“Damn the Elites” as Aussie Sawmiller Vows to Keep Going

Murray Valley sawmill’s gritty determination

Wed 25 Oct 23


“Damn the elitists. We will hang in there … and for as many years as it takes.”

Victorian redgum sawmiller Paul Madden’s emotional but resolute stance on the state government’s guileful scheme to cut off the native forest industry at the roots next year resonates across the supply chain and the 4000 jobs it will cost.

Madden, CEO at Arbuthnot Sawmill at Koondrook on the Murray River, talks with conviction about the sector’s sustainability.

“The sawmill is now well into its second century of sawmilling on the same site where founder Alexander (Sandy) Arbuthnot commenced this great enterprise.

Sustainable harvesting of the regeneration redgum forests of the Murray Valley, together with the continued sound management of the mill, saw the legacy of “Sandy” continue in perpetuity.

Arbuthnot Sawmill is well into its second century of sustainable harvesting and sawmilling of regeneration redgum forests. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

“After all this, the impending demise of our industry can be laid at the tables of Café Melbourne – the green side of politics that chats away about “profiteering” by sawmillers and the “killing” of trees. Do they know what we do? Do they know who we are? Have they ever visited a forest operation?

“It’s gut wrenching and sickening.”

Madden says the Arbuthnot sawmill is fortunate – “if that’s the appropriate word” – that it’s able to draw redgums from New South Wales. “But for how long? We’ll just have to wait and see,” he says.

“Many fellow sawmillers are not so fortunate; without any resource, the closures will consign them and their workers to a dark place.

“We have been able to hold on to staff with any losses due to attrition not replaced.

Our main experienced crew will stay, and we will support each other through this.

“The trees keep growing – and they must be managed somehow. We might be super-optimistic, but in time, things will turn around, and time may bring us a sane and intelligent government that understands our value to communities as a renewable, low-carbon, perpetual provider of shelter and the skills we have to get quickly to the front-line to fight bushfires and offer protection from them.”

Working on a river redgum slab with a natural edge… sanded, oiled and ready to turn into a table or benchtop. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

Madden says if the government must be treating serious issues with deliberate humour. And that’s not funny.

“They still want wonderful infrastructure timbers such as redgum to build railways, bridges, heritage building and so on. You can see the stupidity in this. When asked where will they find these timbers, they look at you like a stunned mullet. A-ha, the solution: “we’ll import it from Sumatra or Boneo or even the Congo.”

Madden says he keeps looking on the bright side. “If we hang around long enough, I think the wheels will turn in our favour, a bit.”

He insists education must continue as the best way to inform. It all starts in schools, giving a positive sustainable message about trees and wood and the forest workers there whose blood runs through the veins of devotion.

The Arbuthnot Sawmill mill employs 15 full-time employees, plus six contract harvesters working in both Victoria and NSW.

The sawmill today is a modern timber processing plant with automatic equipment producing a range of timbers from green to kiln-dried, a far cry from the days of steam power and heavy manual work.

In 1994, the mill added a kiln drying plant to value add to the redgum timber resource and include new products including furniture, flooring and benchtops.

An educational and tourist walkway was built in 1998, which allows the public safe access to view the processing of raw logs into high value products.


  • 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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