Because of our magnificent stands of hardwood forests, Tasmania neglected for a long time to invest in the newly developing softwood industry, which rapidly created a worldwide demand for pine timber as the new preferred lightweight and economical building material. Countries like Nth America, the Baltic nations and New Zealand who quickly engaged in large scale pine plantations were now reaping rich financial rewards.

In Oct 1919, Llewellyn George Irby (37), who for the past six years held a senior management role with State Forests of NSW, was chosen to become Tasmania’s Conservator of State Forests. After an extensive investigation throughout Tasmania, Irby found our timber resources were in serious decline. Half the sawmills in the state had closed and more were closing almost daily. He fathered the Forestry Act (1920) that established scores of forest reservations, sustainable logging levels and a massive state-wide plan of reafforestation. In promoting these goals, Irby gave a very convincing address to the Kentish Council meeting at Sheffield in Aug 1923. He explained the enormous forest wealth that could come to Tasmania by growing millions of pine trees on the poorer parts of State-owned land. While we did have our own softwood species, such as Pencil Pine, King Billy Pine & Huon Pines, he said they took 700 years to grow, were only found in limited quantities in remote regions, were difficult to get to market and were, in the long run, quite unsustainable. By comparison, fast growing pine species imported from Nth America could be planted much closer to the market and harvested at least four times each century. Tasmania had millions of acres of Crown land suitable for this new industry, which Irby predicted would become one of Tasmania’s largest revenue-producers and provide employment for many young men in rural areas.

Formation of Stoodley Forestry Plantation

In Feb 1925 the government proclaimed a 2,000-acre Forestry Reserve between Sheffield and Railton that became known as the Stoodley Forestry Plantation. Most of it was on

very poor, gritty Government-owned land along the eastern sides of the Badgers Range. Here, in the winter of 1925, Irby began an experiment by planting 14,000 imported pines on a steep 20-acre section to observe how well they would grow. Species included the pinaster pine from the Mediterranean, ponderosa pine from Nth America, and radiata pine from California.

Irby also created a 20-acre Arboretum; well-chosen in a sunny yet sheltered valley with ample rainfall. NW District forester M H Jarratt supervised the planting of many other exotic species of conifer trees, carefully monitoring their annual growth to ascertain commercial usefulness. Closer to Sheffield, Irby chose a one-acre block to establish the Sheffield Forestry Nursery, which was enclosed with rabbit-proof wire netting fence and, inside that, a macrocarpa hedge. The nursery was designed to grow more than half a million plants from seed. Beginning in the winter of 1926, seeds planted included Oregon pine, Corsican pine, Scotch pine, Sugar pine, Western Yellow pine, Austrian pine, Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, European beech, and Himalayan and Western Red cedars. Prior to planting, all seeds were coated with red lead to stop the ‘depredations of birds’. This Sheffield Nursery proved highly successful, supplying tens of thousands of young trees to be planted on the Badger Ranges. In addition, in 1928 some 50,000 seedlings were transported to the Beaconsfield plantation and in 1929 10,000 were shipped to King Island. For several years, Llewellyn Irby, his wife & four chn lived at Homeleigh, 478 Claude Rd; but in 1933, during a break from the Forestry, they moved to Sisters Beach where the Irby family became its original settlers. Their only son Ken m Mary Johnson, daughter of Sheffield Anglican rector Rev E E Johnson, and their daughter Judith m Rev Ross Flint, who became an Anglican minister at Sheffield.

In Jan 1930, Sam Wm Steane replaced Irby as Tasmanian Conservator of Forests. Steane (47) had a BA from Cambridge and a Forest Management certificate from the National School of Forestry in Nancy, France. In 1908 Steane began work for the forestry service of the Kashmir Province, India, where, in 1913, he had created a School for Foresters, and in 1920 became their Conservator of Forests. In his first year in Tasmania, Steane introduced an aerial survey of the state’s forests – the first of its kind undertaken in Australia. Reconnaissance flights were made, both in flying boats and land planes. An area of 350 square miles was photographed and the first aerial mosaics were produced on the scale of two inches to the mile. At that time, Stoodley and Beaconsfield were the two largest plantations in the state, with 200 acres each. However, the results of the experiment to grow pines up the steep slopes of the Badgers over time were disappointing, mainly producing trees of stunted growth.

