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Deanmill End of an era

28 Apr 2016

 

After 100 years of operations Deanmill has finally closed operations. The operations will relocate to the old Greenbushes mill site.

Below is some history that you may find interesting.

At the turn of the 20th century, much of South West Australia remained little more than unexplored frontier.  Although a budding settlement had been established near the coast at Perth in 1829, and numerous communities to the south had added to the burgeoning Swan River Colony, many settlers found the isolation and harsh conditions of frontier life too challenging, eventually deciding to go back home.

 

While several industrious individuals had recognized the potential for fortunes to be made from the region’s sprawling hardwood forests, most who attempted it failed miserably.

It wasn’t until the late 1870s when Maurice Coleman Davies succeeded almost single-handedly in creating a market and efficient timber industry for karri and jarrah hardwoods, subsequently erecting sawmills at Coodardup, Karridale, Boranup, and Jarrahdene.

The timber industry he created was so impressive it was highlighted in the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

By the 1880s, the timber industry around Augusta was booming, with mills, jetties, new towns, and even a railway to accommodate the growing demand for Western Australian hardwoods completed.  In just a few years’ time, timber became Western Australia’s second largest export, just behind wool.

But by the early 1900s, the demand for karri and jarrah eucalyptus took an unexpected downturn, with area mills forced to shut down until the last closed its doors in 1913.  This set the stage for the establishment of what was at first called Timber Mill Number 1, in a valley about fifty miles further inland.

 

Historic Deanmill:

The historic timber town of Deanmill in the South West region of Western Australia near the Shire of Manjimup, was originally one of three State-owned timber mills established after the Government Trading Concerns Act was passed in December of 1912.

Originally referred to simply as “Timber Mill Number 1,” formal construction of the mill followed the purchase of the South-West Timber Hewers’ Cooperative, and was intended to provide “sleepers” (railroad ties) for the Trans-Australia Railway already under construction, planned to stretch from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

 

In anticipation of the passage of the bill, a work team had already established a tent camp at the future site of Deanmill in 1911, beginning work on the mill and surrounding town prior to the bill’s formal approval.

Officially adopting the name of a construction engineer named Alf “Donga” Dean, who’d become a fixture of the local milling community, State Saw Mills established the township of Deanmill, following the common milling custom of the time, building the mill in the valley with worker accommodations set-up near by.

Though initially a tent camp primarily occupied by single men, the construction of the mill by mill workers quickly created a strong sense of community among the residents of Deanmill–and so, families soon followed.  This sense of community survives to this day.

As the workforce grew in size, the need for a local school quickly became apparent, so in 1913, the residents of Deanmill applied to the Department of Education for the construction of a proper school building.  In early 1914, Deanmill’s first teacher, Mr. Harry Courtney, was appointed, with the first official classes held in the medical hall.  Later that same year, Deanmill Primary School was built consisting of a single classroom, shed, and administration building–all constructed from local, Australian hardwood.

By late 1914, the mill was completed, with the town now organizing regular dances, sporting competitions, and holiday recitals, marking the makings of a close-knit community setting down permanent roots.  In 1925, the mill burned to the ground, with a new mill erected by 1927.  In the mid-1930s, an economic depression struck, forcing some residents to give up their dreams and move to near-by Perth.  But most stuck it out.

By 1946, buses began running twice weekly between Deanmill and nearby Manjimup; a significant step forward considering how few vehicles were in the Deanmill area at that time.  Locals could now easily shop in Manjimup or catch a movie at the newly-built Roxy Theatre.

By the 1950s, Deanmill Primary School was seeing the highest attendance ever (with ninety-six students), while the founding of the Workers Club set off a fifty-year history of sporting triumphs in football, tennis, snooker, darts, hockey, and cricket–as well as the formal establishment of the world-class Lower South West Football League in 1959 (which initially consisted of many Deanmill workers); milestones that have come to flavor Deanmill culture as much as the mill itself.

Numerous bushfires, a second plant fire, new plant ownership in 1961 and again in 1970, conservation lobbyists in the 1970s, industry reconstruction, and periods of economic boom and bust have all impacted the development and history of Deanmill in more recent years–as well as the timber-processing facility itself.

 

Deanmill Today:

In 2001, government

 

restructuring of Australia’s timber industry led to stricter regulations, since which time Deanmill has suffered steady economic decline. In February of 2011, the Deanmill timber facility was officially closed, marking the end of a century of Deanmill timber production.

In August of this year (2011), however, Auswest Timber Company stepped in and purchased the mill, announcing plans to re-open it in order to safeguard the 55 jobs that would otherwise be lost to the mill at nearby Manjimup.

Now nearly a century old, the township of Deanmill consists of the sawmill, Deanmill Hall, various cottages, the Deanmill Workers Club, the Deanmill Football Oval and part of the Deanmill Tramway, Heritage Trail, and the Deanmill Primary School. From forty-six pupils in 1914 to an impressive ninety-six in 1958, student numbers began a gradual declined in recent decades until only thirteen students enrolled in 1999 led to the decision that the school be shut down and classes no longer held.

 

 

Deanmill Hall

From the decades-old wooden buildings that stand today in defiance of time, to the people who take pride in their unique heritage, Deanmill is still very much alive and looking toward the future while embracing their unique past.

Although the silencing of the mill this year meant that many of the residents (now numbered at 405 as of the 2006 census) would be forced to built a life elsewhere, plans to reopen the mill have brought new optimism.  But no matter what the future may bring, as one of the region’s prime examples of Australia’s frontier past, Deanmill’s unique and fascinating culture has come to define this beautiful, history-rich land, and well deserves a visit from those traveling Down Under.

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