TURKEY MOUNTAIN AND ITS FIRE CABIN

 In the first year of the 20th century the Forestry Branch of the Department of Public Lands came into being. For years it remained a tiny organisation with just a hatful of people to manage the immense forests of Queensland. Fire control was the least of its worries. Energies were spent on surveying and reporting on the timbered lands - where they were and what quantities of timber were growing on them. So for the first thirty years or so, roads and crude fire lines were relied upon to stop fires.

     In those days natural vantage points were used to detect fires on properties. Any highland sections of the landscape with a view of the countryside would suffice. Where it was difficult to get a good view, climbing a tree was sometimes necessary.

      On Cordalba State Forest near Bundaberg for instance, a tree was used as a primitive tower. The observer climbed the tree via wooden battens to reach a platform on top. Then came more sophisticated man-made structures for use in fire detection.

      From trees and vantage points came lookout stations and the first for Forestry was sited on Observation Hill at Goodnight Scrub west of Bundaberg. Others followed. In 1932 a fire hut was built on State Forest 289 Cooyar, near Yarraman. It cost £4/15/10, equivalent in those days to a week's wages and cost of material. Then in I933-34, a fire lookout tower with cabin and telephone was erected on a north Queensland reserve, the first of its kind for use in fire detection in Queensland. The tower was at Wongabel near Atherton.

     From then on the building of bigger and better fire towers became common practice. Forestry carpenters usually carried out the work. Early towers often had access via walking tracks from nearby roads.

In 1936 Forestry declared that using lookouts on high points was very beneficial. In the same year the use of ultra-high frequency radio communication from the lookouts or towers to the gangs of men working in the field was trialed and early results were promising.

     The fire season in 1938 -39 was a bad one. On State forests in Queensland 867 kilometres of green and cleared firebreaks were constructed and 1,612 kilometres maintained, whilst the construction of eight fire lookouts was initiated. 11 fire towers or cabins were constructed in 1939 to 1941, probably in response to the bad fire season.


One of these was the cabin on Turkey Mountain, the construction of which was completed in 1940. Its location is shown on this 1942 military map (Left) as a lookout with telephone.

     This was the second fire protection structure in Barakula, the first being the 15 metre high Tower No. 1 built on a site near the existing Coondarra tower in 1938.

     During World War 2, particularly from the early 1940s, the Forestry Department used Italian, Albanian, German and other internees of different nationalities to undertake silvicultural treatment, construct fire lines and roads and other forestry works between 1942 -1945. There were four internee camps in Barakula State Forest. Italians were interned at Turkey Mountain, Hellhole Creek and Stockyard Creek while Albanians were interned at the Durah Creek camp.

    It is believed that the internees at Turkey Mountain built the road up the mountain

    There are also several stone “terraces” beside the site of the cabin site, about eight metres to the west. Be careful not to trip over them in the grass. Exactly who built them and what they were used for are not known. The internees may have been responsible or perhaps the observers might have built them in their spare time during the long afternoon twilight.  Whoever was responsible, it would have been a nice place to sit, have a smoke and take in the view after work or during breaks.

     About 30 metres down the track from the cabin, on the south-western side of the road, are cement slabs and the remains of a kerosene fridge, stove and other domestic items. This was the site of the observer’s hut, which was home for the observer on duty during the fires season. During the day their job was to watch for smoke and to report it by telephone or radio to the office at Ballon. At night their time was their own, so it would have been a quiet existence without television or the internet. The phone would have been for work or emergencies only, so reading would have been popular and, if they were so inclined, the night sky was unspoiled by bright lights or trees and would have provided an unbeatable view of all things celestial.

The photograph (Right) shows the cabin in 1965 while the one below, taken in July 2016, gives a view from inside the cabin facing east.

     There are also several stone “terraces” beside the site of the cabin site, about eight metres to the west. Be careful not to trip over them in the grass. Exactly who built them and what they were used for are not known. The internees may have been responsible or perhaps the observers might have built them in their spare time during the long afternoon twilight.  Whoever was responsible, it would have been a nice place to sit, have a smoke and take in the view after work or during breaks.

About 30 metres down the track from the cabin, on the south-western side of the road, are cement slabs and the remains of a kerosene fridge, stove and other domestic items. This was the site of the observer’s hut, which was home for the observer on duty during the fires season. During the day their job was to watch for smoke and to report it by telephone or radio to the office at Ballon. At night their time was their own, so it would have been a quiet existence without television or the internet. The phone would have been for work or emergencies only, so reading would have been popular and, if they were so inclined, the night sky was unspoiled by bright lights or trees and would have provided an unbeatable view of all things celestial.

July 2016, gives a view from inside the cabin facing east
Cabin No. 6 Built 1940. Photo taken in 1965

    Assessments were done on all fire structures in state forests and many of them were found to be structurally unsound or in breach of present day safety standards.  It was decided to decommission the Turkey Mountain cabin and it was thought initially that it would be demolished. Fortunately, because of its heritage value, various governments departments decided that it should be relocated to the Chinchilla Museum where it could be maintained by Chinchilla Historical Society volunteers. 

    Work began on 31st August 2017 and the cabin was in Chinchilla the next day, 1st September. It was in its new permanent location on 2nd September 2017 after 76 years with one of the best views in Barakula.

Coming off the stumps
On the Move
In its new home
Old Site

REFERENCES:

Holzworth, Peter. Silent Sentinels - The story of Queensland forest fire towers and the people who built them. The State of Queensland, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. 2006

Cameron, Dr. David (QPWS), Ward, David (DPI Forestry), Holzworth, Peter (Consultant)  Queensland Fire Observation Structures – Cultural Heritage Significance Assessment Project Report. Queensland Government 2004.

Map - 4 miles to 1 Inch , Second Edition , Chinchilla, Australia. AHQ Cartographic Company 1942

Dr. David Cameron. Report on the Non-indigenous Cultural Heritage of the Western Hardwoods Region and Overview History Brisbane, Environmental Protection Agency 2002.