Breaking Out

Bullocks in the bush

They were the log skidders of the pioneer timber days in New Zealand……and there’s still a team that’s ready to haul stems in the King Country.


Working bullocks were employed by early loggers for over a hundred years, with the first animals arriving in February 1820 on the HMS Dromedary.


The ship was sent out by the Admiralty in England to search for suitable spars for their navy sailing ships. The ship brought a team of five pairs of working bullocks from Port Jackson in Australia, where it had transported a number of convicts, and landed at the Bay of Islands.


However, it wasn’t until 50 years or more, in the 1870’s, before the use of bullocks became more common in New Zealand. That was largely because of the scarcity of the beasts in the colony in those years.


Samuel Butler wrote in A First Year in the Canterbury Settlement: “Bullocks are very scarce here; none are to be got under twenty pounds, while thirty pounds is no unusual price for a good harness bullock.”


Those original bullocks from HMS Dromedary were to be the forerunners of an animal that was to reign supreme in the New Zealand bush for pulling native logs and other heavy items until the use of steam log haulers became more common into the 20th century.


Even then, bullocks were still employed for specialist tasks, such as dragging isolated logs to where the log hauler rope could reach them for extraction. In later years, this task was taken over by a smaller hauler known as a scout hauler, or bulldozers, but it was pioneered by bullocks.


Teams of bullocks were also used for recovering the steam hauler winch rope on haulers, which were equipped with only a single drum.


Another task where they excelled because of their ability to get into difficult locations was moving Kauri logs where they could be rolled into waterways for transport out of the working area. Here, a tripped dam spilled water to sluice the logs down the watercourse, where they could be recovered for either milling or for transport to distant sawmills – for transporting, logs were either assembled into rafts or loaded onto sailing scows.


Bullocks were even employed to help shift log haulers to new locations. Indeed, if any heavy or bulky items needed to be moved, bullocks were often called on for the job. The finished sawn timber from the saw mill was even carted on bullock wagons to be hauled for loading onto railway wagons, or taken straight to a nearby settlement for building construction, or other purposes...



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