• Since 1985

  • Murray Kidman has been supplying quality salvaged and selectively harvested Blackwood to luthiers since 1985. Photo looking towards Beech Forest from Halls Ridge,1992
  • 29 years on...

  • Mountain Ash regrowth with Blackwood and Satinwood understorey at the same location, 2021

Since 1985

Murray Kidman has been supplying quality salvaged and selectively harvested Blackwood to luthiers since 1985. Photo looking towards Beech Forest from Halls Ridge,1992

29 years on...

Mountain Ash regrowth with Blackwood and Satinwood understorey at the same location, 2021

In Brief

Otway Tonewoods is a private business founded by Murray Kidman who has been supplying timber to local and international instrument makers since 1985. Together with his son James, their reputation is well known for supplying quality timber for a range of different instruments and tonewood applications. Our harvesting methods are respectful to the environment and our awareness of threatening processes to flora, fauna, erosion and water quality are fundamental to our low impact sustainable method of timber harvesting.

From the Beginning

The promotion of the use of Australian native timbers for use in instrument making by the Australian Association for Musical Instrument Makers (AAMIM) has encouraged the investigation and procurement of such timbers throughout Australia since their inception in 1981. The Victorian Association (VAMIM) was established in 1985 at which point the suitability of various native timbers was communicated to local luthiers. From this point we see the popularisation of Australian native timbers for use in instruments and as such this helped to support local timber harvesters to source instrument grade timber from these species. It was from this point in time that Murray began to supply local luthiers with Otway Blackwood.

Murray's Story

Murray has been sourcing timber for luthiers since 1985 and cutting timber for furniture since 1979. With his carpentry and furniture-making background he had a keen eye for spotting good timber – fiddleback Blackwood in particular.

He began salvaging timber from logging sites, developing a reputation for providing high quality timber to many local luthiers and helping to establishing the foundations for the use of Blackwood as a tonewood. His early beginnings saw him supplying violin makers through the Victorian Instrument Makers Guild including Alan Robinson, Kevin Williams, David Brown and John Dale. In the early 90’s he began sourcing timber for Maton guitars that developed into a lasting relationship for almost 30 years. Murray’s ongoing relationship with Maton Guitars and Cort Guitars, since 2005, has helped to expand and consolidate the use of Otway Blackwood and Satinwood as Tonewoods.

The Wood Whisperer - Article

James's Story

Murray’s son James has grown up learning skills from his father on finding and harvesting timber for instruments. His interest in the bush lead him to study Botany, Conservation and Ecology at Melbourne University where his research on the genetic relationship between the traditional ukulele timber Koa and Blackwood was published by the CSIRO.

This research showed that Koa is a not-so-distant cousin to Blackwood and likely spread from the Australian continent to Hawaii. James worked as an Ecological Consultant, engaging closely with state and federal environmental legislation.

The void in understanding our country that was unfulfilled by science drew him to work as a Land Manager with Traditional Owners in central Australia. Cutting Kurku (Mulga) for kutitji (shields), the tips of kulata (spears), and kali (boomerangs) for tjilpi’s (old men) was a regular activity on camping trips.

Bringing these skills with him he has incorporated a high level of ecological awareness and accountability using modern equipment to record and document all harvesting activities. His experience with Traditional Owners has helped him to respect the inter-connected relationship that exists between humans and the bush.

Harvesting - Sustainable and Traceable

We pride ourselves in ensuring our operations comply with environmental regulations and reducing impacts on the environment.

Prior to any harvesting we need to have all the right training, licensing and permits. We use a single-tree-selection harvesting method with no heavy machinery. Timber is carried out of the bush on our backs or with a motorised wheel barrow. All our timber is documented using colour coding and each piece can be traced back to the tree where it came from.

“In the Otways, Murray and James Kidman have developed a best practice model for the future harvest of forest resources, minimizing impacts while supporting a high-value manufacturing industry for which Australia has become a global sustainability leader. They prove that resource practices, commitments and relationships can be forged with ecological values rather than in spite of them.” (Gibson and Warren 2019 - The Guitar: Tracing the Grain Back to the Tree (University of Chicago Press))

Old Growth

We do not harvest trees in Old-Growth forest.

Old growth is a relative term based on the age of the dominant life form of a vegetation type. According to the definitions given by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Victorian Government (Management Standards for Timber Harvesting in Victoria’s State Forests 2014 DEPI 2014) - Old Growth forest needs to have the presence of significant amounts of late successional, old-growth, senescent trees in their oldest growth stage.

For instance Wet Forest is usually over 200 years old before trees develop senescing characteristics. The dominant life-form of wet forest is Mountain Ash which can live for over 400 years. 

The timber that we source primarily is Blackwood which lives for up to 250 years. All of the trees that we harvest are 70-90 years old. Anything greater than this age is almost always rotten and we can determine this without felling the tree. This age class has mostly resulted from the 1939 wildfires that swept through the Otways as well as the bush that regenerated from cleared farmland. So we are well aware of the age of the forest that we harvest in from the age of the trees that we are harvesting.

In addition, due to the type of harvesting that we do, the forest structure and species composition remains the same after a tree has been selectively harvested. The method for determining Old-Growth forest allows for some level of disturbance - "An area of forest that has suffered disturbance(s) is still considered to be old growth forest if that disturbance does not significantly alter the forest structure (growth stage and crown cover) or the species composition (Old growth forest identification Assessment Tool, Conservation Regulator Victoria 2020).

So based on our single-tree-selection harvesting methods we are not altering a forest from one state to another, and would not be altering Old-growth forest even if we were to harvest in it.

Selecting the right tree for instruments

The Maton Story