Grand Old Lady turns 50

CONSIDERED the “Grand Old Lady of the Tamar”, with a chequered past, the Long Reach mill in the East Tamar has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Staff and management marked the occasion this week reflecting on the mill’s history and changes over the past five decades. First opened in 1972 under the ownership of Associated Pulp and Paper Mills (APPM), the mill’s steel superstructure was built to the highest specifications.

At its peak of operations in the 70s and 80s, it’s believed to have been the biggest export woodchip mill in the world, with two processing lines. As the centre for APPM’s Tamar and northeast forestry operations in the 70s, the site housed as many as 155 people on its riverbank location, including mill operators, administration staff, management and the forestry team of up to 20.

Under the ownership of North Forest Products in the 90s, it was a prime site, with manicured gardens and a strong culture, recalls Bryan Hayes, whose 50-year forestry career saw him work his way up from mill floor cleaner through forestry and mill management roles to CEO of Forico until late last year.

The next few years saw the fortunes of Long Reach turn, when it famously became the proposed site of the pulp mill. During that time, it was driven hard under the ownership of Gunns, with spending on maintenance or upgrades embargoed. The mill has been managed by Tasmanian company Forico since 2014 and now processes plantation pine and eucalypt for export as woodchip.

The mill services customers primarily in Japan and China, where the chips are used for fibre-based product such as paper, cardboard and other renewables. The old ‘north mill’ site, where native forest logs were processed now lies cleared and empty with Forico having transitioned the supply chain to sustainable plantation logging only.

These days, the 77,000ha of native forest under the company’s custodianship is not logged, but managed for conservation. At a celebration last week, management and staff got together to mark the day, with Forico CEO Ange Albertini handing out cake and Bryan Hayes, now Chair of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association, dropping by to look back at the mill’s history with many of its current workforce of around 25 operational staff and mill management.