21 Years Ago: NSW Sawmillers Challenged Government on RFAs

Last month, Wood Central covered the election of the Minns NSW government, with native forest management a hot-button political issue. In August 2002, editor Jim Bowden joined a government-industry delegation to discuss wood supply agreements on the NSW North Coast. Nothing is new under the sun. The visit coincided with the 25th anniversary of Australian Timberman, founded by Jim in 1976.

Mon 08 May 23


The federal minister for forestry and conservation Senator Ian Macdonald spent two days in early August visiting some of the sawmills and hardwood processing plants on the NSW North Coast that are experiencing difficulties with their wood supply agreements under the RFA.

The tour, arranged by the NSW Forest Products Association coincided with the minister’s announcement of $2.9 million of FISAP funding for five sawmills in the region and other media coverage at Lismore, Grafton and Coffs Harbour.

At Hurford Hardwood Pty Ltd Andrew Hurford explained that the company’s greatest worry in the establishment of a new green mill to supply the manufacturing and kiln drying plant at Tuncester, near Lismore, is log supply.

Andrew Hurford – dedicated family company willing to invest its own money in value-adding initiatives.

Mr Hurford said: “We are a dedicated family company employing 150 people on the north coast. We are willing to invest our own money in value-adding initiatives. We intend to install a $5 million overlay line for flooring on concrete foundations which will provide 167 new jobs.

“This has been made possible through FISAP and is the final part of a development program over four years in excess of $10 million brought about by the security of a long-term wood supply agreement and the strong economic conditions that have prevailed.”

The next mill visited was Richards Milling Co. at Wyan, near Casino. The focus of interest was a control room overlooking the recently commissioned Vislanda saw line.

This mill processes significant volumes of native regrowth hardwood and softwood and plantation resource into a range of sawn products, A major benefit of this operation in the region’s timber industry is its ability to process logs that were previously sold as pulpwood.

Richards Milling has installed a state-of-the-art log debarker and merchandiser allowing accurate sorting of all logs delivered to the mill.

Greg Richards explained this facility had simplified down-stream processing and had improved production efficiency and throughput in the saw line.

Kerry Pidcock of Big River Timbers at Grafton praised the federal government for its economic policy which he believed had enabled the company to withstand international economic pressures.

“It has provided businesses such as ours with the opportunity to grow and expand,” Mr Pidcock said.

“We do well in what we can do, with a high-powered, dedicated team of people who share in the company’s equity through their decision-making responsibility and maintaining a positive attitude.”

This family company, established in 1896, employs 170 people, 115 of them in Grafton and 50 in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Townsville.

Big River Timber aims to continue boosting and exports of high-strength hardwood formply as well as in other plywood products including engineered flooring.

The company has invested $17 million in equipment in recent years. This will be complemented by almost $1 million of the FISAP funds announced by the minister to develop a flooring and decorative panel production line for regrowth and plantation timbers.

At J. Notaras & Sons, also at Grafton, was the last plant visited on the first day. The company has developed value-adding as a state-of-the-art practice, recovering maximum value from all logs entering the mill.

One such product is parquet flooring, which comes in 260 x 65 x 19 mm and 260 x 65 x 14 mm sections, pre-boxed and ready to lay.

Spiros Notaras said: “We must continually look ahead to develop new products from value adding. The next 12 months will be exciting.”

The long-established Notaras family company sells stock timbers to Finland, Thailand, America, and Japan, and provides one of the best finishes available in hardwood.

That evening an industry dinner attended by more than 60 people was held in Grafton. Special guests included NSW Labor Minister Harry Woods, MP Clarence, federal Nationals parliamentarians Ian Causley, MP Page, and Luke Hartsuyker, MP Cowper, Mrs Shirley Adams, Mayor of Grafton City Council, and Mrs Lexie Hurford, chair, Northern Rivers Development Board.

Senator Macdonald spoke of his concerns regarding long-term wood supply agreements and repeated his call for the NSW Minister for Planning and Deputy Premier in the Carr ministry Andrew Refshauge to respond to his correspondence regarding rumours that the state government was considering variation to the Regional Forest Agreement in NSW.

He also confirmed that the mills he had visited that day exemplified a variety of timber processes using hardwoods of the North Coast to their best advantage.

The problem relating to current supply difficulties and the termination of the State Forests’ transport subsidy in less than two years still had to be resolved.

The following day the party went to Coffs Harbour Hardwoods at Glenreagh and inspected a splendid new hardwood office and conference room, an impressive array of bridge girders highlighting the visit.

The mill, operated by the McCarthy family, also has a pole treatment plant and a dressing and drying plant.

Coffs Harbour Hardwoods is a family-owned and operated company. The McCarthy family has supplied timber products nationally and internationally since it was established in 1961 by timber merchant and world champion axemen Ray McCarthy.

The history of girders from the area goes back more than 100 years to when blackbutt was cut and shipped via Woolgoolga wharf to Sydney and to New Zealand.

Coffs Harbour Hardwoods received FISAP development funds for additional kilns, comprehensive machining, docking, matching, and stacking lines, storage areas, and handling equipment.

The final visit was to a display by the Furniture Design School at the Southern Cross University and North Coast Institute of TAFE, Coffs Harbour Education Campus.

This is a three-year course in design and manufacture of fine furniture using Australian hardwoods.

The school has instituted a not-for-profit company that will undertake the commercial sale of furniture production enabling Australian-designed and manufactured furniture to compete internationally.

One current designer was awarded the opportunity of benefiting from a manufacturing license for a creative chair concept in Japan.

The group accompanying the minister included James Florent, ministerial adviser, Mike Macnamara, general manager, Forest Industries, Russell Ainley, executive director, NSW Forest Products Association, Rob Owen, FPA’s consultant on timber clustering and regional development, Geoff Wilkinson, NSW manager, Timber Communities Australia, John Macgregor-Skinner, Australian Forest Plantations, and Jim Bowden, managing editor, Australian Timberman.

MPs Ian Causley and Luke Hartsuyker accompanied the group while it was in their electoral areas.

  • Jim Bowden founded the Australian Timberman in 1976 and was previously Managing Editor of Timber and Forestry E-News. Watch for his ‘Pages Down the Ages’ features in Wood Central.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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