Forestry work in the early 1930s was limited because of a world-wide depression. This was followed by the summer of 1933 being the driest on record. Bushfires raged state-wide, destroying 18 sawmills and burning much of the pine plantation on the Badgers. However, the Sheffield Plant Nursery survived and was able to send 40,000 seedlings to replant the partially destroyed Beaconsfield plantation.

1935 Stoodley Plantation Saved

Because of the unsatisfactory results of growing pines on the Badgers, the Forestry Dept abandoned any plans to replant there, and were thinking of leaving the district. But quick action by the Kentish Council saved the day. In May 1935, Cr John Shaw moved that the Kentish Council urge the Forestry Dept to consider the hundreds of acres of second-class land around the Stoodley district that had come back into the hands of the Repatriation Dept after scores of soldier-settlement farms had proved to be unprofitable. After testing a few plots, the Forestry Dept found this Stoodley soil very suitable for growing pines. They acquired 800 acres and in 1939 employed forester Laurie McKinnon-Jones from Scottsdale to hire a dozen local men to clear and lay out the first Stoodley pine plantation. By 1942, 365,000 conifers had been planted, mainly pinus radiata and Douglas fir (Oregon pines). Ministerial inspections were greatly impressed with these fast-growing conifers, described as making the best progress of any stands in Tasmania. On 680 acres, 750,000 trees were planted, some said to be growing 10 times faster than our native eucalyptus. By the end of the decade, roughly ½ million trees were well-grown, some reaching 70 ft high. McKinnon-Jones was sent to King Island to establish a plantation there before returning to again take charge of Sheffield, from where he retired in 1975.

1952 Commercial Production Begins

In Feb 1952 the Stoodley Plantation became the first state pine forest on the NW Coast to begin commercial production. The best 250 trees on each acre were marked with white paint to be retained for growing stock. The remainder were cut down and removed by men employed to thin them out. Early tree-fellers included Don Hudson, Reg Stafford & Ross Bannon. For the Queen’s visit to the NW Coast on 23 February 1954, a great many pines from the thinning operations were used to decorate Devonport.

The contract for milling these trees in 1952 had gone to the Loongana Sawmilling Co whose manager, Henry Bishop, erected a sawmill at Stoodley on the Badgers side of Sheffield Rd. They combined with several other sawmills to form a new public company called Timber Holdings (Tas) Ltd. When Sam Steane retired from being Tasmanian Conservator of Forests in 1953, he and his wife Cecily purchased a property at 214 Old Paradise Rd, they called ‘The Spinney’. They lived there in retirement for the next 12 years, becoming active in the social life of the Kentish community.

That same year, Dutch forester Hans Dorgelo and family arrived and were provided with a new forestry house at Stoodley, later moving to a house/office at 102 Main St Sheffield. His task was to expand the re-afforestation program, and by the following year the first 100 acres of the quick-growing pinas radiate had been planted at Beulah. Dorgelo was followed by Laurie McKinnon-Jones, now back from King Island, until Oct 1975 when Neil Denney took over. Born in Scottsdale, Neil had been with the Forestry at Mole Creek since 1966. He inherited the Forestry house/office at 102 Main St until 1986 when Forestry offices were constructed in pine log-cabin style on the corner of Main & Duff Dr (now Sheffield Police Station). Neil Denney was responsible for the massive expansion of the Forestry across the Gog ranges and Lorinna areas. When a Forestry Dept policy change planned to close all regional offices, Neil Denny fought against this, but when he retired in 2005 he worked out of Devonport as their Senior Technical Officer.

Since 1952, the Stoodley Plantation has been harvested three times. The two roads accessing this plantation are called Radiata Rd and Ponderosa Loop. Rodney Smith, followed by George & Rita Oliver, occupied the Stoodley Forestry House, while Selwyn & Mavis Oliver lived in the one at Paradise. Other forestry workers around this period included Walter Wilson, David Rootes, Geo Winwood, Don Walker, Wayne Weeks, Brian Davies, John Mason, Brian Jordan, Lee Lockwood, and Murray & Graham Sinfield.

