Out there is the river -- the waterway which is the highway from the hill forests of Burma.
Out there is the river -- the waterway which is the highway from the hill forests of Burma. During the Second World War -- and the civil disorder that followed -- the teak forests were abandoned. Through neglect, one of the most prized treasures of the Orient was almost snuffed out. Now comes a re-birth. A new generation of forest-officers -- many of them trained in Australia under the Colombo Plan -- are abroad in the jungle. The famous teakwood of Burma is making a determined come-back.
They select land they survey -- guided by what they learned in the Australian bush. The fully mature teak tree is marked and girdled -- ring-barked -- and stands for three years drying in the air. Then comes the ancient, unhurried pattern of events set by timbermen a century or more ago: the agile little Kachin" axemen get to work.
On the tough timber, they use an axe which Western experts would regard as a mere hatchet-head mounted on a smooth bamboo-pole. Yet it remains a spear-head in the drive to put the forests back on the world map ... axes and old-fashioned crosscut saws. A century growing ... three years dying... and another colossus in teak goes its appointed way.
The tempo quickens here and there ... for the tree-fellers take kindly to such comparatively new-fangled gadgets. These -- and tractors -- are now disturbing the serenity of the mountains. But in the forests there is still a powerful symbol which we always link with the teak lands of Burma. This, in a country which has gone for mechanisation in a big way. Tractors couldn't even get here.
They haul and push and heave and coax -- on mountain-sides where it's just about impossible to use machinery. The Burmese teak industry has a work-force of about six-hundred elephants... and with nonchalant ease, the job goes on.
The elephant driven by this mahout is a killer: three drivers have been tusked by him. But he's a fine worker, intelligent and willing -- when not out of temper -- and no-one would dream of pensioning him off, let alone destroy him. Here's how a log weighing two tons is dealt with.
They're trained for seven years or so before being put to work, and the pay-off is apparent: that, for instance.
Driving them is an art handed down from father to son -- a dangerous art at that. Because the best of elephants are temperamental and, if mistreated wilfully or through ignorance, are liable to turn on their driver. The Australian cameraman who shot this film points out some of the advantages: they never have mechanical breakdowns; they run well for fifty or sixty years; and while there's an ample supply of bamboo-shoots about, they cannot possibly run out of fuel!
Once, they did all the work, but machines now take over the routine task of getting the logs to the storage depots. In the old days, elephants used to haul them the whole way.
Even when the river is reached, the journey has barely started. This is a tributary of the Irrawaddy, and is a mere trickle until the monsoon turns it into a roaring yellow torrent. The logs eventually will reach the main stream, and, at centres like Mandalay, they're carefully matched and jockeyed into position. Five-hundred miles from the mountain forests, the teak logs are formed into rafts ... lashed securely together with cane.
Mandalay, fabled city of pagodas ... where river pagodas spring up on the rafts which carry a whole community of rowers and steersmen and navigators. Another five-hundred miles lie ahead -- which means one-thousand miles in all. Despite some aid in the closing stages, that journey can take anything up to ten years before it ends -- in the storage ponds at Rangoon. Here, too, Australian "know-how" is helping revitalise Burma's task industry. The flotilla of rafts from faraway Bahmo" has reached the State Timber Mills. The rafts have been broken up ... and machines take over.
Bahmo teak taking shape for many countries overseas. A key figure in this drive to build Burma's prosperity is a veteran New South Wales timberman, Mr. J.L. Briggs; with him, young Burmese foresters who ware trained by Australian saw-millers. After ten years ... after one-thousand miles ... from Rangoon, Bahmo teak wood goes out to the world.