long team, eighteen. When they had a big job to do, they'd put their teams together and perhaps put two or three teams on the one pull. They might not be all hooked on the front of a wagon but they might pull on the axle of whatever they were pulling, and give some power that way. They had to stretch every cord of knowledge that they had, to be able to get the job done."




Dick Aldridge in the Annya Forest
Late 1960s- early 1970s
Source: G Kerr


Dick was asked if his father was able to move more logs with the horses than the bullocks ...

"Very little, because with a bullock team you don't stop for lunch - you don't unyoke for dinner. With horses you had to give them an hour. You had a watering place - you'd always stop at a watering place, give them a drink first, and then you'd put the nose bags on them. Sometimes they used to have two oat bags or potato bags and sow them together in the middle, and they'd open the side and make a long feeder that would reach between the wheels of their wagon. That's how they used to feed their horses at lunchtime. But they would only give the horses about an hours rest, where with the bullocks you didn't have to unyoke you see. As soon as the driver swallowed his bit of lunch he would keep on going with his team."

"My uncle, Willie Hollis, had a very good team of bullocks. I've seen him pass the horse teams while they were having their dinner, and he'd be in to Benbows old mill here by the time the horses got in. He was never very far behind the horses, even though the bullocks travelled slower. But as you worked the bullocks for a season, they would get a bit leg weary and tired, and they used to get a bit slower then. He had a very good team, a good walking team, and they were in good heart."

"With a team that was working all the year, the bullocks would get very tired, and they'd walk very slow. Some would get so tired that they'd go back in the yoke - wouldn't keep the yoke up."

"On the whole, horses were faster. In fact, in the finish the old bullocks went out altogether. There would be up to ten or twelve horse teams carting into the mill over here. Uncle Willie Hollis's was the only bullock team carting here in the 30's."

Dick was able to recall with little difficulty 20 teamsters who operated in the Heywood area prior to 1940. They were Jack Bilston, Teddy Bilston, Wattie Thomas, Jack Dent, Fred Thomas, Bill Aldridge, Charlie Price, Tom Aldridge, William Hollis, Ernie Hollis, Ted Lovett, Jacky Bell, Arthur Lovell, Robert Boyer, Jack Attwell, Bill Ryan, Ernie Barr, Alex Barr, Vic Donaldson and Carl Pluckhahn."

Dick was asked about his first experiences after leaving school ...

"As a matter of fact I took on a job cutting wood for the railways - contract work. ... used to cart it and we used to cut it, and he used to put on cutters. You got four bob a ton to cut it. It was two foot wood and it had to be billetted (split). So you can imagine how many times you swung the ol' axe to go through stuff that had to billetted. The contract stated that your wood had to be billetted. You'd get half a ton of wood out of a tree - that would be a nice size tree to cut into railway wood."

"We carted it into the railway station at Heywood and stacked it in the yard. The railway engine drivers used to light their boilers with wood, and in lots of cases, if coal got a bit short, they'd have to steam them on wood too. I've seen that railway yard over there from the crossing, where you go out Mount Clay road, I've seen that yard one stack of wood right through to where those old homes are. There'd be thousands of tons of wood there. No trouble to get a job wood cutting in the winter."

"Years ago, near the turn of the century, they used to split shingles and palings in the bush. I've seen the broad axe work done, and as a matter of fact I've used the broad axe many a time. The secret in broad axe work is to always keep the heel of the axe well down, so that the blade is level with whatever you're cutting. Otherwise the cut will pull the axe around in your hand and you keep diggin' lumps out of the timber. As you know, the broad axe handle is off-set, so that you can go down the face of a log and you don't hit your knuckles on the wood."

"There were old broad axe men here, Dick Price was one. He could broad axe a top for a dining room table and it would be ready to take the polish. We did a bit of broad axe work in the Northern Territory. In 1942 I went away in the Air Force to the Northern Territory, and we were employed putting in little spot sawmills. There was no breaking down saw. Now you can't put a round log over a bench because the low spots will grab the bench. What you do, is roll the log a board, and the bit that's hangin' over the board, is the bit you take off. Then the log goes back again on the trolleys, and you roll him over on to that flat side. Then you go straight up the middle of the log, and then you've got it what you call broken down."

