Refusing to retire, Ralph Affleck instead designed and built his own ingenious sawmill.

Story By David Bentley

Timber man Ralph Affleck wasn’t made for retirement. At 67, when most people look forward to lawn bowls and relaxation, he decided to design and build a sawmill that he could operate solo. Ralph is now 85, and the man and his remarkable one-man mill are still going strong amid the rolling pastures at Legume, near Killarney on the Queensland-New South Wales border.
It’s a sawmill like no other. Virtually all of the moving parts have been cannibalised from derelict machinery. There are bits from Canberra bombers, a 1912 Republic truck, a World War II frigate, and an amphibious landing craft.
At first glance, the mill invites comparison with the work of British cartoonist W. Heath Robinson, whose improbable machines exemplified the make-do or mend philosophy during the shortages of World Wars I and II. However Robinson’s machines, usually powered by steam kettles and kept running by bespectacled men in overalls, were eccentric, implausible devices – a description that in no way applies to Ralph’s amazing triumph of bush engineering.
Ralph’s mill might more accurately be described as a symphony of moving parts played on improvised instruments. In a time of computerisation, this mill is testament to the innovative spirit that characterised outback communities through the pioneering years to the not-so-distant past.

This Story is from Issue #103

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2015