Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Eschew the imagination of a Wettex and save the pulp mill

A little of the passion and understanding of the need to preserve the past that is demonstrated in the story above (Leo was writing about the Earl of Dudley and an historic Foden steam engine with Tasmanian associations, in Mercury’s Saturday Magazine) would not go astray in Burnie, that unlovely burg on our north west coast, where one of Tasmania’s – and Australia’s most important industrial sites is under threat.

But then what isn’t in Burnie?

The Burnie paper mill began operations in 1936, and in its prime was the employment place of some 4000 locals.

Given the local council was the collective vision, the respect for history and the imagination of a Wettex, it is not surprising that no sooner had the mill closed last year than a cloud immediately gathered around its future.

The site contains some outstanding Industrial Art Deco and Modernist buildings on site, but sadly this rich industrial heritage is at risk of demolition.

The Application for Land Use permit on the Burnie City Council Public Notices section states:

A notice of Application for Land Use permit (DA 2010/165) has been lodged with the Burnie City Council to demolish 57 buildings on the site.

That’s right.

The council would like nothing more than to evel the lot, or at least most of it.

It too was threatened with demolition and replacement with cheap housing that would have made the area even more depressing than it already was.

Instead, adaptive new uses have been found with a technology park, galleries, coffee shops, performing arts spaces and a fantastic market, primarily for organic produce, that each Saturday attracts more than 50,000 visitors.

Buildings such as Eveleigh and the Burnie complex were built to last.

Less valuable elements can be easily removed but the mill’s key buildings should be preserved and given life, purpose and pride to a town where all three are in short supply.

Why, tourists might even have a reason to stop there rather than just drive through as quickly as possible.

May I suggest they and their planning staff all be put on an aeroplane, flown to Sydney and taken to Redfern, a suburb that once had as much eye-appeal as Burnie, and see how a huge industrial site has been magnificently adapted for 21st-century use.

The mighty Eveleigh railway workshops were housed here.

At about the same time the aforementioned Foden steam engine was puffing away on a farm in distant Tasmania, thousands of items of rolling stock, including steam locomotives, were being produced here to service the vast rail network of New South Wales.

• Part of an article first published in Mercury

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. (Dr) Warwick Raverty

    August 26, 2011 at 1:50 am

    The only people with surplus money in their cheque accounts in your region Dr Mills are Gunns’ employees. It certainly isn’t Gunns’ creditors, or Gunns’ shareholders. What’s your doctorate in Dr Mills: respect for people with different views, or is it in thoroughly researching your topic? I’m still waiting for your answers to the questions that I asked you last week:


  2. (Dr) Deandra Mills

    August 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Well if you care so much, take out your cheque book and buy it. Noone wants to see dilapitated buildings under the guise of history, we have many magical truly historical sites in Tasmania. Every building does not need someone to “save” it.

  3. Barnaby Drake

    August 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Only mothers could love ’em!

    Tourist 1: What’s that awful thing over there.

    Guide: That’s not an awful thing, that’s ‘the greatest surviving industrial site of the twentieth century.’

    Tourist 2: But we were told that Tasmania was a beautiful place full of trees and forests.

    Guide: Oh no, those have all gone. But we still have this the greatest surviving industrial site of the twentieth century.

    Tourist 1: Then why haven’t they demolished it like everybody else?

    Guide: It’s heritage.

    Tourist 2: You mean like the penal settlement they always talk about?

    Guide: No. That’s a ruin. This is still all here and it shines!

    Tourist 1: Doesn’t look very shiny to me. Perhaps then we had better visit it?

    Guide: Oh no, you can’t do that.

    Tourist 2: Why not if it is such an icon?

    Guide: (Whispering) Toxic waste. It’s polluted.

    Tourist 1. Oh dear. Well, if there are no forests and we can’t visit this ‘greatest surviving industrial site of the twentieth century’, what is there to see?

    Guide : We’ve got a redundant woodchip facility?

  4. John Wade

    August 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

    THe site shoud be looked on as a future extension of the wharf and container facilities. Burnie should become a maritime city.

  5. Clive Stott

    August 24, 2011 at 5:47 am

    From the 30/6/2011 Estimates Committee Part2:

    Mr GROOM – I understand that. My next question relates to the Burnie paper mill site. I would be interested in an update in terms of what remediation works are required by the EPA in relation to that site.

    Mr. Schaap – As you are probably aware, it is a very complicated site with a difficult history and a number of significant challenges including heavy metal contamination. Having said that, there have been a number of aspects of that remediation that have gone very well, both at the Burnie site and perhaps not quite so challenging at the Wesley Vale site. There are still issues with respect to dealing with all the contaminated soil. There are still some buildings that need to be resolved.

    Mr GROOM – I was surprised, but I understand that site was listed in the Tasmanian Heritage Icon Awards, in fact described by the National Trust of Australia Tasmanian Managing Director, Chris Tassell, as arguably the greatest surviving industrial site of the twentieth century.

