Tree towers

Tree towers were first built in the Southern Forests in the 1930s.
They provided a way in which foresters could keep a lookout for fires in the forest.
Between 1937 and 1952 eight look-out trees were built, forming a network of fire watch points through the Southern forests.

Once the tree towers where established, it was easy for foresters to pin-point exactly where a fire was.
This was done by getting bearings on any "smokes" from two towers and cross-reference them.
Airplanes took over the task of fire surveillance in 1972 and the use of the tree lookouts was stopped.
However, planes are not always in the air. Fires can begin and gain a hold in between flights.
In certain conditions, such as in very high winds, the planes cannot fly at all.
So, in summer 1994/95, some tree towers were used again playing a role in protecting the Southern Forests from fire.

Meet the Boorara Fire Tree


I am Boorara Tree - the protector of the Boorara Forest.
I was chosen as a fire lookout tree because I was the tallest and strongest tree on the top of this hill. This is how it happened.
I dropped to the ground from my seed capsule after a summer lightening strike started a fire over 200 years ago. Luckily, birds or animals did not eat me.
I germinated from the nutrient rich ash bed after the first winter rains. I grew strong and tall very quickly so that more light reached my leaves for photosynthesis of food.
After many years I was the tallest tree. I could see over the valley and farmland for miles and almost to the ocean.
In 1952 George Reynolds climbed to my crown and lopped my uppermost branches so that a cabin could be built.
I was to be a fire lookout tree.

During the fire season a man or woman climbed daily to my cabin to look for fire and smoke. Firefighters could then locate and fight fires while they were small and controllable.
I was a bit worried in 1969 when a fire burnt all around me, but it did me no harm.
It did worry the man in my cabin though!
In 1972 I was retired (I'd got a bit soft in my old age). My upper trunk, which had become weak, was cut off and erected in the ground below so visitors could see the cabin.
Eventually the cabin and my supporting upper canopy limbs were removed as they had become weakened with the passage of time.
Now you can experience a replica fire lookout cabin on the ground. I relax knowing that I performed a very responsible job protecting my forest from wildfire.

Boorara Tree was part of a network of 18 fire tower trees in the Warren region.
During fire season (November-April) each was 'manned' from early morning to the last light of day.
Some towers are still in operation today but most have been replaced by the use of far ranging spotter aircraft. Boorara was retired as a tower tree in 1972.

When the tower tree network was operating, 'towermen' were often required to help fight big fires on the ground.
Women from local communities and wives of foresters would be called to substitute in the cabins.

The original Boorara cabin is no longer here.
A larger wheel-chair accessible replica has been built to simulate the tower cabin experience.
Here some of the things on display in the cabin:

A towerman worked for up to 12 hours a day in this small space with nothing but the wind for company.

Working in a cabin at the top of the forest requires tenacity and skill.
The towerman would have to climb over 60 m to find himself in a small cabin that can sway up to 3 m in the wind.

He would need to cope with the isolation and responsibility of staying alert, while continually scanning the horizon for plumes of smoke.
If he spots a fire he must quickly plot the smoke bearing, estimate the distance and confirm the smoke characteristics before he informs the local office to help to pinpoint the fire's exact location.
Then in fading light at the end of a long day he would climb back down.

Of course there were also some rules to comply to ...

Forest Department Telephone Systems

Operating Rules

  1. Before ringing any station, "listen in" and inquire if the line is engaged. Do not ring while the line is in use by others.
  2. Make call rings distinct. Turn the handle with a free circular motion - not a jerky motion - a "long" must be three times as long as a "short" i.e., if a "short" is two turns of the handle a "long" must be six turns.
  3. Leave the receiver on the hook until the call is made, then lift it off for conversation.
  4. Replace the receiver, diaphragm down, immediately after use. If left off the hook the batteries will soon run down.
  5. Do not shout. Speak clearly from two to six inches from the mouthpiece.
  6. On finishing a conversation, both users must ring off by giving one short ring.
  7. Be persistent. Try again if you cannot raise your man, or get a nearer station to try to call him.
  8. Do not meddle with the instrument. Report any defects to the Divisional Office, for attention.
  9. Replacing damaged fuses - If unable to ring anyone after a lightning storm, the fuse in the protector is probably burnt out. As protectors are usually wired to the one side only, the other fuse is "spare". Proceed as under: -
    (1) Unscrew tile milled head screw and remove the cover from the protector.
    (2) Change over the fuses. so as to use the spare one.
    (3) If still unable to raise any station, change over the small green "heat" coils below the fuses.
    (4) If cormutnication is now satisfactory, report to the Divisional Office, and ask for a supply of a spare fuse and heat coil.
    (5) If still unable to raise any station, the instrument may have been damaged. Report it to the nearest office as early as possible, so that any fault may he rectified promptly.
  10. Earth connection. - A good damp "earth" is essential for satisfactory working. If there is any doubt about this, tile earth connection should be watered thoroughly in winter as well as in summer.

Manning Towers During Lunch Hours

When Forecast Hazard is Dangerous, towermen are required to remain on the lookout during their usual lunch time.
All other times, lunch hours will be taken as rostered and towermen are not expected to remain on the lookout during their lunch hour.
Towermen must advise D.H.Q. when they go down for lunch and when they return to duty. All such advice to be entered in towermen's log and office log.


All Towers must check with neighbouring Divisions before closing down.
Burnside - check with Pemberton and Walpole.
Boorara - check with Pemberton and Watpole.
Gloucester - check with Pemberton and Manjimup
Calcup - check with Pemberton only.
Beard - check with Pemberton and Manjimup




No liability for timeliness, integrity and correctness of this document is accepted.
Last updated: Thursday, 19.06.2008 4:00 PM