Tree harvesting and carting contractors included Bert Hampton, Bob Hope of Sheffield, and Ernie & Allan May from Staverton. They carted pine logs as far as the Glengarry Sawmill near Exeter and paper pulp mills at Burnie. In the 1960s/70s, May Bros employees included Allan Winwood, David Kirkcaldy, Ross Sharman, Bill Rootes, Jim Davis, Darrell Smith, Robert Burr, Gary Huett and Jimmy Mace. In 2017 Forestry Tasmania changed its name to Sustainable Timber Tasmania. Today, great swathes of eucalyptus & pine plantations cover all parts of Kentish; indeed, the whole state. Yet, the recent shortage of house framing timber have had our state and federal governments jointly announcing their new national goal to plant one billion more trees by the end of this decade.

Stoodley’s Tracks and Trails

As part of the 1988 Commonwealth Bicentennial Celebrations, each Australian state was encouraged to create their own Heritage Trails. This was the catalyst for many communities developing all kinds of historical and scenic tracks and trails around their localities. In 1992, a pleasant family walk was first advertised from Sheffield along the old railway line past Redwater Creek Cave to the Stoodley Forestry Plantation. By 2003, a one-hour loop walk was created from a forestry side-road half-way up the Stoodley hill. Called the Stoodley Forest Walk, it majored on hiking through the original arboretum established in 1925/26, plus others added in 1939/the 1940s. In this arboretum, some pinus radiata have become the tallest radiata in Australia. It also includes specimens of the world’s largest tree: the giant Redwood (sequoia gigancea) of California. Each autumn, the changing colours of the European beech (fagus sylvatica) forest culminating with the falling of their leaves about mid-May attracts many visitors, even creating a delightful venue for outdoor weddings. Walking through this arboretum on a calm day is an eerie experience because of the complete absence of sounds. There is no bird life, as insects cannot live on the 30cm-thick carpet of pine needles, which also completely deadens all footsteps. Hence, Stoodley Arboretum has become a treasured asset of our local community and visitors to our region. Regretfully, occasionally this charming and peaceful place gets trashed by locals too lazy to use Sheffield’s Waste Disposal Site. But, again, we can be so thankful for the wonderful work done by the ‘Kentish Walks’ volunteers who continue to make it a pleasurable visit.

The Tasmanian Horse Trail. In the 1990s, a Tasmanian extension to the 5,330km Bicentennial National Horse-Riding Trail from Cooktown, Qld to Healesville, Vic was created. A 480km trail from Devonport to Dover was formed by linking up existing quiet country roads, forestry & fire trails, old stock routes, and four-wheel drive tracks. From Railton to Sheffield, the new trail follows the old railway line through the Stoodley Plantation. It opened in 1997 as a multiple-use trail for hikers, horse riders, bike riders and, where appropriate, vehicles. On Boxing Day 2016, five ladies from a Southern Tas Horse Riding Club rode through the Stoodley Plantation on the first leg of their Devonport to Dover adventure that took 23 days. Their husbands functioned as support crew, travelling ahead choosing campsites, erecting tents, cooking meals, building horse enclosures and supplying hay.

New Badgers Bike Trails 

The opening of the 50km of mountain bike trails around the Sheffield end of the Badgers in 2021/22 was an exciting conclusion to the mammoth task of building over 100km of bush trails for the Wild Mersey Mountain Bike Project. Built by South Australian Co Trailscapes, this final Badgers section, funded by federal & state grants, cost $1.4m. Its completion further cements Tasmania’s growing reputation as a world-famous destination for mountain bikers. To get from the maze of tracks around Newbed to the cluster of new trails around the summit of the Badgers, mountain bikers ride the new Woodhooker Trail up through the Stoodley hills. Originally, this bike trail was planned to zig-zag all through the historic birch forest but after a concerned group had Cr Tim Wilson talk with the planners, they were happy to have their bike track skirt the edges of this unique forest. After that, half a dozen different trails begin their twists and turns across many spurs and valleys until they reach the summit of Kimberley Lookout (elevation 548m) with its glorious view of Sheffield and Mt Roland. These bike trails are colour-coded to indicate different degrees of difficulty. There are 15km of green trails for novices, 33km of blue trails for the more experienced riders and 2km of black trails for advanced riders with technical skills.

Next time: Bridle Track Road into Sheffield