"Now getting back to when I first left school. You were lucky to get a job - you just had to fish for yourself. In 1926 I went to Gorae working for Norm Chapman and Rob Hollis. We picked apples, but it was mainly sawmilling. The old orchardists could get permits to get timber to be cut into fruit cases to send their fruit overseas. It was going to England you see. There was Joe Pedrazzi, there was the Hollis's, the Hann's, and the Williamson's. They all had little sawmills and they used to cut timber for fruit cases. Then some of them went from cuttin' fruit cases to cuttin' timber. Old Joe Pedrazzi was a fair sized miller when he finished. He was taking a load of timber every day to Warrnambool"

"Bill Cain come down from Bartlett's and set up the little mill for Norm Chapman and Rob Hollis. Norm ended up buying a little eight horse power steam engine in the finish. Well they did alright, but they had terrible trouble getting their timber out in the winter time. I think that was their reason for selling. Bill Cain was the benchman and I used to do the handle for him and I learnt his style of cutting.

"Dad carted logs for Joe Pedrazzi for years. Frank, my elder brother, and I, used to fall the logs and dad would cart them in to the mill with the horses - do two loads a day. Of cause you can get logs quite close there, but the bulk of the logs that were carted to this mill over here (Benbows) was only one load a day, because they had to cart from further out in the bush. A horse will only travel about four mile an hour at the best. If you could do two trips, you'd do two.

"From Chapman's I went to work for old Alf Hogan. He had the mill at the Gorae siding, but I never worked on that mill. Actually he bought old R.H. Hollis out, and he shifted the mill straight in to Portland, to Browning Street, and I worked on that in 1929. Geoff Hogan was boss then, that was about the time his dad was killed with a limb in the bush, that was Charles. Fred was another, and Bill. Bill was Tammy's father, he got killed too, he fell down a hatch on a ship."

"Christmas eve 1929 the old feller, old Alf, came to me and he said, "Look Dick, we're going to have a little bit of time off. We'll have to shut the mill down and get some logs in." He said, "We're short of logs." So I couldn't see much point in staying down there, there was plenty of work to do at home."

"I went on road construction work for a few years. Worked up around Dartmoor and down around Portland and Bridgewater till I joined the Forests Commission in 1940, and I was with them for 36 years. I started off at what you might call the bottom, then went to leading hand, foreman, road foreman, and finally Forest Overseer. In the late 1940's I pegged out, and was in charge of, making the Heywood to Kentbruck road."

"There was an Italian chap, named Ernie Fueger. He was the first man that I know of who ever carted logs with a truck. He carted them from Milltown in to Heywood. He didn't take the truck into the bush. The logs were pulled out of the bush on to the side of the road. Later they took the trucks into the bush and almost carted right from the stump. As a matter of fact I was fallin' the logs for this Fueger when he started. He carted the first logs for Benbows that were ever carted by truck."

The interview turned to conservation ...

"You see these demonstrations when people go in front of the bulldozers and so on. There's no need for any of that at all, because if the forest is managed properly, there isn't any reason why it wouldn't be self supporting. I think it's a pity to see them wranglin'. I'm not in favour of them going in cutting stuff like they're cutting it today - down to ten or twelve inches at the head. But when a tree is matured and nearly finished, there's only one thing to do with him, and that's to take him out and let another one take his place. Now you can go out into this stringy bark forest, the messmate and brown stringy, and you might have a few old cull trees. Well, for every cull you ring bark, I'd say you get ten or twenty trees replacement. A lot of people are under the impression that you've got to burn the bush to get re-growth. You don't have to do that at all. If you let daylight into the bush you'll get re-growth. Sometimes a little light fire will help germinate the seed, but the forest will still regenerate without that burn at all - just by letting the light in."

