Johnston’s Timber Mill

Rankins timber mill stratford

Rankins Timber Mill – present


Stratford was a timber town

Timber cutting was the first industry in the Barron valley and Edward Martin opened a timber mill on the river bank in 1886. The mill continued with various small upgrades and renovations through to the early 1900s when it was bought by Dave Hendricks.

In 1921 John Michael Johnston, one of the largest mill owners in Queensland, bought this block and built one of the biggest timber mills in the north. The mill employed up to 180 people, had its own horse and bullock teams to supply the logs and a fleet of boats, the BreasthookBloomfieldCowra and Priscilla, which were used to bring timber down from the Daintree. There was a loading wharf on the river, a slipway and a dry dock to repair wooden minesweepers.

Around 1930 Johnston, his wife, Annie, and four children Henry, Maxwell, Rex and Olga moved to Stratford to live. During the first few wet seasons the workers were paid out when flooded roads and rivers meant the supply of timber stopped and the mill ran short of logs. Once the railway siding had been built into the mill, up to 1,000,000 super feet of timber was stockpiled for use in the wet.

stratford heritage trail cairns

Steam crane unloading logs from the train at Johnston’s timber mill.
Image: William ‘Les’ Humphreys.

Operating the mill

There were two mills; a log band mill for cutting kauri, maple and red cedar with an output of 10,000 super feet of sawn timber a day and a smaller frame-saw mill for cutting penda, rose-gum and various scrubwoods. Up to forty-five different types of timber were stored in the yard at any one time. There were twelve kilns and one reconditioner for drying the timber and an immuniser for treating timber suspected of being infested with Powder Post Beetle (Lyctus borer).

Johnston died shortly after WWII and the mill was bought by WA company Bunnings Bros. In 1962 Rankine Bros bought the mill and continued milling operations until 1975 when the second of two large fires destroyed much of the mill and drying kilns. The site is now Rankine Timber & Truss, the largest timber yard north of Brisbane.

stratford heritage trail cairns

Cairns Post.

stratford heritage trail cairns

J M Johnston’s Sawmill at Stratford, late 1930’s, showing log pile.
Image: William ‘Les’ Humphreys.

stratford heritage trail cairns

Timber mill on fire, 1975.
Image: Frank Martin.


The Stratford Heritage Trail is an initiative of the
Stratford & Freshwater Community Association