Timberzoo Newsletter
 
 

      DECEMBER 2008

  • A Way of Life in Queensland's Timber Regions
  • Current Stocks of Milled Recycled Timber
  • Trusting Legislators on the Detail
 


A Way of Life in Queensland's Timber Regions

Allies Creek Sawmill is in the Western region of Queensland forests, upriver on the Burnett in high plateau country that is part of a fragmented Great Dividing Range. The nearest town, Mundubbera, about 400kms north of Brisbane, lays in the shadow of a large fibreglass Honey Murcott mandarin. This is rich soil country, growing citrus fruits, pecans and avocadoes.

The region was settled around WW1 with the advent of railways to coastal ports. German, Dutch and English settlers cleared heavily-forested lands for cropping and grazing. Allies Creek sawmill was established at the end of WW11, in 1945, when John Crooke was only a boy.

 

   

Truck and tracked vehicle technologies were a legacy of this war and they made logging possible on a scale that allowed hardwood sawmilling to become an industry. When Allies Creek sawmill was built by his father, John Crooke knew it as a town - and the very centre of his universe. Eighteen houses, a school and an accommodation block, alone in the vastness of a state forest reserve. After school hours, there was the bush, gullies and creeks to play in.
 

     

As he reminisces, John talks in an endless stream-of-memory that dawdles for a moment when facts grey, but revives as he recalls a colourful moment. Around him friends and colleagues listen happily, and it seems to a visitor that it is like a requiem. Friends gathered in a comforting phalanx and the outpouring of a remembered life as a necessary ritual to contain melancholy. 

Displaced persons from Europe after WW11 were some of the first workers at the sawmill. "Sixty five staff and only five bastards speaking English" recalls Crooke with mischievous inaccuracy. Yugoslavs, Poles, Italians, Lithuanians, Latvians and many other workers worked for years, married, had families, had sons commence apprenticeships at the mill, retired and moved on. A large Dutch family recently wrote to request they be allowed to hold their reunion at the sawmill. "This mill was people's life," said Crooke "Their fathers' life, their grandfathers' life. Everyone is still stunned."

 

     

The closure of Allies Creek is part of a review of forestry in Queensland being undertaken by Anna Bligh's government. The continuation of a process begun under Peter Beattie to lock up more of Queenslands state forest hardwood reserves. Times and societies change. Sometimes industries can make changes too. Other times they are misled by governments or are served up as a public offering by sudden policy making that seeks to assuage modern urban sensitivities.

Yet the most important change signalled in native hardwood sawlogging in recent decades is the one that has insisted real value resides in kiln-dried appearance grade products. Flooring and furniture. The cutting of green timbers, of structural timbers from native hardwood, is a waste of a valuable resource. The ability of mills to recognise this change and adapt has been various. The prospect of higher unit earnings and lower log volumes is a difficult paradigm. No one likes to re-imagine scale by growing smaller. 

At the same time, successful dry mill production is the outcome of an intensely focused and skilled workforce using expensive technology. It requires a minimum scale to succeed and the working out of scale, economies and efficiencies is the very stuff of the current timber conundrum - if you are an insider. The difficulty facing boutique sawmillers and small farm-forestry alliances is this very bind of scale and kiln-drying technology. At present values for small log, their efforts mostly fall short of profitable in a very demanding market.

 

     

In Allies Creek to attend the clearing sale at the sawmill, I was nevertheless moved by this moment of change. Queenslanders in these parts are friendly, direct people. They take you readily into their confidence and their company after a short assessment, even if you donít have a sweat-stained rabbit felt hat.

By nature, a progressive, as I grow older I better understand the essential nature of conservatism. There are things now lost that I find a yearning for - and institutions lingering that I'd hate to lose. John Crooke, his father and his son are an important part of the tradition of hardwood sawmilling in Australia. There exists no parallel or alternative history the politically-correct can belong to. 

There may be a defined shift in focus and outlook on native hardwood sawmilling on my own part from the generation that went before me, but I'd be proud to belong to a continuum of adventurous men who have worked hard, striven for quality and involved many lives in their enterprise.

 

Current Stocks of Milled Recycled Timber
 
 

Dressed Messmate Posts   120mm x 120mm   rate $60.00/m
 

   



DAR Baltic Pine
in 70mm boards   200mm x 70mm   rate $45.00/m2

2.6m lengths / other widths

 

   
 


Recycled Decking  
80mm x 28mm   Forest Reds   Last 2 packs!  rate $8.00/m

     


Trusting Legislators on the Detail

We may have to trust the Rudd government and the Liberal Party on the Carbon Sinks legislation. It worries me that intelligent heads like Christine Milne and Barnaby Joyce are so bothered with the lack of specifics, lack of detail and the looseness of the tax provisions in the legislation. Rudd and Turnbull understand tax breaks but do they understand trees?

The problem with Kyoto definitions of forests is that it frames a global context that shows little specific understanding of Australian bush ecology. Milne and Joyce are correct. The need is in savannah, wetlands, degraded pastoral land and open woodlands. Does this law allow brigalow to be cleared for plantation establishment? The public obsession is with forests and plantations. Somehow plantations are good and never evil, and yet they fail to supply the diversity of flora required in landcare projects. 

I am right, aren't I? We don't just want to offer tax breaks for any old carbon plantings. We want the plantings to restore degraded land, have no impact on water allocations, and be of broad benefit beyond advertising the carbon largesse of some power company. Mainly, we don't want to repeat Costello's blind stupidity in offering our dosh to the woodchip-investment nexus of managed investment schemes (MIS) busily producing nothing of value aside from subsidised losses in pulp plantations.