Piner’s punts are a uniquely Tasmanian small boat, built to get men and equipment into the forests of the south and west coasts of Tasmania. Built of Huon pine, they were light enough to be dragged over rapids and through gorges, but sturdy enough to be safe in fast-running water.
The piner’s punt might look like a normal rowboat, but there were important differences. The punts used on the rivers were generally between 14 and 18 foot and built without a keel, so they were easily manoeuvrable. The bow of the punt was squared off and the boats were usually equipped with two sets of 10 foot long oars.
From the earliest days of settlement piners harvested Huon pine, which was particularly prized for shipbuilding. There was a constant demand for Huon pine, with five sawmills operating in Strahan during the interwar years.
Men would set out in piner’s punts for months at a time, working deep into the forests in search of new stands. Working conditions were dangerous and all supplies had to brought in by the punts. Small groups of loggers would take their punts up the rivers, carrying the punts to get around falls and cascades. They would cut Huon pine logs and when the rivers flooded float them down to the sea where they would be caught and towed to the saw mills. Piners weren’t paid until their logs reached the saw mill, so not only was the work dangerous but the living could be precarious.
One of the stories told about the punts is that in the 1890s the government paid boat builder Artie Doherty to build seven punts and place them at the mouths of seven of the region’s rivers for the emergency use of shipwrecked crews. There is no record of the boats ever being used by shipwrecked crews, but there are a number of stories of men using them to bring out injured workmates from remote logging areas.
Most pining operations came to an end during the Second World War as men were called up, and later years saw the introduction of motor driven log haulers and helicopters to reach new stands of timber. Although no longer in use, piner’s punts are a reminder of Tasmania’s early logging traditions.
Maritime Museum file number 236
Piners’ punts, www.woodenboatguidetas.org.au
Piners Punts, A Pastor’s Journal. Rev. Ted E. Huffman, 31/10/2016