    Members interjecting.

    Mr BOOTH – Triabunna woodchip mill I think they were talking about there.
    Mr GROOM – I will actually declare my hand and say that I used to look at this site every day, having lived just up behind the site for about 15 years – this is the Burnie pulp and paper mill. How do you balance the heritage issues in the context of the EPA?

    Mr SCHAAP – The remediation task is just about dealing with the environmental risks, and some buildings need to be removed in accordance with dealing with that risk. That need not affect necessarily the heritage values. Some of those buildings, for example, those office buildings on the site, where my dad used to work, are not presenting any form of environmental risk, but some of those buildings that are contaminated, particularly with mercury from the chloralkali house, those sorts of areas do need to be carefully disposed of because they are contaminated waste. So there will certainly be, upon completion of remediation, a whole bunch of buildings remaining on the site. Some would argue that the site should be completely cleared, but that is not a requirement there.

    Mr GROOM – But has there been consultation with Tasmanian Heritage Council, for example, in relation to that?

    Mr SCHAAP – I am not sure the extent of the consultation that would have occurred some time before.

    Mr GROOM – Right.

    Mr BOOTH – Just as a point of clarification, minister, can you confirm for Mr Groom that it in fact was not heritage listed because of the contamination status of it. It was actually the built environment, not the polluted nature of the site.

    Mr WIGHTMAN – I do not know the answer to that, we will take that as a point.

  6. (Dr) Warwick Raverty

    August 24, 2011 at 5:19 am

    Continued from previous post……

    While many books can and have been written on the decline in manufacturing in Australia (and Britain and the US), personally I think that the comment made in post #14 do have a ring of truth to them. It is not that we do not have the ‘intelligent employees’ mentioned in that post.

    Based on what I have experienced, what we lack in Australia is the encouragement and mentoring that the most intelligent and creative people in Germany, Sweden, Finland, China and South Korea receive. Unfortunately, compared to these countries, senior executives in Australia are, by and large, scientifically and technically illiterate and averse to discussing anything outside their zone of comfort. Australian senior executives are much more interested in discussing sporting results, the features of their latest German-made company car and how they can ring even more dollars out of some antiquated piece of machinery by cutting the maintenance budget and staff numbers. It is little wonder that our best and brightest creative technical minds either chose to work overseas, or they get an MBA themselves and mimic their illiterate masters.

    So while Reflex copy paper is still manufactured in Australia, it remains to be seen for how long and whether the new Japanese owners of Maryvale and Shoalhaven paper mills will be able to see and invest in a bright new future for these facilities where the former Australian stewards could not. I cannot make any prediction at this point. On the one hand, Japan is famous for its ability to innovate and develop high tech products through long term research and development. On the other hand, it is also famous for its tariff barriers and for having a per capita national debt that is somewhere up there with Spain and Italy.

    The foregoing discussion only applies to manufacture of printing and office papers formerly made at Burnie and Wesley Vale. Because of space limitations, I will omit discussion of packaging papers (‘cardboard’), newsprint and tissues to another time.

    And on the subject of digging up rocks and exporting woodchips, I can only repeat what an eminent Taiwanese technologist and scientist once asked me, ‘What do you think is Taiwan’s greatest asset?” After contemplating all of the high tech products I had seen bearing the label ‘Made in Taiwan’, I could not offer an answer. My friend answered, ‘Taiwan’s greatest asset is the fact that it has no natural resources. We must use our brains if we are not to live in poverty!”

  7. (Dr) Warwick Raverty

    August 24, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Shaun (#15) while paper manufacturing of the type practised at Burnie (manufacture of printing and copy papers) may appear to be viable on the mainland of Australia, I fear it is barely viable. Amcor purchased the manufacturing assets of the former APPM from Norths in 1993 and quickly moved the flagship product of APPM (Reflex copy paper) away from Burnie to Maryvale in Victoria where in 1995 it built a modern paper machine of over double Burnie’s production capacity for making copy paper. It did not do this out of dislike of Tasmanians, or their political masters, but because of two factors: the age and small size (80,000 tonnes of paper per annum) of the paper machine at Burnie and the cost of transporting reams of Reflex paper across Bass Strait. The copy paper made on the Burnie machine was replaced with offset printing papers and base paper for the paper coating machine at Wesley Vale. Amcor subsequently decided to divest itself of its printing and office paper business and spun it off in 2000 into a separate company called PaperlinX whose manufacturing division (comprising mills at Maryvale, Burnie, Wesley Vale and Shoalhaven) traded under the name Australian Paper. PaperlinX was an attempt to create a secure long term future for manufacture of printing and office papers in Australia, but the history of its share price (for different reasons) shows a close parallel to that of Gunns. From share prices between $4 and $5 between 2002 and 2005 the value of PaperlinX shares today is even lower than those of Gunns Ltd at around 11 cents. After looking at a lot of options over 8 years, the Directors of PaperlinX decided that they could not make an adequate return on their shareholders funds by continuing to manufacture paper in Australia and they put the four paper mills up for sale in 2008. Maryvale Mill and Shoalhaven Mill were both purchased by the Nippon Paper Group of Japan, who even as long term investors could see no future for the ageing machines at Burnie and Wesley Vale which they declined to purchase. Both mills were later closed by PaperlinX which now exists solely as an importer of foreign paper into Australia and with paper merchanting operations in Europe and the US.

