It was 1965 and ‘Big’ Bill Haydon was known as the Cedar King on account of his lifetime of work dealing with the precious timber that grows on the Northern Rivers.
In this same year, at 74 years of age, Haydon was in the Washpool area in the Upper Clarence, now a National Park, where he would disappear, never to be heard from again.
Despite thorough search parties scouring the area, the home of the red cedar would be the last place anyone saw Bill Haydon alive.
Bill Haydon is second from left. Photo courtesy Dorrigo Heritage Defenders
A book written about his adventures, Red Cedar: The Tree of Australian History by John Vader gives a description of how Bill’s teams would descend 11 miles into gorges from the New England escarpment in land rovers that had snow chains on them and assisted by caterpillar tractors.
These were nearly perpendicular drops into hidden valleys with breath-taking views.
Sometimes, the only way to get the tractors out was to drag them in reverse using rear mounted winches, cutting their way as they went.
No wonder that cedar was known as ‘red gold’ when considering the lengths people went to, to obtain the rich, red timber.
Haydon was known as a self-made man having left home in 1906 with only a couple of shillings in his pocket. Two years later he managed to buy his first bullock team for 200 pounds. He would go on to buy 50 more. He was known as the youngest person to own his own bullock team.
Washpool National Park is now visited by bushwalkers and campers alike. Photo courtesy NSW National Parks.
In 1926, along with others, he built the first petrol driven logging winch, then in 1941 the first caterpillar dozer was used on the North Coast. By the late 1950s he commissioned the film Red Gold which recorded the history of cedar getters on the North Coast.
Haydon built 10 sawmills across the mid-North Coast districts, along with a ply mill and furniture factory near Kempsey.
He was generous in his dealings, building 80 houses, two schools and donated cedar to the Catholic churches in the area, as well as a slab of cedar to the National Museum.
· ‘ A Family’s Sentimental Journey’, The Daily Telegraph, accessed online 16th August, 2023 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/grafton/a-familys-sentimental-journey/news-story/a789435b83ddf40626feadedb35ca4be
· ‘Cedar getters of a third wave’, Dorrigo Heritage Defenders Facebook page, accessed online 16th August, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/110415837356064/posts/cedar-getters-of-a-third-wavephoto-1-as-red-cedar-trees-were-depleted-and-new-te/205082061222774/?locale=ar_AR