As drought and mining downturns took their toll on rural Queensland’s economy, empty shopfronts and closed businesses were a common sight, but a positive outlook by one council in the state’s central west means the community of Tambo is looking forward to welcoming a dozen employees to town when the local sawmill re-opens.
After eight years in operation, the NK Collins-operated mill closed in 2011. When the company was placed into liquidation in 2013, the future of the operation looked bleak but then-Blackall-Tambo Regional Council mayor Barry Muir got busy.
“It’s potential for employment in a little town like Tambo was too much to lose,” he said. “The previous Tambo Shire Council had put a lot of money into starting it up, and we had a complete sawmill, that was intact and could easily be got up and running again.”
The mill had surrendered its timber allocation, which still had 17,000 cubic metres unused, but the council set about buying the business, completed in July 2014, and then lobbied successive state governments for a harvest allocation from an existing permit holder.
After plenty of flights to Brisbane and field trips investigating the health of the cypress stands in the region, the new Blackall-Tambo council was able to announce in July this year that it had accepted an offer from Millmerran Timbers Pty Ltd for access to 5700 tonnes per annum of saw logs, for 25 years.
At the same time, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries gave approval for Millmerran Timbers to transfer the harvesting areas from Millmerran to state forests and timber reserves close to Tambo.
A $50,000 deposit has been paid on the final permit purchase price of $225,000.
Mr Muir said it made sense for council to spend money on buying the permit rather than expecting its new sawmill operator to.
“That ensures it stays in the district and overcomes the problem that came about when NK Collins shut down, of surrendering its allocation,” he said.
“We could see the potential there and we felt we couldn’t lose regardless from taking over the mill.
“Even if it didn’t go ahead, the shed and land would have been useful to us.”
BTRC has invested $425,000 in the mill and attracted just over $600,000 in funding from both state and federal governments, through Building our Regions and drought relief economic stimulus packages, to upgrade the facility and ensure it’s a viable entity for a new lessee.
QCL understands it is now preparing to sign a lease with R&R Logging Pty Ltd at Yuleba to operate the mill, with the aim of having it operational by the start of 2017.
Along with the addition of a planing room to enable polishing and tongue-and-groove operations to take place, shrink-wrapped firewood, turning flitches into mulch and value-adding ideas for sawdust are being investigated, according to mayor Andrew Martin.
This investment will result in 13 direct jobs with the mill and harvesting operations.
Adding the multiplier effect, Cr Martin said getting the mill started again would add between $75m and $100m to the Tambo economy over the next 25 years.
Council is also investing in a 90 amp solar system on the roof to cut the $17,000 a quarter bill, and provide a more reliable source of power.
Being at the end of the power line has meant the mill experienced severe fluctuations in the past, which was detrimental to the equipment.
In the wet season, when the mill is idle, power will be sold back into the grid.
The majority of cypress (Callitris glaucophylla) timber in Queensland is sourced from state-owned lands such as state forests, timber reserves and other leasehold tenures.
The Forest Products business unit within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is responsible for the commercial management and allocation of cypress sawlogs and currently supplies a combined total of approximately 120,000 cubic metres per annum to 13 different sawmilling companies.
These sawmilling companies are located in southern Queensland and each hold a guaranteed supply commitment (sales permits) with the state until 2037.
Mr Muir said cypress was naturally resistant to white ants which ensured it remained a sought-after timber with a good future.
In an interesting footnote to the story, it was the current Premier’s father, Henry Palaszczuk who was instrumental in bringing the Tambo sawmill into being when he was Primary Industries and Rural Communities Minister in the Beattie government.
Cr Martin said his daughter’s government had helped council source timber and alter the permit system so it could source logs closer to town, at a reduced rate.