By Dean Baird.
Thanks to an innovative harvesting process, highly prized timber submerged below our Tasmanian Lakes is now being reclaimed – it is called Hydrowood, and the first point of call is Lake Pieman.
Ghost Trees // Photo by Dean Baird
From the early 1900 to the mid-1990’s, hydropower stations and associated dams were built in six high-rainfall water catchment areas along natural river systems traversing Tasmania’s rugged landscape. These high rainfall areas provided the perfect habitat for our forests and iconic cool temperate rainforests. As dam walls were erected and natural river systems flooded, significant stands of trees were submerged beneath the new water level.
Lake Pieman // Photo by Dean Baird
Lake Pieman is typical of the Tasmanian West Coast. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere. Lake Pieman follows the path of the Pieman River and was named after a pastry cook who was transported to Van Diemens Land in 1816. The original Pieman River ran through deep walled gullies, surrounded by tall Eucalypts and pockets of cool temperate rainforests. After the Reece Dam Wall was built in 1986, the River was flooded, and Lake Pieman was formed, long, narrow and winding.
As the Pieman River rose to its new Lake level, much of our now highly prized specialty timbers were either fully or partially submerged, hidden beneath its inky, tannin-stained water. It is rumoured that loggers entered the area shortly before it was flooded and felled much of the Huon Pine. As the water level rose, the natural buoyancy of the Huon Pine made it rise to the surface, where it was removed from the Lake.
Hydrowood has developed a 21st. Century technique is used to select standing trees from the lake. These trees are anywhere from 200 to 1000 years old and, until recently, a forgotten resource. This provides a valuable alternative to our traditional terrestrial logging methods for our Specialty Timber Industry. Hydrowood offers an array of timbers, including Myrtle, Sassafras, Leatherwood, Huon Pine, Celery Top Pine, Blackwood and Eucalypt.
Hydrowood logs // Photo by Dean Baird
Having visited the operation, it has a seemingly small environmental footprint. It’s all sounding good isn’t it!
Having grown, been submerged, died, and sat underwater for 25 years, most species remarkably show no signs of this history. That is except for Sassafras. The minerals in the water have reacted with the timber, resulting in an underlying greenish hue.
Hydrowood versus 'traditional' Tasmanian Blackheart Sassafras // Photo by Dean Baird
This colour may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is this colouring that draws us to it. It has the story, but it also has a visible scar, and you can’t remove it! You can still see the wonderfully dynamic colour variation typical of Blackheart Sassafras and the soft subtleness of Blonde Sassafras, but all with a faint colour mask. It's like nothing we have seen; we may never see it again. And importantly, it comes at a time when Blackheart Sassafras is becoming increasingly more challenging to find, due mainly to refocusing our Forestry Industry toward conservation and long-term management (not a bad idea!).
Our first Hydrowood board // Photo by Dean Baird
Our first piece of Hydrowood was a thumping 350x50x4200 Blackheart Sassafras board. That’s a serious bit of timber! And as if its story wasn’t already good enough, the first items made from it have headed to the other side of the Globe.
To England to visit the Queen // Photos by Dean Baird
Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) is an evergreen tree found primarily in the cool temperate rainforests of Tasmania (also parts of Victoria and New South Wales). In ideal growing conditions, it can reach around 40m in height and 1m in width, but it more commonly reaches 25m in the dense rainforest understorey. It has a distinctive conical shape, pale green leaves and fragrant Sarsaparilla-scented unisexual flowers, meaning that both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. The bark is light grey to dark brown with numerous pores. It contains tannins, resin, and essential oils, which strongly smell like Cinnamon.