Meredith Hinchliffe – “Wood Review” Magazine

Masterful Planting

Most Australian rainforest cabinet woods are now so rare that very few merchants carry stocks. Once, such timbers as red cedar, silky oak and silver ash were renowned throughout the country and internationally for their figure, texture, colour, workability and stability.

Fine furniture maker, Tony Kenway lives in the northern rivers area of New South Wales in an area once known as the Big Scrub rainforest. In the early 1990s NSW State Forests and private landowners established joint venture eucalypt plantations. Forestry cleared the land, undertook the planting and maintained the forests under a forty year contract. However, just three species statewide were selected – quick-growing eucalypts.

One area targeted was the ex Big Scrub land, with its fertile soils and high rainfall. At the time Kenway and landcare groups became involved with lobbying State Forests in an effort to convince them to use more site specific species – high value, mixed rainforest (cabinet timber) species on this prime land. State Forests at the time were reluctant to adopt the idea and continued to establish eucalypt plantations, which will be most likely clear felled for chip.

“In 2005, the NSW State Government introduced harvest security for private landowners wishing to create timber plantations,” Kenway told me. “Harvest security is vital – if this were not available investment in plantations will be thwarted. All harvesting has to be carried out in accordance with the Forestry code and mixed specie cabinet timber plantations should logically be designed to be sustainably thinned and logged forever.”

“There are few pockets in Australia that sustain fine cabinet timber plantation – they need to be in areas where rainforest evolved, with suitable climate, rainfall and soil,” Kenway explains. “The timbers grown were traditionally sought by furniture makers when Europeans first settled Australia. Red cedar, in particular, was shipped in large quantities to England for furniture. Rainforest species – including white beech, blackwood, rosewood, red bean, silver ash and silky oak – are sought for joinery and furniture. The variety in colours, fine textures, figure and stability make them some of the finest timbers of the world. Royalties paid for such species are as much as ten times that paid for eucalypt species.”

In 2007, Tony Kenway met with some new clients to discuss furniture for a new home. When showing them his timber stock, Kenway explained the difficulties associated with obtaining fine timbers. Their continuing discussions led to an inspiring project of unusual tree planting. Together, it was decided to recreate a mixed species rainforest plantation.

They found land in the northern rivers area of NSW with deep fertile soils not exposed to regular frosts, close to the sea with good access, and attractive views of forests and hills. Dense stands of camphor laurel were scattered over the area, the site had broken topography with moderate slopes, a general northern and western aspect with large quantities of surface rock. It was not prime horticultural land.

The 80 ha area is progressively being planted over six years. Weeds and camphor is chipped and used as mulch, and the ground silviculturally improved.

Proven species such as silver ash, white beech, silky oak, blue quandong, red cedar, Queensland maple and blackwood are planted along with another 50 or so lesser known species such as tulip satinwood and pigeonberry ash, taking into account the location of existing regeneration.

There is little information available on how to design mixed species planting as most large-scale plantations are established as monocultures, and careful consideration and research went into organisation of the spatial distribution of each species. Faster growing species were located adjacent to slow-growing species, providing shade and protection, and will be thinned once other species are well established.

“We are working with nature and trying as much as possible to emulate it“, Kenway said. The rainforest belongs here. The fauna is already coming back and the seed bank will spread throughout the area.” Their aim is to create a sustainable, commercial plantation that can be harvested in perpetuity, retaining a forest of high value cabinet woods.

The combination of adequate resources and knowledge of the timber properties of fine cabinet woods has resulted in a very interesting plantation. Site preparation techniques to remove rocks have utilised equipment rarely seen in forest operations. Careful preparatory work provides for inter-row slashing of the total cabinet timber area in the first two years, and ensures minimal future maintenance. Sensitive pruning will always be necessary to ensure good form and quality timber.

Most important, however, was Kenway’s passion and the client’s vision for such an exciting project. “This is the legacy we leave to future generations of our family.”

© Meredith Hinchliffe

For information about Tony Kenway’s work and more detail about the project, see www.tonykenwayfurniture.com

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