"Twenty years ago you could go out the Cobboboonee road towards Kentbruck, and there wasn't a young sapling on the side of the road anywhere, along by the lime kilns. The sides of the road were clear, because we formed the roads up there. Today there's regeneration all along both sides of the road. So that's proof enough that you don't need a great scorchin' fire to get re-growth. A little light fire is alright. I find that the proper proceedure to grow a forest is to go through and take out the trees that should come out. He's a mature tree, he's starting to show dead wood up at the top, or he's a crooked tree taking up too much room, and he's got to be cut in about two places to log him. Well they're the sort of trees that you should take out in your first cut."

"My opinion is that forestation is all in the management. It takes over twenty years to rotate our forest here to get a supply for all our mills. When I finished, there was more timber in these forests, through regrowth, than what there was when I first went in it, and I was there for 36 years.

"Would you have any idea of the growth of a tree? I was measuring trees for twenty odd years and our native trees here, such as the messmate or the brown stringybark, or peppermint, grow an inch a year, in circumference. What I used to do was take a slack month of the year, say July, and go around an put a bit of a spike, say the end of a file, in a tree, and I'd measure that. I'd put the tape around just above that spike every year in July, and do you know that they averaged that inch a year for those twenty years. However I have had trees grow up to two-and-three-quarter inches in a year. I worked it out in the finish that was because of rainfall. The heavier the rainfall the more growth we got. I had a sheet of paper and I'd fold it up pretty tight and just slip the axe in under the woolly bark and I'd slip the paper in as I pulled the axe out. And do you know that I could go back and that paper was dry every year, for me to read the figures and write on it!"

"The different types of tree grow on different soil. The brown stringybark loves the sandy soils. You go up along the Glenelg, or down towards Kentbruck coming this way, you'll get the brown stringybark. They've got a wide leaf, they've got a big seed box, and they've got a cap that goes over the top of the seed box. The messmate is a different seed altogether, and a different tree. He'll grow on the red ground and the clay - they grow on the soil they like."

I asked about fire fighting ...

"We had a big fire in the Annya area one time and we had to get into the Annya camp area to escape the flames. The flames were sixty feet high and I can tell you it was getting hot. I was in charge of a bulldozer in there and the driver was trying to get away ahead of the fire, which is the worst thing you can do. The best thing is to just wait till you get a break in the height of the flame and get your dozer back around onto the burnt ground. If it's burnt country you can soon make a place you can put your machines and trucks on for safety. The worst thing you can do is to try to beat a fire, and this chap was tryin' to beat it, and I ran and I jumped up on the side of his dozer and I said, "You follow me," and I just took him back along the line till I got a low flame and took him through the low flame onto the burnt ground. If you have a flame sixty feet high, you can't do much. It needs to be something that the blade will nearly put out as you go through."

"There's a lot of points you can learn at the game and you get it from experience. You can always try to rush too far ahead of a fire, to head a fire off, and go too far and the fire will get around behind you and it's gone again. We used to always make sure we had the fire safe behind us to make sure we wern't cut off, before we ventured further round the fire.

"One of our Heywood gangs got cut off up here at Lyons one day. I had a big tanker in there and we had a good supply of water. We just got into the bush there and the wind got up and it got gain' properly. There was fire all round us. I had a few good men on the hoses - I could see that the fire was going to beat us. It was gettin' too hot and too strong for us - we couldn't stop it. I said, "Look, the best thing we can do is hose down all round us and just wait till the fire's gone," which we did. If we'd rushed off into the bush ahead of the fire God knows what could have happened to us! Yes, we had some tussles.

"We got cut off one night up at the back of Springburn there - right over in the back of Springburn creek. I'd gone through to the Boolong area and I'd hit the corner - see the fire's only got to jump over your line where you've gone through, where you think it's out, and you can be in trouble. I got over there in Boolong and it looked pretty grim for me to get back. I had about a mile to get back to where our main base was, and the sky was aglow. I went out onto the Boolong cleared and I waited till the glow went down and I made my way back. I had to go around a bit that was still burning, but I got around, took a truck in then and put it out. Yes, you've got to use a lot of savvy!"