RAY HAMMOND AND A BURGEONING WOODCHIP INDUSTRY IN SOUTH EAST NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA
(with quotes from Ray’s historical account of his experience)
With thanks to Ray Hammond for his life and work, his daughter Diane Broomall, and to the National Library of Australia for permission to reproduce content from The Peoples’ Forest Collection recorded by Gregg Borschmann.
Ray Hammond was a well-qualified forester, with thirty-five years’ experience in timber plantation development and was the Crown’s District Forest Director for southeast NSW. In 1965, the Forestry Commission’s Head Office approached him about developing a woodchip industry and told him that they had a buyer.
This would be an excursion into unchartered territory for the forestry industry. Ray organised a feasibility study on road building and usage, log haulage, timber volumes and included gravel, men and foresters in his calculations. His initial cost estimate was 7/6d. (75c) per 100 super feet for 5,000 tons per annum from saw mill timber waste and forest waste. The term ‘forest waste’ meant the heads and butts, damaged or hollowed timber from trees felled for sawmill logs.
Head Office was unhappy with his calculations and told Ray that he’d ruined the industry before it had even started and that it would take forty years or more before the Commission would get an offer anywhere near what Ray had stipulated. Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM) were offering two shillings (20c) per 100 super feet so the venture went to tender. The two main contenders were APM and Harris Holdings (later Harris Daishowa).
“G’day – is that Ray? It’s Eric Kane from Harris Holdings here. Wondering if we could meet for a quiet conversation … let’s say Wynyard Park, about one o’clock and … bring some sandwiches … got some questions …”.
This meeting was critical to the eventual establishment of the woodchipping industry. Ray let Kane know that the price for woodchip was not negotiable for economic reasons and suggested that if Harris Holdings considered 7/6d. was too high a price, they may lose the tender. They acquiesced, won the tender and the good news got around that a wood-chipping industry was born in southern NSW. The initial agreement was for Harris to take 5,000 tons per year of forest waste for a Japanese paper producer for five years.
As little was known about the handling of timber for woodchips, foresters experimented with cutting, splitting and hauling to Eden for shipment to Japan. Harris employed and supervised cutters and carters. Initially, very strict guidelines were enforced so that the quality logs went to the sawmill and not to the chip-mill and cutters lost their jobs if they committed breaches.
Ray was made Marketing Director, Softwood, and lost association with the establishment of the woodchip initiative. Yet his conservative and conscientious vision of the State’s woodchip industry was a far cry from what actually transpired. His reservations spanned ethical and practical concerns.
The “extremely polite and incredibly wealthy” buyers gave the foresters little fans, chimes and trinkets as incentives of goodwill. Ray reflected that this act was demeaning and commented: “… if these people think they are going to get large tracts of land for beads and fans they have another think coming …”.
"The whole thing was conceived very hastily. They were getting into a new ball game and they had no idea of the value of the forests."
The only feasibility study was an economic statement.
“Any affect on the environment was completely subordinated to the desire to get this going. If that came about it would be fixed up.”
The beauty of the forest was taken for granted and the foresters didn’t foresee, nor did they have the knowledge, that logging the old growth timber would be detrimental to the environment.
“… the foresters raison d’etre was to provide timber and products for the nation in perpetuity, not really to provide aesthetic pictures of nature in perpetuity. The Forestry Act will tell you to … look after flora, fauna and soil. You can’t muck around with the Act but it is the reasonable application of it that runs foul of politicians and forestry heads now”.
Ray reasoned that even though there were plenty of endangered species in other parts of the country he believed “… the term ‘endangered species’ means that you’re not going to see them again in your neck of the woods”.
Soon after, it became a runaway situation: “we’d become part of a big international game and weren’t up to scratch”. The five-year period stretched to ten then twenty years and thereafter into perpetuity which “… guaranteed supply of the unborn forest financed by the unborn children of tomorrow”.
Protection of the forest by only permitting acquisition of timber under the true definition of ‘forest waste’ became disregarded and trees were felled solely for chip-wood.
“Ethical standards were abandoned almost before the ink was dry on the contract”.
Ray felt it was morally dishonest that applications were called for and accepted and suddenly the form of logging agreed to, which took into account ‘the nuances of forestry practice and of sustainability and the environmental impact of increasing the scale of woodchipping', was abandoned. He said that he would have maintained the prescribed form of logging at least for the first calendar term of the agreement but by then, the situation was beyond his control. Today, ninety percent of native forest wood cut from southeast NSW forests are trucked directly to the South East Fibre Export woodchip mill at a rate of 2,500 – 3,500 logs a day.
From an economic point of view, to Ray, logging for a chip-mill industry could have worked for NSW. But under the proposed regime, the saw-logging and chipping industry were incompatible because the chipmill would require a larger volume of unmillable timber than the pre-determined supply of timber to the sawmills could provide.
He believed it was inappropriate that the taxpayers of NSW should support the inevitable losses. A conference paper he presented in 1980 specified that the Forestry Commission had not made a profit since 1954. The NSW Auditor General found that Forests NSW made a loss of $14.4 million last financial year on its native forest logging operations. The woodchip industry was founded on false economic principles and it is probable that it will founder on similar principles. To Ray, the woodchip export industry undermined his ideal to keep the forests of NSW for the people of NSW.
Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) lay down guidelines, tasks and responsibilities for sustainable (native) forest management. Commonwealth and State governments signed the Southern NSW RFA in 2001 and the Eden RFA in 1999. Apart from protecting National Parks, the agreements were designed to achieve a ‘middle ground’ yet are highly contested by conservationists and scientists.
Japan’s biggest paper maker, Nippon Paper, bought out Diashowa, and Nippon and Itochu now own the Eden Chipmill. The volume of woodchips exported has escalated from 5000 tons to 1 million tonnes per annum generated from logging areas north and west of Eden and into East Gippsland.
Today, the timber industry is at a crossroad. The plantation timber industry which Ray Hammond knew inside and out and which he once supervised, can now supply nearly enough timber to support all of Australia’s domestic timber needs. Woodchips are increasingly being produced from eucalypt plantations grown specifically to produce high quality fibre for papermaking and from native forest timber harvesting and saw-milling.
Ray Hammond was caught between a rock and a hard place. He ran everything by the book. His forestry skills and ethical standpoint qualified him to manage sustainable State sawmills and a woodchip industry. Yet the contradictions between what he knew and what he saw was happening left him disillusioned. He retired in 1976 after forty years in the forestry industry and, despite earnest entreatments, he never returned.
He believed implicitly that the forests of NSW belonged to the people of NSW and it grieves him even today that they are being sold like trinkets.
Dr. Bronte J Somerset, 16.06.2011