East Gippsland’s biggest sawmill goes belly up

On the 15th May, the Austimbers mill, just east of Orbost, sacked about 15 workers. Not so long ago it had the largest sawlog licence in East Gippsland but now its saws and machines lie silent, its gates are closed and the receivers flick through the books to salvage some cash to pay the workers.

Hardwood sawn timber is no longer a profitable product when there is cheap easy to use pine to compete with. The mill had closed part of its operations and sacked other workers in the previous six months, hoping to stay afloat until someone bought it up or it could find a way out of the stew.

It was strange that no one from the mill, union or industry group made a comment until two days afterwards. They couldn’t blame greenies or government so what would they say? When they did finally agree to make comment, there wasn’t much of the usual fire and brimstone in their voices. They actually admitted that it was a tough industry nowadays and sometimes ‘businesses fall over’.

Reluctantly, they are acknowledging what we have been saying for years. Native hardwood is on the way out.

New era

What this means hopefully, is the beginning of a new era where the logging mafia does not rule the DSE and local politics. This doesn’t necessarily mean less wood will be cut as the new VicForests bidding system allows East Gippsland trees to sell far and wide. There are only five mills left standing but there are nine buyers of sawlogs. Some of these operate in other areas of the state, though the fact that a mill this close to its raw material couldn’t survive, says something about how its fellow sawmillers must be travelling.

Michael O’Connor could only talk tough around making sure his ‘members’ (we believe he only has a small handful in all of East Gippsland) get their entitlements. As a postscript he added – and if any of them greenies think this is the end of an industry, well – it just isn’t – so there.

The next lot of signs to welcome visitors to the town of Orbost might not read “Orbost – Victoria’s Premier Timber Town” but “Orbost, Gateway to East Gippsland’s World Heritage Forests”.

COOKING THE BOOKS – STOP PRESS

At 3am on the 2nd June, the Austimber’s office (the bankrupt mill) containing all of its records and computers burnt down. At 11am, the CFA was again called out due to it ‘reigniting’. Strange really, considering this was all during the heaviest downpour Orbost had experienced for years. Police believe the circumstances are suspicious and are investigating.

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