Deal final straw for sawmiller

BRADLEY Johnson will pull the pin on more than 100 years of family logging history next week.

The fifth-generation sawmiller said that the industry had been going downhill for some time and the areas locked up under the recent forest peace deal were the final straw.

``I could have struggled on for another couple of years and gone bust, ending up with nothing and losing the house, or do what I did and apply for an exit package so the boys get their entitlements and we get to keep the house,'' said Mr Johnson, who took over the Campbell Town mill in 2008.

``Sales are still okay, but the quality of the log supply was our biggest concern - I haven't run this mill at full production for about seven years because we can't get a constant supply of quality timber.

``Ours is only a small mill and even it can mill a load of saw logs a day - about 27-30 cubic metres.

``For the month of August, I got two loads and they reckoned they couldn't supply me with appearance-grade timber (for flooring) this side of Christmas.

``And most of the area that's been locked up in this forestry agreement is high-class saw-log area, so it's only going to get worse.

``I have enough logs to get us through to sometime next week - about the 18th - we're running at about one-third capacity now.''

Mr Johnson said that taking over the sawmill from his father Barry had been ``a natural fit'' because he was working there after school anyway.

``The family took this mill over in 1983 - my dad and grand-dad - but the family's been sawmilling in the town since 1948,'' he said.

``My great, great-grandfather, (English furniture maker) George Peddle, ran sawmills up around the North-East and was running the biggest sawmill in the North-East at the turn of the century, at Legerwood.''

Mr Johnson said that the area used to accommodate 13 sawmills and there were still seven operating into the 1950s.

``There were five sawmills in this street alone (Lake Leake Highway) and four logging operations working in the town just in my time,'' he said.

Mr Johnson said logging had been part of his family's life since long before he was born and never envisaged doing anything else.

``But I just can't see a future in it the way the industry is at the moment and at least the Forestry Agreement exit packages mean we'll come out with something, a little bit of dignity,'' he said.

``It's been pretty hard to take the last couple of years - I blame forestry practices for a lot of the way the industry's gone.

``The mill's designed to take logs well over a metre in diameter, but we're being expected to take logs down to 30 centimetres - they should be left in the ground for another 30 years, they're our future.

``The old timers used to measure each tree before they cut it and if it wasn't thick enough, it was left for next time. But now, they're harvesting everything and leaving nothing for later - forest practices are just all wrong.

``Woodchipping hasn't helped because it's taking future sawlogs too, but it became quick money - if you cut timber, you have to leave it in the yard for 12 months before you can process it, but the chips were just money straight up there. It came down to greed, I suppose, and they chipped our future sawlogs trying to keep up with the woodchip demand so now we're left with logs that have been standing for 30 years instead of leaving them another 30 years.

``But it's those or nothing - what we don't take goes through to Ta Ann or is exported.''

Mr Johnson said that it was not giving up the work that was so hard, it was giving up the Johnson name on the mill wall.

He said that he would retain ownership of the mill site to preserve its history.

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