The Wood-Carters Of Early St. George

by B.J. Madden – Kingsgrove

In Notes on the Early Life in Peakhurst, written in the 1930’s by Mr George Peake, son of Issac Peake and grandson of John Peake, it is stated that during the Gold Rush in the 1850’s, firewood was carted from the present St. George district to a place in Darlinghurst where there was a water pump, and sold there at good prices (copy held by Hurstville Historical Society).

However, he says that, after the gold rush, there was a slump, money was scarce, and firewood nearly had to be given away. The wood-carters no longer went to the pump, but the wood was cut into small pieces almost ready for use, hawked around the streets, and sold by one shilling’s worth instead of by the load.

In an article about old residents of Newtown in 1922 (Smith S.D., ‘Municipality of Newtown Diamond Jubilee Souvenir’, 1922 – Mitchell Library: 352.911/1A1), is the story of Mr T Deaman, (who was 73 years of age at that time and so was born between 1848-1850) and his connection with the wood-carters, perhaps from as early as the mid-1850s:

“I claim that Mr Tom Deaman, of Alice Street, Newtown is Newtown’s longest resident.

‘Tom’ Deainan was born in the district 73 years ago, and has lived in it ever since. He started work as a nipper in the fuel business, and stayed in that business, and was never in any other, to the end, and now resides in Alice Street.

Actually it was outside the municipal boundaries of Newtown as we know them today that Mr Deaman was born; but he was brought within the boundary shortly after his birth, and has never gone outside. The family home is in Alice Street.

Mr Deaman’s first job was among the ‘Bushmen’ as they were then known. Fuel for practically all purposes was wood-logs from gum trees, felled, stripped, dried and split. And a hardy breed they were who engaged in the work.

The logs prepared, you took your dray in early morning out Gannon’s Forest (Hurstville and Bexley these days), loaded up and started for town. You did your best to sell it at some works, or to some householder, on the way, of course. If you didn’t you went up Oxford Street, and took your place in the line by the ‘old pump’ (from which the householders around drew each day’s supply of water).

When a buyer came along and bought it (6/- per load was about the usual price), you took it home and packed it into his wood-house for him. Then you went out Gannon’s for another load. If (as sometimes happened) you didn’t sell out, you very rarely took the load home, but ‘dumped it’ on one of the paddocks, down near where Grace Bros’ is now, say.

They don’t go into the bush at Bexley ( ! ) nowadays, and sell loads of logs up Oxford Street (!) these days; but Mr Deaman is still in the fuel business – or, rather, the boys still carry on the same old biz (that is probably almost 60 years old) with never a break. Dad sits back and takes it easy these days.”

This article was first published in the September 1980 edition of our magazine.

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