by Janice Calcei
Updated: 8 June 2022
When European settlers first came to Dardanup, they came as farmers. While Thomas Little and Charles Prinsep set up on a large scale to breed and export horses and grow wheat and grapevines for wine, most migrants took up small holdings and for much of the 1800s subsisted off their land.
The 1890s saw some significant changes take place at Dardanup. The Bunbury to Boyanup rail line was officially opened to locomotives in 1891 and the Perth to Bunbury railway in 1893. When the Canning Jarrah Timber Company leased land to set up a timber mill along the Ferguson River, they built a railway in 1899 to what became known as the town of Wellington Mills.
The coming of the timber industry to this area could be seen as equivalent to a large mine or minerals processing plant opening today. This was a very big operation with Wellington Mills supporting a population of between 800-1000 during its peak of operations between 1900-1919.
By July 1900 the Bunbury Herald reported that the Canning Jarrah Timber Company had commenced work at Wellington Mill and the first load of timber was brought down to Dardanup. At first, the timber cutting was only being done on a small scale, because the large mill was still being constructed. Within a few short years, the volumes of timber grew dramatically.
Timber was stored at Dardanup in yards at the end of Charlotte St from the corner of Cleary Rd. The yards were two long paddocks running parallel with the railway. The timber, jarrah, took many forms and included sleepers for railway construction, timber for building, furnishing, bridges and jetties. It was used in Western Australia, exported to other states and overseas. The yards are believed to have employed about 25 workers who worked at first for the Canning Jarrah Timber Company, and after 1902 for the Millars Timber and Trading Company. Millars had merged with a number of companies, including the Canning Jarrah Timber Company, to form the Millars Combine.
The big mill at Wellington was closed in 1919 due to subdued economic conditions and because the best timber had been milled out. At first additional gangs of workmen were employed stacking timber in Millars Yards at Dardanup, but the work soon declined and men were transferred or found work elsewhere.
Although smaller amounts of timber continued to be milled in the area, and sleeper cutting continued for decades, the timber industry never returned to the volumes of native timbers taken out between 1900 and 1919. In the later 20th and early 21st Centuries, plantations became the main source of timber for the industry.
In 1944 Albert Piacentini set up a timber mill near Dardanup. Born in the northern Italian town of Piandelagotti in 1919, Albert migrated in 1936 to join his father Carlo, who had moved to Australia in 1924.
He initially based himself in Karridale. When he was just 26 years old, he was able to buy a Gelorup sawmill with funding from the Bunnings brothers, who were developing a business around the timber industry. In a published memoir, A Poor Migrant Boy, Albert said he was worried at the time because he owed the Bunnings family £6000, or more than $12,000.
The sawmill was moved to Dardanup, where Albert met his future wife, Betty. They were married in 1947, two years before his mother, sister and brother finally made it to Australia and the family was reunited. A year later, the business focus began to shift when the company bought its first bulldozer to help clear paths to the timber. Albert said the bulldozer was invaluable because often large tracts of valuable forest were not reachable at the time. The company took another turn during the 1960s when the family business began to turn its bulldozers towards the mining industry. It began to develop a close relationship with the South West mineral sands industry which it still maintains today.
The timber industry remains important to the Dardanup community with the Wespine Industries operation located in Dardanup West. A sawmill has operated at the Dardanup site since the early 1980’s. Wespine started in its current format in 1992. Over the last 25 years, production has consistently grown with capacity now between 450,000m3 and 500,000m3 each year.
Technology allows the company to ensure every bit of the log is used to create high quality and precision made timber housing, packaging and landscaping products and, unlike the early wasteful days of the timber industry at Wellington Mills, by-products like wood chips and residue sawdust are transported to the nearby Laminex manufacturing plant and combined to produce particle boards. Bark is used by landscapers to produce potting mixes, soil products and mulch through companies like locally run T.J. Depiazzi & Sons.
Hexion Australia Pty Ltd (glues) , Preston Chipping Company and the nearby Koppers Wood Products are further testament to the ongoing presence of the timber industry to the Dardanup area.
- Gibbs, S: Memories of the Ferguson (2002) pp. 86-87, Interview with William Prout by Judy Clarke in 1986.
- Piacentini & Son, History: https://www.piacentini.com.au/Base/History – accessed 25 November 2021
- Wespine Industries – Our History: https://www.wespine.com.au/about/our-history/, accessed 27 January 2022
- Dardanup, South Western Times, Thursday 23 October 1919, page 3
- Dardanup News, South Western Times, Friday 15 July 1938, page 8
- South Western Times – 8 February 2007, p.25,
- Bunbury Herald, Saturday 28 July 1900, page 3
- Workers outside the Mill at Wellington: Richard Scott Brown who worked as a blacksmith and then as an engine driver at Wellington Mills, c. 1898-1916.
- The Samson No. 2, from Enid Hall.
- Dardanup Railway station with stacked timber from Gwen Wells.