Woodies Never Lose Touch of Their Timber Pioneering Past

Historic bush tools on show at museum

Mon 21 Aug 23


A “home spun” idea to build a museum featuring exhibits on the history of the local timber industry is nearing fruition for the Blackall Range Woodcrafters Guild at Montville, a charming village in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Julie Breen, president of the ‘Woodies’, said old bush-working tools and transport used by timber pioneers, historical photographs and wood species would reflect the early days of the region’s inspiring forestry industry, along with live demonstrations.

Adding to the collection this week were twin crosscut saws donated by Wendy Wildman, wife of the late Ernie Wildman, a southern Queensland timber trailblazer who started his sawmilling, joinery and merchant business in Toowoomba in the early 1940s.

The idea for the Blackall Range Woodcrafters Guild grew from just some hazy dreaming in a shed between a few old local ‘woodies’ inspired by the developing attraction of the region as a retirement and recreational hub.

“As the population increases, there has been a growing search for recreational and retirement lifestyles with fulfilling hobbies, perhaps with some income generation, and the chance for constructive community involvement,” Julie Breen said.

The guild had its first meeting in St. Mary’s Hall on the Village Green at Montville on March 4, 1996.

President of the Blackall Range Woodcrafters Guild Julie Breen and past-president John Muller with twin crosscut saws donated to the guild’s museum by Wendy Wildman.
President of the Blackall Range Woodcrafters Guild Julie Breen and past-president John Muller with twin crosscut saws donated to the guild’s museum by Wendy Wildman.

In 2002, after six years in a shed and receipt of a Jupiter’s Casino Grant, members moved to a more permanent base at the Montville Sports Ground, about 3 km south of Montville.

“With good local support, we have rapidly grown into a thriving purposeful group more than 200 strong,” Julie said.

“Members have access to a complete range of equipment, including a solar drying kiln and a large stock and range of timber supplies.

“We envisage young people, retirees, and people in care centres will take advantage of the benefits a permanent and purpose-built building can provide.”

The plumbing game at Nundah in Brisbane’s northern suburbs inspired Ernie Wildman’s first foray as a retailer – earning money selling iron in the early 1940s, a very scarce commodity in the war years.

Not long after this, he headed to Toowoomba on the Darling Downs, attracted by the possible fortunes to be made in the booming building industry after the war – and so Ernie’s lifelong love of wood really got started, firstly producing house stumps for Housing Commission homes.

Then in 1947, he set up a small timber yard at Fulcher Street at the back of the old Toowoomba Foundry and went into business as a timber supplier and builder.

‘Woodies’ life member Hugh McKenna puts the finishing touches to a child’s sleigh at the guild’s workshop.
‘Woodies’ life member Hugh McKenna touches a child’s sleigh at the guild’s workshop.

A few years later, as Wildman Timber Industries grew, Ernie shifted his operation and got busy, often working seven days a week and late into the night to build and shape one of Queensland’s most successful timber businesses, a ‘Top 400’ company, while raising a family of six children.

In these early years, he worked hard and long. The strength and toughness we always saw in Ernie took him across many thousands of country miles – to outposts in western Queensland, such as Taroom, Wandoan, Cunnamulla, Dirranbandi and Quilpie, looking for customers and north to Cairns, Ravenshoe and Innisfail, sourcing supply for his re-cut and planing mill.

Thousands of homes in Toowoomba and the Darling Downs and down to Ipswich Brisbane were built from timber supplied by Wildman’s.

Ernie was the first in the region to start timber truss manufacture and shifted the growing plant to a site near the Toowoomba airport using high-tech Gang-Nail gear.

Wildman’s had a cypress and hardwood mill at Wandoan, a cypress mill at Tara and at one time operated an old gas-suction sawmill on the flats outside Goomeri.

Ernie also operated a high-grade joinery shop at Toowoomba and was a plywood distributor, mostly from Hancock Bros. He was a founding director of the Plywood Association and the Plywood Promotion Council and one of the first directors of the Queensland Timber Board.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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