Dryandra Forest (named after the beautiful and unusual wildflower that is prolific there, Dryandra nobilis), is a unique area located in the western wheatbelt, near Narrogin. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, it was the scene of WA’s celebrated “bark rush” when thousands of men “rushed” to the bush to strip the valuable bark of brown mallet (Eucalyptus astringens) trees. This was exported, mainly to Germany, for the manufacture of tannin, used to convert greenhide into leather. In the age of the horse and the sailing ship, leather was in huge demand, and tannin was an internationally-traded commodity. Brown mallet bark was regarded as equal to the best in the world.
The mad, uncontrolled despoilation of the bush by the bark-strippers led the then-Forests Department to survey and reserve a large area of bushland as State forest, thus ensuring the cutover mallet could be regenerated, and the area could not be alienated for agriculture. A bushfire management system (including the construction of tree lookouts and “hilltop forester stations) was instituted and a settlement and nursery developed deep in the forest. The department also began (in 1923) the development of an extensive plantation of brown mallet, so as to ensure a sustainable bark/tannin industry. This was the first plantation of native eucalypts established anywhere in Australia. Eventually it reached 8,000 ha in size.
With the advent of synthetic tannin and the decline in the use of leather after World War II, eventually Dryandra became a backwater. But fire protection continued, for a while it was a source of timber for axe handles, fenceposts and firewood, and was used by apiarists. It was also found to be a superb remnant of native wildlife, and popular with city tourists. The old forestry settlement was converted to holiday cottages and a program of camp grounds, walking trails, picnic spots and a wildlife centre were developed.
Today the native forest is mostly national park, but the brown mallet plantations are still in use, producing not bark for tannin, but high-quality hardwood timber. Dryandra is one of WA’s most well-loved forests and regarded as possibly our most valuable habitat for endangered mammal species, including the State Emblem, the numbat, which is thriving there.