Hydrowood Tasmania project only in its 'infancy'

It has been two years since a project to recover once-lost timber from Lake Pieman began. The Hydrowood project continues to gain momentum on a national scale.

Karina Clarke runs her hand over the core of a celery top pine trunk.

“We can tell the ages of a tree by starting in the middle and counting the rings,” Clarke says.

“This tree could be over 250 to 300 years old.”

The halved trunk is on display at Design Tasmania in Launceston, where Clarke is the CEO.

Through the Hydrowood project, the tree has gone on to have another life, as part of the centre’s Lost and Found exhibition.

Hydrowood is the name given to a journey that started about five years ago, to bring 1000 hectares of underwater forest back to the surface.

Lake Pieman was created in 1986, as part of the development of Hydro Tasmania’s Reece Dam.

In 2015, with a $5 million federal government grant, SFM Hydrowood made Lake Pieman the first place in Australia to host underwater logging.

Heavy forestry machinery, combined with a barge and other custom-built equipment, means once-lost specialty Tasmanian timber has been rebirthed.

The rediscovered wood is celery top pine, blackwood, myrtle, Huon pine, sassafras, and Tas oak.

When it is pulled up from the lake, Clarke said, it is almost perfectly preserved, as it’s been almost entombed in mud for the past two decades.

As it dries out, the unique characters of the wood begin to reveal themselves; colours and grains not seen in any other timber.

“The beauty of timber is it’s a living material – it continues to expand and contract,” Clarke said.

The end result is a high quality and highly coveted product.

It has attracted the attention of architects, furniture makers and designers from across the country, who are all eager to showcase the timber’s story through their chosen craft.

Clarke said while there was still five to 10 years of timber left in the lake, Hydrowood was a finite resource, a value that is being reflected in the way it is utilised.

In the centre’s exhibition, which is on display until August 20, the Hydrowood has been transformed into an array of items.

There is furniture, and design. There are also knives, with their timber handles hand-crafted by a Victorian designer.

Then there are sunglasses, their nonchalant arms telling a story that is more than 25 years old.

In marriage of two of Tasmania’s most iconic industries, Launceston-based designer Simon Ancher teamed up with Lark Distillery to create one-off Hydrowood cases for the iconic whisky.

It links up with a project from Tasmanian-born, Brisbane-based furniture maker Carol Russell, who uses the salvaged timber to make utensils and cutlery. 

Russell will host a workshop in the art, in connection with the Lost and Found exhibition.

“Being able to access [the material] and make the connections to our fantastic food and wine industry is really special, I think,” Clarke said.

“[It’s important] to make sure the timber is used for high-quality, high-end design, so this exhibition is about that, from a range of designers, both local and national.

“It’s only just starting to get more traction,” Clarke said of the resource.

“It’s still in its infancy.”

At the start of September, the centre will aim to continue the momentum around Hydrowood with a hosted tour to Lake Pieman, to observe the process in action.

It’s the first tour the centre will take to the lake, and will be a gauge for future events, Clarke said.

“It’s about an education opportunity for people to understand how the material is brought up from the lake,” Clarke said.

“But it’s also about going back to the source.

“Often, we don’t have that opportunity in the commercialised world that we live in, so it’s quite a special thing.”

Clarke said some designers who worked with Hydrowood had brought their clients on the journey, from start to finish: The clients would accompany the designer to Lake Pieman, select their timber, and have the designer custom make a piece for them.

The story behind the timber was part of its core value, Clarke explained.

“There’s a historical conversation in terms of the history of Lake Pieman … and what happened in terms of ‘losing’ those beautiful forests,” Clarke said.

“[Hydrowood] has got a really nice synergy in a conversation about designers who work with timber.

“But also, this indicates a change in the position about how we’re thinking about the material, and the resource, its process.

“It’s finite, we need to make sure that the design that we’re putting into the material is of the highest quality.”

The Design Tasmania tour to Lake Pieman will be held on September 1, and will depart from Strahan village.

Tickets are limited, and are $110.

Carol Russell’s hand-carved spoon workshops will be held at the centre on August 31 and September 1, at a cost of $150 a workshop. 

Tickets for both events are available through Design Tasmania.