Women of the Forest: historian Roger Underwood’s book pays tribute to women who worked or lived in WA forests


Picture: Author Roger Underwood.

Picture: Forestry women.
Picture: Author Roger Underwood. Picture: Forestry women.

AN all-female fire gang operating out of Sawyers Valley during World War II is one of the many stories captured in a new book dedicated to women who worked or lived in WA forests.

Forest historian Roger Underwood said Women of the Forest was a collection of 32 first-person stories, written by women foresters, rangers or fire lookouts and the wives or daughters of forestry men.

“One of the most dramatic is the account of the first all-woman fire gang that operated out of Sawyers Valley during the 1940s while the menfolk were away in the armed services,” he said.

“The crew fought bushfires, conducted controlled burns and other forest work such as telephone and firebreak maintenance.

“The book also contains an interesting story from Betty Rhodes, wife and mother of an extended forestry family and a long-time resident at Mundaring Weir.

“She describes her life in a forestry settlement, and the trials and worries of husbands and sons being away fighting fires and also the good times with the strong camaraderie in small bush settlements.

“She also had her own brush with fire, and was lucky to survive.”

Underwood said the stories revealed the courage of bush women.

“Kalamunda’s Gloria Willmott was caught in Dwellingup the night the town burnt down in 1961 and pays tribute to her brave mother, who took charge and protected her family in time of crisis,” he said.

“Many women remember their youthful adventures working on fire lookouts, including the great tree lookouts of the karri country.

“Others tell of the challenges faced by the first women forestry officers, breaking into a man’s world.”

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