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 handful 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 high points in the landscape with a view of the countryside would suffice. Where it was difficult to get a good view, climbing a tree was sometime 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 more sophisticated man-made structures for use in fire detection were devised.
Purpose built fire lookouts were developed, the first being situated on Observation Hill at Goodnight Scrub west of Bundaberg. Others followed. In 1932 a fire hut was built in 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 1933-34, 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 lookout towers to the gangs of men working in the field was trialled 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. 11fire towers or cabins were constructed in 1939 to 1941, probably in response to the bad fire season.
The firs of these built in Barakula was the 15 metre high Tower No.1, built on site near the existing Coondarra tower in 1938. The second was the iconic cabin on Turkey Mountain, the construction of which was completed in 1940. It had a telephone for reporting fires.
During World War 2, particularly from the early 1940’s, 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 vehicle road up the mountain.
There are also several stone “terraces” beside the site of the cabin, 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 slaps 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 fire season. During the day their job was to watch for smoke and to report it by telephone or radio to the office as 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 would have provided and unbeatable view of all things celestial.
In the early 2000’s 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 government 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 2017. It was in its new permanent location on 2nd September 2017, after 76 years with one of the best views in Barakula.
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 government 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. It was in its new permanent location on 2nd September 2017, after 76 years with one of the best views in Barakula.
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.