RYALL, Mr Hedley Raymond (Ray)

1906 - 1999

Ryall Mr Hedley Raymond - Creswick Historical SocietyRay Ryall was born in Carnegie, Melbourne in 1906.  He left school at the age of fourteen and worked at many trades taught to him by his father, notably mechanics and engineering.  Ray joined a partnership in 1929, which built houses in New South Wales as contractors, but as the Depression approached work dried up everywhere.

In 1930/31 he moved to Creswick looking for work, and he and two friends camped along the Bald Hills Road and shared a tent. They sought work in the local mines and dug on their own site, but money was difficult to make and there was little gold to be found so, much of the Depression was lived on the Government “sustenance” of six shillings a week.  This was given in the form of a voucher, from which one was allocated how much could be spent on meat, groceries, bread and vegetables.  Nothing for alcohol!  No-one seemed to go very hungry as there were lots of rabbits about then, as there is now.

He and his partners got a Government grant for explosives and sank a shaft, but there was a fee of about a pound per week for the shaft which left only the six shillings per man for food and other necessities. They cooked on an open fire, used a wash tub for bathing and an old mine shaft with sticks across the top for a toilet. They were also expected to do some public works a couple of days a month for the “susso” so they were always available for that.

Ray made some extra money by helping a fellow he met at “Bloody Gully” who was having engine and pump problems at his pit.  He then got in contact with Bill King, an old Creswick identity.  His son was working near the railway station and he suggested they try a shaft next to his, which they did, and Ray worked there until he started his Mill.

In 1932 he brought his fiancé Iona from Melbourne and they were married. Iona was given a wedding ring made from the gold they obtained from their mine and they continued to live in the tent.  Iona learned to cook everything in a saucepan on the open fire, rabbits – roasted stewed and boiled, and even puddings.

As Ray told it: ‘There were about three hundred people living there, prospecting at that time. Everyone got on alright, there was never any trouble, and everyone seemed to be fairly healthy.  My main problem was getting dust in my ears from the mine, so I had to get them syringed out every so often. There were quite a few women living with their husbands in tents.  We had our first child, Shirley, while we were in the tent and I built a lean-to on the back.  It was rugged.  Well, you got through.’

Ray started his saw mill in 1935 with his two companions, Arthur and Ben Burrows.  At first he had one saw bench under a pine shelter and the partners agreed from the start that they would work a regular eight hours every day, five and a half days a week, in contrast to some of the prospectors who only worked when they felt like it. 

He got jobs building two bridges in Creswick for the Forestry Commission, made fruit boxes and later rifle boxes for the army.  They also cut scantlings from the mill waste.  Although the mill struggled at first, it eventually became one of the main employers for the town, with about 33 local workers, and was a national asset during the war.

With his engineering background, Ray built a steam driven pine logging mill and, with hard work and patience, eventually founded H.R. Ryall & Co.

In 1941, a son was born, Keith and in 1945 another daughter, Evelyn. Ray started work on a family home, built in two halves, and taking seven years to complete the job.

During WW2, 1942 Ray was made a District Warden with black out procedures, air raid sirens in various places and had air raid shelters dug out. He was also making ammunition boxes at the mill.

Then, disaster!  In 1953 the Saw Mill was burnt to the ground and demolished, meaning a loss of 45 permanent workers, a devastating loss for a small town. Later that year, Ray set up a temporary building made of burnt iron sheets and began the tedious, heartbreaking job of rebuilding the mill, a program that took five years.  From the ashes arose a fully automatic, and one of the most up to date mills in Australia. All the equipment was built by employees on site and even the fork-lift was made from an old armoured personnel carrier.

Ray Ryall also looked to the future.  To ensure that the mill would never suffer from a shortage of timber, he planted fifty acres of forest.

He never used mains power; but made his own power with diesel and steam.  All waste was recycled, off-cuts went through the boiler and sawdust was fed through a hopper onto grates, to create heat, to drive the kilns, to dry the timber.  Then the generator created the electricity to drive the motors.

Ray sold the Mill in 1978 after forty-three years of timber milling.

One would think that Ray Ryall would have had sufficient to deal with in maintaining his Mill, but during his time in Creswick he made a significant contribution as well, to the community he was part of.  Some of his involvements were:

  • Shire Councillor until 1985 and Shire President three times – 1941-42, 1948-49 and 1968-69.
  • Australian representative for the Softwood Timber Mills Association
  • Justice of the Peace
  • Deputy Chairman of the Creswick Water Board
  • Chairman of the Creswick Elderly Citizens Welfare Committee for ten years
  • Board member of the John Curtin Hostel 1985 (opened March 1984)
  • Member of the Creswick Cemetery Trust
  • Board member of the Hospital Committee  and President 1956/57
  • Council representative on the Koala Park Committee
  • Member of the Progress Association
  • Creswick Swimming Club and Calembeen Park
  • He belonged to twenty-six committees at one time and was Chairman of fifteen of them

Ray had a great capacity for active and warm friendship.  His combination of intelligence, energy, vision and skills were integral to his contribution, defining the future of Creswick as a Shire Councillor and Shire President and as a leader for over sixty years. (CDN Obit.)

To quote a Councillor, speaking of the many years Ray served on Council,

“He brought to the Council business, the enthusiasm and the knowledge which made his own business a success.”

Ray Ryall left a proud record of involvement, achievements and leadership.

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