Flashback 1985: Wilco and the Race for Christopher Skase

Qintex opens $4m softwood sawmill

Tue 22 Aug 23


Caboolture, 50 km north of Brisbane, has been a thriving timber town since the early 1860s when the cedar cutters stripped the ‘red gold’ from the region.

Today this busy town within the City of Moreton Bay is the Queensland base for Associated Kiln Driers Pty Ltd, an integrated, sustainable forestry and timber processing company with operations in Victoria and NSW.

AKD draws on 2 million cub metres of certified sustainable sawlog annually, producing more than 1 million cub m of timber products – or 20-25% of Australia’s total wood production.

The Caboolture sawmill has served many owners, each contributing in different ways to the dramatic history of Henzell Road.

Senior editor Jim Bowden in this 1985 article, brings to mind one of the more sensational episodes in the sawmill’s remarkable past.

Plans for a $4 million high-technology softwood sawmill at Caboolture north of Brisbane were unveiled on March 13 by Melbourne entrepreneur Christopher Skase’s Qintex group.

Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Skase were in Caboolture to announce development plans which involved rebuilding the Wilco mill destroyed by fire in January 1983.

The mill will be built on a 25.4-hectare site adjacent to the Bruce Highway, midway between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

Isles Forge, the Australian engineering group, will build the mill to specifications under licensing from the US.

Computers and lasers will be features of this state-of-the-art, high-technology mill, which will provide initial employment for 90 people, rising to 270 when the mill is fully installed and operating to its double-shift capacity. 

Drawing on Wilco’s extensive softwood timber resource and extraction rights in the 17,000-hectare Beerburrum plantation, the new mill will be the most modern and efficient in Australia. The computerised quad bandsaw with chipper heads will be a first in the southern hemisphere.

Log throughput capacity ultimately will reach 140,000 cubic metres a year.

Finished products will include framing timbers, panelling, flooring, mouldings, furniture components, landscaping and outdoor timbers and woodchips.

Sawmill output will be marketed throughout the Wilco group’sgroup’s sales centres in Queensland, but interstate and overseas markets will be targeted for selected products.

The new era… Caboolture sawmill today, developed by Associated Kiln Driers Pty Ltd an integrated, sustainable forestry and timber processing company.

Christopher Skase said the multi-million-dollar investment decision reinforced the Wilco Group’sGroup’s position as a leader in the development and innovation of the forestry-timber industry in Queensland.

He said that Qintex Ltd, the ultimate parent company of Wilco, was committed to expanding its long-term investments in Queensland.

He said the Qintex Group had invested more than $50 million in media, forestry-timber, retailing and property.

The Caboolture rebuild follows a pledge in October last year by company executives during the opening of a $1 million fabrication plant at Caloundra.

When the old mill burnt down in 1983, it was then an asset of Queensland softwood pioneers Wilkinson Day and Grimes.

By the end of that year, the Qintex group was pushing for full control. Seven months later, the Wilkinson company was the vehicle for Skase’s $34 million purchase of Brisbane Channel O television broadcaster Universal Telecasters Ltd.

Meanwhile, the Maryborough-based hardware merchant G. Horsburgh and Co Ltd, a recent acquisition by Skase, will make a $15 million share issue – more than three times its market capitalisation – and pay Universal $11 million for its Wilco forestry and timber operations.

Horsburgh will be renamed Sunstate Resources Ltd to effectively split Skase’s media, investment, and timber-hardware operations in Queensland.

Skase announced the $15 million share issue and renaming at Caboolture while unveiling plans to build a new softwood mill near the town.

Horsburgh’s existing share capital will be split on a one-for-one basis – turning the $1 shares into 50c shares – a one-for-two bonus issue will follow this, and then a five-for-one cash issue with attached options.

Thus, the existing 497,664 issued $1 shares will become just less than nine million 50c shares with free options attached on a one-for-four basis, raising $14.9 million and a further $3.73 million when the options are exercised.

Horsburgh presently operates wholesale and retail timber and hardware outlets in the southern region of Central Queensland. Sales centres are located in Hervey Bay, Mundubbera, Kingaroy, Gympie, Maryborough and Tin Can Bay.

Wilco operates 12 centres from the Gold Coast to Noosa.

“This physically contiguous union will offer economics of scale from which we expect increased profitability,” Skase said.

The merged group will be a fully integrated forestry-timber organisation, operating the state’sstate’s largest free enterprise timber resource, with annual access to more than 150,000 cubic metres of Queensland softwoods and hardwoods.

Wilco operates mills at Nandroya and Caboolture and timber fabricating plants at Caloundra and Oxley.

Management estimates that the merged group will earn a net profit after tax of $2.1 million in 1985-86, the first full fiscal year.

G. Horsburgh and Co propose to change its name to Sunstate Resources Ltd to reflect the public company’scompany’s Queensland base, geographic spread of activities and the nature and source of its essential commodity, domestic forestry timber.

Update: Christopher Skase died a broken man in Majorca, Spain. He began his career as a stockbroker and then became a finance journalist.

He purchased Qintex, a small Tasmanian company, and slowly developed Qintex and, over several years, turned it into one of Australia’s larger corporations.

By the late 1980s, the Qintex group was worth $1.5 billion and owned five resorts and interests in the Seven television network and the Brisbane Bears football club.

Footage courtesy of @nicholsoncartoons.

By 1989, interest rates had risen, and an attempt to buy the MGM film studios in Hollywood fell through, and it became clear the Qintex group had overextended itself.

According to a 1998 report by ABC program Four Corners, Skase had begun obtaining and moving money into foreign bank accounts in July 1989. Despite efforts lasting more than a decade, Max Donnelly, the creditor’s creditors trustee, was unable to trace much of the missing money.

Soon the creditors moved in, and Qintex collapsed. Skase was forced to sell the Seven Network for a tiny portion of what he had paid for it. In the end, Skase was more than $700 million in debt. He began to parcel up his remaining wealth, including more than $900,000 worth of antiques, furniture and his $800,000 Rolls Royce and fled into exile in Spain.

By 2001, both the Australian Government and trustee Donnelly were growing weary of the large costs of continuing the ”chase for Skase”. He became ill and died in Majorca in 2001 before any further proceedings had taken place. He was 53.


  • 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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