For a timber of such beauty and usefulness, red cedar has had a somewhat perverse history. Recognised for its domestic potential in the first few years of European settlement in New South Wales, it wasn’t long before supplies were so depleted around Sydney that government attempted, unsuccessfully, to regulate its logging. By the end of the century, it was all but cut out of accessible land from Sydney to north Queensland, leaving in its wake large tracts of denuded rainforest and sometimes dislocated Aboriginal communities.
Cedar’s special qualities also contributed to its own destruction; the only deciduous tree in an otherwise evergreen habitat, cedar’s new copper-red spring foliage made its location a dead give-away. And paradoxically, because of the depredations of the cedar tip moth, modern attempts to establish commercial red cedar plantations have failed in eastern Australia, while in Hawaii the tree has been so successfully imported that it can reach weed proportions. Finally, recent revelations about the extent of trade with India in the nineteenth century, and the similarity between Indian and Australian cedar, have raised conundrums for Australian furniture historians. No longer is the use of red cedar in furniture an incontrovertible indicator of colonial workmanship.