Out of the Woods

Hayes’ Cedar Desk by Morpeth Craftsman J.G. White

Seated at this elegant desk, Irishman John Hayes (c. 1861-1934) shuffled his papers, dipped his pen into his inkwell and meticulously inscribed his accounting records in his ledger books. In 1907, Hayes had been appointed as auditor to the Morpeth Borough Council and quickly proved to be thorough and reliable, spending countless hours at this desk, over the next twenty-eight years.

Before being felled, then sawn and turned into the desk by Morpeth craftsman Joseph George White (1822-1912), the ‘red gold’ cedar (Toona ciliata) timber was originally part of the vast, dense forests of trees which grew along the floodplains of the Coquun or Hunter River. The region’s Awabakal people called the tree koolai.

Born in Surrey, England, White came to Australia in 1839 and opened his Morpeth business in 1845, White considered the local cedar to be the best in the world and supplied cedar furniture and sash windows around the region. He had arrived at the right time for furniture making since cedar was then being intensively felled, mainly for export. But by the mid twentieth century, the ancient cedar forests were all but gone.

In March 1934, the Morpeth Council voted unanimously to increase the annual fee paid to John Hayes, their veteran auditor, but just five months later, Hayes was tragically knocked down by a car in Newcastle and killed. His desk was returned to Joseph’s White’s family.