CUT ABOVE THE REST: Bob Locke and his son Mark supply firewood locally as well as southern markets.
CUT ABOVE THE REST: Bob Locke and his son Mark supply firewood locally as well as southern markets. Toni Somes

Bob carves a ripper of a career

CUTTING railway sleepers from turpentine on the Atherton Tablelands some 40 years ago was Bob Locke's introduction to the timber industry.

Decades later, he is still making a living from wood. For the most part, that's meant cutting and selling firewood to get Southern Downs locals through our long winters.

In recent years the business he started on the western side of Warwick and now runs with his son Mark, has expanded to cater for markets further south.

I, personally, like a combination of ironbark and box with maybe a little red gum to get your fire started: It's a soft wood that burns quickly.

This year he has taken his involvement in the timber sector a step further and adding the role of teacher to his repertoire.

Under the auspices of TAFE Queensland, he is running lessons in basic and advanced chainsaw instruction covering everything from handing a saw to felling timber and maintaining the machines.

The decision to take on the responsibility of teaching was not one he made lightly.

He has spent enough time handling saws in the bush to place a high priority on safety.

"There are rarely second chances if you miss with a chainsaw," Mr Locke said.

"I have known people, who have sustained serious injuries and even a fatality when things went wrong.

"One of the worst things was a bloke whose face was cut by a chainsaw after a chainsaw kicked back and hit the side of his face. He survived, luckily."

As a young bloke he was fortunate to have good teachers in the art of felling timber.

He started work with an uncle cutting railway sleepers near Herberton, in north Queensland, back then they cut a scrub hardwood called turpentine.

In those days the timber was cut to length in the bush and trucked off, generally for railway sleepers or bridge girders.

"I did try working in an office for a while when I first left school, but it never really had the same appeal as timber work," Mr Locke said.

"It was hard going and physical but it was also very rewarding."

Born in Warwick, he returned after four years in the north, determined to make a living for himself in the timber industry on his home turf.

"I started cutting ironbark fence posts in Duraki National Forest for local farmers and I have been self-employed ever since," Mr Locke said.

He still cuts fence posts, but they make up just 25% of his business. For the main part, he cuts and sells firewood locally and into southern markets.

"From April to October last year was a terrific season. We sold more than 1300 tonnes, with a little over 800 tonnes selling to purchasers beyond the Southern Downs," Mr Locke said.

"This year people are singing out for firewood already.

"And I am thinking demand is going to keep going up. The cost of electricity is rising so people are turning back to wood-fired heating.

"It's economic: Power prices predicted to increase by 15-20% over the next year. I think we will see more people turning back to cheaper options like wood.

"We sell a load of wood for $120 and that lasts - used sensibly - most people six to eight weeks."

Most of the timber he cuts is ironbark with a portion of yellow box, which he believes "burns as hot as ironbark, but is cleaner".

"People have their own preferences when it comes to firewood.

"I, personally, like a combination of ironbark and box with maybe a little red gum to get your fire started: It's a soft wood that burns quickly.

"Two of us can cut 20 tonne of firewood in one day. I usually go out in the paddock with at least one person. Most of the time these days it is my son, Mark.

"At the moment we have about 20,000 acres we cut wood on, most of which is traprock country.

"It's what I know and I love it. I have always enjoyed working with timber.

"I decided to teach because I wanted to give something back."

So in between days out bush cutting timber he plans to run chainsaw classes.

"People need to know how to use chainsaws properly," he said.

"Everyone from the home handyman to operators using it in the course of their work day.

"I also go into aspects like maintenance - how to sharpen - as well as handling. These are things people should know."

Operating under the auspices of TAFE Queensland, he will run one to two-day courses - varying from basic to advanced handling - everywhere from St George to the Gold Coast.

For more information about the chainsaw courses, phone 0413 358 479.



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