Timber yards in Southbank


Timber yards in Southbank By Robin Grow - President, Australian Art Deco & Modernism Society One of the major industries in 19th century South Melbourne (in what is now Southbank) was timber yards. Much construction, particularly housing, was of wood and it was essential to have large stores of lumber for weatherboards, walls, joists, rafters, floors, palings and shelving. Access to St Kilda Rd and Princes Bridge was also desirable. A major enterprise was Carron Timber Yards, run by J. Wright and Son (one of the oldest firms in Melbourne) and located at the intersection of Sturt and Kavanagh streets. Originally located on Flinders St, the firm re-located to reclaimed swampy land in Sturt St after fire destroyed their city premises of a mill and joinery. Timber yards sprawled along the south side of the river, enabling easy unloading of imported timber from ships moored there. The attached postcard sets out the prices for wood products from 1901, many from America, New Zealand and the Baltic countries. Many artisans in the timber industry had British backgrounds and preferred to work with imported wood with which they were accustomed. Gradually the qualities of Australian hardwoods came to be prized. By the 1930s wood had been replaced as the major construction material by concrete, and steel and timberyards in the area were rapidly disappearing. Typical of this was the yard occupied by J. Sharp & Sons in City Rd. Sharp was a former employee at Carron and established his own business in 1857 before moving to South Melbourne in 1886. In the 1930s it was replaced by a new building for General Motors, just as Carron Timber Yards was replaced by new buildings for Pioneer Tourist Coaches and Sanderson & Cheney. A boost to the local industry occurred in 1934 when the Commonwealth constructed new timber laboratories at South Melbourne, near the Spencer Street Bridge, aimed at improving treatment processes for local timbers and to find new uses for them. Running a timber yard was a tough business and accidents from machinery were common. Fire was a regular occurrence in timber yards, particularly on days of high winds, caused by lightning strikes or sparks from machinery that ignited wood dust. Many of the buildings in the timber yards were themselves built of wood and were highly inflammable and fire among acres of stacked timber could result in wholesale destruction. Losses of stock valued at thousands of pounds were not uncommon. But the machinery was also valuable. Fortunately, the industry was close knit (at least in the early days) and a loss of machinery was often covered by other millers who would lend machinery sufficient to cover orders. Wood and fire – two reminders of the early days of Southbank •

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