Flashback 1978: How Wood Preservation Began in Australia

Senior editor Jim Bowden recalls an interview with Eric Fogl, General Manager of the Timber Preservation Division for Koppers, in 1978.

Wed 26 Jul 23


This issue of Australian Timberman (November 2, 1978) features timber preservation which is now making a massive contribution to our industry.

At this time, it is appropriate to think back on how it all started.

The English Hickson group has been operating a very large timber preservative business for many years with sizeable subsidiary companies in Britain, South Africa, Malaysia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

In 1954 they established Hickson’s Timber Impregnation Company (Australia) Pty. Ltd.

At that time there were no commercial pressure impregnation plants operating in Australia. 

Hickson’s established its first treatment plant at Grafton in northern New South Wales in 1954.

They gradually established other treatment plants, and this demonstrated the advantages of preservative impregnation to such good effect that there are now something like 140 pressure treating plants spread over all states.

Quite separate from the Hickson development, in 1967 a partnership was formed between BHP and Koppers Co. Inc. of America.

Their offshoot, Koppers Australia Pty Ltd, produced a range of coal tar chemicals which included the wood preservative creosote. 

In 1973 Koppers took over the Hickson business, which now forms the timber preservation division. 

Koppers operates two other divisions, one is the original coal tar division and the other is an engineering division. 

Jaybee Engineering Pty Ltd. of Dandenong, Vic., is a well-established manufacturer of feed milling machinery and other equipment widely used in the timber and agro-based industries.

Current activities of the timber preservation division include the manufacture of Tanalith and Vacsol wood preservatives in two factories – one at Trentham, Vic, which serves all Australian customers and also some export markets, with the other factory in Lae which supplies the needs of the timber industry in Papua New Guinea and in nearby countries.

The division can supply treatment plants, if required, on a turn-key basis. 

It maintains a stock of those spare parts which are not readily available from local sources, and it can provide a fully comprehensive technical service.

This is based partly on practical experience gained in the operation of the division’s own treatment plants and partly on the expertise of graduate or tertiary qualified wood technologists employed in the division. 

A comprehensive analytical service is provided by a NATA registered testing laboratory, located at Artarmon, a Sydney suburb. 

The laboratory equipment includes a Unicam AA Spectrophotometer and a Philips UV visible spectrophotometer; these are linked to an in-house ICL computer to produce rapid and fully accurate results. 

Koppers’ staff have been very active in numerous industry organisations, especially on standards committees which have helped architects and engineers to specify for the use of timber in situations which previously have tended to go to alternative materials.

Many of Koppers’ people are well-known in the timber industry. Brooks C. Wilson is the Managing Director, Eric Fogl, General Manager, of Timber Preservation Division, Ken Rudling is responsible for sales of Tanalith and Pyrolith while Craig Butler is responsible for the marketing of Vacsol light organic solvent preservative. 

Dan Price is the Technical manager, Dick Kidd, Plant Engineer while Jeanne Volk is the division’s Resident Manager in Brisbane.

Terry Hawkins, Koppers’ R&D/technical (front right) at an IRG conference in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Germany, in 1999 with his wife Luna (left), Dr Harry Greaves and wife Sandra and Professor Bjorn Henningsson and his wife Martha.

Editor’s note: As an honorary member of the Lateral Thinkers Club, it was a pleasure to mix with Koppers personalities at many of the club’s light-hearted luncheons at the Blue Gum Hotel at Waitara on Sydney’s North Shore. These included Brooks C. Wilson, Alan Mann, Terry Mullen, Ron Eddy, West Hill, Keith Riley, Terry Hawkins, Robin Dowding, Sharon Swann, Rose Hochman, Dan Price, Dick Smith, Brian Kennedy, Lex Cowie and Brett Butler. They were really good times.


  • 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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