The Hobart Town Courier of August 1826 reported that a ‘small paper mill’ in Sydney had folded, and urged ‘some person of capital’ to embark on a ‘Paper Mill’ to serve the ‘five newspapers and three almanacks in the 2 colonies’. However, the need for an Australian newsprint industry was not realised for another century.
Australia’s complete reliance on imported paper was highlighted by severe newsprint rationing during World War I. Melbourne journalist Gerald Mussen saw potential in Tasmanian forests, and formed a group that in 1927 funded successful research in the Huon Valley, led by chemist L.R. (Lou) Benjamin. A breakaway syndicate led by (Sir) Keith Murdoch of the Herald and Weekly Times and (Sir) Warwick Fairfax of John Fairfax & Sons formed the Derwent Valley Paper Co. in 1932, with the aim of producing Australian newsprint.
Following successful full-scale trials using Swamp Gum at Ocean Falls, British Colombia, in 1934, in July and August 1935, the Hobart Mercury and the Adelaide News printed trial editions of their papers using newsprint made from Tasmanian eucalypts. Following this success, a new company headed by Benjamin, Australian Newsprint Mills (ANM) Pty Ltd, negotiated the Florentine Valley Paper Industry Act 1937, which included extensive forest concessions.
Construction of Boyer Mill beside the Derwent River began in 1939, along with a settlement for workers at New Norfolk. The mill opened in 1941. Guided initially by Canadian technicians, the mill averted serious wartime newsprint rationing among Australia’s 10 daily newspapers.
Logs were extracted via rail spur lines from Kallista, Nichol’s Hill and Risbys Basin (near Fitzgerald), connected to Boyer Mill via Tasmanian Government Railways. A small settlement at Karanja supported the Styx Valley operation. Workforce camps provided comfortable but basic accommodation. Bushmen used crosscut saws and axes to fell giant trees, while imported tracked Caterpillar tractors dragged logs to sidings, where steam haulers with cables attached to tall trees winched logs on to rail trucks.
After the war, rail spur lines were replaced by logging roads as heavy vehicles carried logs to the railhead in the Florentine Valley to be carried by train to Boyer Mill. In 1947, ANM constructed the ‘Model Township’ of Maydena, Tasmania’s last planned private ‘New Town’. Homes at New Norfolk and Maydena were erected from sections prefabricated in the Hobart suburb of Lenah Valley by Paine P/L.
In December 1947, ANM was converted into a public company, Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, with Murdoch appointed chairman (1938–49), and a former conservator of forests in Western Australia, S.L. Kessell, managing director (1938–62).
Tasmania’s first conservation controversy occurred in 1948, when the Tasmanian Labor government annexed 2000 acres (around 810 hectares) from the adjacent Mt Field National Park (1916), extending ANM’s Florentine Valley concession.
By 1960, the chainsaw had replaced the crosscut saw, increasing the timber extraction rate and making fellers wealthy in the process. ANM’s progressive safety policy saw bushmen wearing helmets and ear-muffs.
Lacking a Tasmanian forestry school, imported experts ‘colonised’ the Tyenna Valley, directing the self-taught skills of local bushmen. Forest operations centred at the Maydena Depot and Railhead were directed by Dan Kitchener. The workforce consisted of many single men, including British, Baltic and Yugoslav migrants. Thriving communities developed at New Norfolk and Maydena, with company-built amenities including halls, football grounds and swimming pools.
Kessell, the foundation president of the Institute of Foresters (Australia), instigated research aimed at reforestation. Max Gilbert was awarded ANM’s first PhD scholarship, a ground-breaking study of wet temperate forests in the concession, while entomologist Ron Greaves studied beetle defoliation and Bill Mollison researched animal browsing. Bill Jackson and Tony Mount engaged in debate over the use of fire in forests, attracting industry interest and community criticism. Maydena became known nationally as the ‘cradle of Australian wet forest silviculture’. However, these approaches were coming into conflict with urban-based views on wilderness and recreational use of forests.
Meanwhile, Boyer Mill expanded, with new machines increasing newsprint production. From 1955 it had a new competitor, the New Zealand Tasman Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd. By 1958, annual production at Boyer had risen to 81,000 tons, or 30 per cent of Australia’s total newsprint consumption. That year, Australian Newsprint Mills Holdings Ltd was formed. In 1962, ANM and Tasman were joined together by a share exchange, rationalising the industry in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1981, a new ANM mill commenced production at Albury, New South Wales, reliant on plantation timbers; this more than doubled Australian production. In the Derwent Valley, contracting out became common practice. Mechanised forest operations had gradually reduced the once unionised workforce, as timber sourced from plantation forests lower down the Derwent Valley was transported by road.
With the 1968 declaration of the adjacent South West World Heritage Area, the Boyer Mill and the logging industry became increasingly involved in the growing forestry controversy. With out-dated machinery and global competition, Boyer Mill nearly closed. Taken over in 1988 by New Zealand paper giant Fletcher Challenge, the workforce was reduced from 3000 to 600. The Florentine Depot at Maydena was closed in 1990.
The once-united forest industry, formerly led by ANM’s chairman, (later Senator) Brian Gibson, and supported by Liberal Premier Robin Gray, was divided by the new Fletcher Challenge appointee, Graham Ogilvie. He argued for the adoption of environmental values, negotiated with the Wilderness Society and completed full treatment of Boyer Mill’s liquid effluent, previously piped into the Derwent River.
In 1997, Fletcher Challenge rescinded its former concession rights with the Tasmanian government, in exchange for guaranteed timber supply. In 2002, the company was taken over by Norwegian paper giant Norske Skog, with an international reputation for industry professionalism that has continued the high environmental standards initiated by the previous owner. For more than 15 years, both mills have been entirely reliant on plantation-based radiata pine, although the Albury Mill additionally uses recycled fibre and newspaper. In recent years, the Boyer and Albury newsprint mills each produce 40 per cent of Australian newsprint requirements.
REFs: P. MacFie, ‘The Australian Newsprint Mills’, in A. Alexander (ed.), The Companion to Tasmanian History (2005) and ‘Maydena, a Logging Town in a Colonised Valley’, in J. Dargavel, J. (ed.), P&P Fourth Australian Forestry History Conference (1999); Newsprint Log (Australian Newsprint Mills, Boyer, 1945–90).