Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Home of the Huon pine – a shipwright’s Eldorado

The wilderness surrounding Tasmania's Macquarie Harbour is the home of the reknowned Huon pine – a tree which grows nowhere else in the world.
Apart from its sheer size it has remarkable qualities which sets it aside from other forms trees and makes it one of the most desirable timbers for shipbuilding.
Huon pine contains natural oils that resist rotting. The chemical that gives the timber its unique smell and preservative qualities is methyl eugenol which offers the timber protection, not only from rot, but also from the Teredo Worm – the pest which can infest and destroy the wooden hull of a sailing ship.
As transport in the early 1800s was by square rigged ships, shipbuilding was a prime industry and the discovery of Huon pines on the west coast provided an occupation for the convicts of Sarah Island.

Not only did they build ships, they cut down the trees and the penal settlement had its own sawmill where the logs was sawn for transport to Hobart Town.
But Huon pine is an extremely slow growing tree increasing in diameter by only 1mm per year. Some trees in the area are over 2000 years old but sadly most of the trees which were accessible to the piners were removed over the last 200 years.
Today they only examples of Huon pines growing on the banks of the Gordon River are very young trees or those disfigured examples where were not satisfactory for milling.
It will be a long wait to see the magnificent Huon Pines of old to once again dominating the forest.
Pics: Entering the Gordon River from Macquarie Harbour, and a 'baby' Huon pine over 15 years old.

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