This photograph from a glass plate negative depicts an Australian steam sawmill in the late 1800s and shows a group of men sitting on a pile of logs awaiting milling. The rough sawmill of saplings with a bark roof was located in the bush close to the location of the timber to be sawn. The round blade of a saw can be seen under the building on the right. Under the structure on the left is the flywheel of a small steam portable engine, which powered the saw, with the chimney protruding through the bark roof. The chimney has a spark arrester to prevent stray sparks from igniting nearby scrub and most importantly sawdust lying around near the mill and the bark roof. Despite this, sawmills regularly burnt down.
Steam-operated sawmills were a vast improvement on the use of pit saws operated vertically by two men, one of whom stood in a pit. The senior of the two guided the saw from the top. After the timber was felled it was hauled to the mill by a team of bullocks. Sometimes a crude tramway was built to connect new timber fields to the mill. Later on, with better transport, mills tended to be located near towns.
Margaret Simpson, Curator, August 2018
This photographic negative was published by the Sydney firm Charles Kerry & Co. and is part of the Powerhouse Museum's Tyrrell collection which contains over 2,900 glass plate negatives by Kerry & Co. Although a few appear to be from the 1880s most were produced between 1892 and 1917. Over this period, and well into the early 1900s, prints from these negatives appeared in many Australian publications and albums of views. In 1903 the company began producing postcards from these negatives, further establishing the images as some of the most significant and best known early views of New South Wales.
Some of the more significant themes covered by the collection include; views of New South Wales, Queensland, country towns, Sydney, Indigenous Australians, the South Pacific, rural life, native flora and fauna, and sentimental views. In addition a number of significant events from the 1900s are covered by the collection including; embarkation of troops for the Boer War, Hordens fire, the Inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901, the arrival of the Great White Fleet and the Burns verses Johnson boxing match at Rushcutters Bay in 1908.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, January, 2009
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
David, Millar, Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1981
Tyrell, James, Australian Aboriginal and South Sea Islands Implements, Weapons and Curios, James Tyrell, Sydney, 1929