A tribute to forestry workers

A tribute to forestry workers

This post was prompted by the news yesterday morning of yet another death in the forest industry, the ninth for this year and the second this week!  New Zealand’s safety record in this sector is abysmal by international standards. But what was it like in the “good old days”? I found myself thinking of a very memorable day spent in the Kinleith Forest 35 years ago.

The New Zealand Institute of Forestry had announced a photographic competition. I felt that a candid shot of the people that work in the forest might make a change from the many beautiful landscapes that would be entered. So I arranged to take a day’s leave and tag along with a logging gang.


I was picked up by the foreman at some ungodly hour, 0445 I think, and we headed down to Atiamuri where they were working on some of the very last of the “old crop” forest.  This block had been planted in the late 1920s, on fairly steep ground. In New Zealand, a 50 year old Radiata pine is a very large tree indeed.  The gang was using a skidder and a Madill high lead hauler (shown in that first photograph).

It was a tough work. The toughest job of all, so I was told, was “breaking out”. This worker clambered over the steep hillside, trimming branches from the felled trees and cutting notches to ensure that the heavy wire strops would hold. Here’s a shot of the “breaker out” with the skidder, near the bottom of the slope where I could reach. It shows the working environment quite well. This dangerous, exhausting job was rotated amongst the most experienced members of the gang.


Here is another shot of the skidder in operation, pulling four trees down to the skids where two workers were trimming off any remaining branches and cutting the trees into 40 ft lengths. They were getting three logs from each tree!


Between the skidder and the hauler, these loads were coming down at five-minute intervals!


The guys were working at pace, with a five-minute rest break every hour.




I felt exhausted just photographing them.


The guy running the hauler that day had a slightly easier time.


It did not seem to change his routine:  I watched with amazement as he consumed 11 sausages at morning tea!


But let’s go back to the very beginning of the process. I spent a few hours following two workers doing the actual “falling“.  It was a difficult task for the photographer.  I had to keep a safe distance and there was quite heavy undergrowth interfering with the shot.  Here’s Ringo cutting a scarf on a big tree.


This next one was the best of them.


But what about safety?  One of those skiddies wasn’t wearing a great deal of protective clothing. Well, take a look at a close-up of that first photograph of Ringo.


See those stickers on his helmet?  The right-hand one says he has worked for seven years without a lost time accident. He got the next sticker after yet another year without an accident.

And look at the foreman! Yes, 23 years!


During the 1960s and ‘70s, NZ Forest Products had been trying very hard to prove the safety culture within the organisation.  It was especially true for the forestry division who had achieved outstanding results. (But the Kinleith Technical Department wasn’t too bad either – we achieved 7 years without a lost time accident in that department of 100+ people, 1.5 million hours.)

So it’s my contention that the underlying culture in an organisation is far more important than rules and regulations.  Culture comes from the board and management.

PS that shot of Ringo won 1st prize in that competition.  1978 was a good year for my photography! (& scanning these old negatives has brought back some memories – I must do more of it.)

PPS  Another memory came to me.  After winning the competition with the photo of Ringo, I printed a large copy, mounted it and took it round to his place as a ‘thank you’ for the day.  I got there just after dinner, around 7.30 pm.  “I’m sorry, Ringo’s gone to bed” said his wife.  “He always goes to bed at 6.30 pm when he’s on the saws.”  A vivid reminder of just how much energy those bushmen used up in what was an extremely demanding job, one they performed with huge pride.


Postscript:  You can see from the response below from Rona that this post has generated some interest.  She has more to say:

” I spoke to my dad tonight and he still remembers that day and that picture winning the competition :)

He made the comment that the crew foreman of 23 years accident free his name is Wano Walters, that hill at Atiamuri where those photos were all taken is named after him in the logging community, Wano’s nickname is Guvy and to this day it is called Guvy’s Mountain, it was really great to actually be able to see who this man was that that hill is named after.

These photos are priceless and are so fantastic to look at now, what a great reminder of our fore fathers and the path they forged for us today to continue.

I agree that safety is about culture and is something we strongly focus on building in our business today.”



The picture of the hauler driver is my dad…Peter Morunga a.k.a Blue or in those days known as Blackie. Proud to say he is still leaving in Tokoroa and working in the forest today, ironically he is now driving one of my hauler’s.

I am Robert aka Ringos, daughter . He is also still living in tokoroa. I remember waking up at this ungodly hour you talk about to say goodbye as he went off to work. These pics are amazing! Hope you don’t mind if I print them off as these are the best of him I have ever seen:)

hi im Ringo’s wife…. I love these pictures unfortunately the picture that won the competiion i never saw i think his first wife has it. It doesnt matter seeing these and shareing them with our daughter and sons is good.

Don’t print them off! They are quite small and will look horrible (all pixelated) when printed. I’ll prepare large versions which will look great and get them to you all (free). Give me a couple of days….

Hey rigo is is my old man I use to love watching him hang
From the side of a cliff always got worried but he was good at what he done.

it made his day wen he’d get home and yous were at the letter box waiting for. to see yous running up to him for a hug and try to carry his bag :)

Hi. Graeme…thank you for the wonderful pictures..yes i recognise these guys..and especially the hauler driver ( my husband Peter) . My daughter Rona gave me the pictures you left with her, they are now hanging on his wall with all his other work memorabilia..those pictures must have been taken in the 70’s ..

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