Wombat Forest features in new book

THE Wombat Forest is the star of Norman Houghton’s latest publication.

The Wombat Woodsmen explores the history of sawmilling, explores how the politics of logging played out over the years and how the sawmills were arranged and worked.

Mr Houghton lives in Geelong but made many visits to the Hepburn Shire to carry out research for the publication.

Sources included old newspapers, official files and written records and were supplemented with extensive field work in the bush tracing the mill sites and tram routes.

Members of the Daylesford Historical Society assisted in the research and the book includes many drawings and plans of the mills.

“When logging ceased in 2008 I saw that as an opportunity to write up the full history of sawmilling in the Wombat Forest from start to finish in 1853 to 2008,” Mr Houghton said.

“I did a book called Timber and Gold back in 1981 when sawmilling was still going. It was a smaller book but it sold well. I was intending to re-write it and make it much more comprehensive and make my mapping a bit better.

“So I spent a couple of years walking around the bush with a compass and map and mapping all the tram lines and the sawmill sites.

“So the manuscript ended up a lot larger, so I waited until sawmilling ceased in 2008 and then finished the book off.

“So it’s a comprehensive look at sawmilling and the economic history of the forest.”

Mr Houghton has worked in the area of cultural heritage management as an administrator, archivist and historian. 

Career highlights include working at Sovereign Hill Historical Gold Mining Village and the Gold Museum in Ballarat and then operationally establishing the Geelong Heritage Centre as its foundation Director in 1979. 

He is a member of various historical societies and researches and writes on various topics related to local history in his spare time. 

Mr Houghton has written more than 30 books on various subjects including organisational and company histories, township and regional histories, conservation studies, railways, timber tramways and the timber industry.

“One of the reasons I chose the Wombat Forest was because I’ve been writing books on sawmills and railways and tramways since 1974,” he said.

“Because I was born in Colac I was interested in sawmilling in the Otway Ranges.

“So in the early 70s when I was still at university I used to go to Colac and I started talking to some of the sawmillers.

“The older blokes told me a lot of the early sawmillers came from the Wombat Forest so that inspired me to follow them back.

“I didn’t know anything about the Wombat Forest at that time but when I got into it I found that the wombat forest was the foundations for sawmilling in victoria.

“So the very first sawmills were around Buninyong and then they moved deeper into the bush towards Daylesford and Trentham.”

Norman Houghton

Norman Houghton