    Working in the pulp and paper industry for over 20 years as a scientist and a technologist, I watched at gradual decline from the early 1980s following the reduction in tariff protection for industries like paper, clothing and footwear. Tariff elimination was only part of the cause however. When I entered the industry, it was run by people who knew the business inside and out and had a passion for research and innovation. As the 1980s progressed, most of these people were replaced by senior managers with degrees in commerce and MBAs who knew everything about cost cutting and making the annual balance sheet look good, but with very limited knowledge of the technology underpinning the businesses they were running and limited desire to invest in modern manufacturing facilities. Meanwhile, investors in Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, China, South Korea, Sweden Germany and Finland were pouring billions of dollars into new modern paper machines and pulp mills. The national governments of those countries arranged advantageous depreciation laws to encourage investment and made certain that their ports added minimum costs to the paper they exported. Australia, by comparison, has had no effective manufacturing encouragement policies since the 1980s. Instead, we have had numbskull bureaucrats in Canberra and State capitals encouraging their political masters to plough taxpayer dollars into buzzword so-called ‘sunrise industries’, like telecommunications, biotechnology and nanotechnology. The results are as you see them around you – manufacturing dying, few technologically stimulating job opportunities outside the mining sector and the governments of today having no clear vision of how people outside the major capital cities will find stimulating employment that actually adds to Australia’s GDP.
    While many books can and have been written on the decline in manufacturing in Australia (and Britain and the US), personally I think that the comment made in post #14 do have a ring of truth to them. It is not that we do not have the ‘intelligent employees’ mentioned in that post.

    Continued in next post…….

  8. Jamtin

    August 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    The demise of manufacturing in Australia is not solely due to globalisation; it was never a sure-fire bet here even before globalisation entered our vocabulary. Why? Ignoring globalisation for the moment, there are three other factors that tell against manufacturing – the size of our market; the low National value placed on education; and the lawbreaking ability of our unions. To overcome the first of these, any manufacturing enterprise here needs to set its sights on producing a specialty or ‘niche’ product. Forget aiming for ‘economy of scale’ benefits, because overseas suppliers could always sell their products here at a profit despite the tariff barriers, which once existed at Australia’s borders. All our governments – Colonial, State and Federal – eschewed support for education. Every now and then a genius comes to the top here, but the great mass of the population is unable to contribute sufficiently to manufacturing enterprises in Australia because these entities need intelligent employees (even more so in the case of niche product makers) and we don’t have them! Twenty First Century manufacturing is much more reliant on brain than was the last Century’s reliance on brawn. Finally, our love affair with trade unions – even when these hold us all to ransom – shows no signs of waning.

  9. Jamtin

    August 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Dr Raverty makes some good points. In reading the other ten comments (to date), I see a distinct theme of blaming the Burnie Council for this situation. The fact is that the current Council Planning Scheme zones the mill site as “industrial” and, until just 12 months ago, that was clearly the proper zoning rule for the area. The reality is that manufacturing industries as we know them were a Twentieth Century phenomenon in Australia (as explained in Allan Jamieson’s book “The Pulp”) and the mill site will not be occupied by another industry no matter how long we wait! The Planning Scheme has become outdated. How quickly can it be revised? THAT is the question that needs answering. The mill site is of much greater value to the Burnie Community if it is seen as capable of carrying a range of occupiers – residences, light commercial and industrial, academia, and so on – yet this cannot happen until the Planning Scheme is revised. Only then will the many existing mill buildings be seen to have future value.

  10. (Dr) Warwick Raverty

    August 22, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Burnie Mill, as Leo says, is one of Australia’s most important industrial sites and at least the main administration building should be heritage listed and preserved. The ‘rusting iron’ sections of the former pulp and paper mill can probably be demolished, but even these should be examined The importance of the Mill lies in the fact that it was there that the first newsprint in the world made from eucalypt pulp was produced. While this may not seem remarkable to some, it is worth remembering that in the middle of the Great Depression in 1936, most of the world’s papermakers believed that eucalypt pulp was worthless for making paper. The visionary men who invested the capital to build Burnie Pulp Mill proved them wrong and that is a significant technological feather in Burnie’s cap. CSIRO at Clayton in Melbourne have a facsimile of the edition of the paper and Dr Alan Jamieson has just published a book covering the history of Burnie Mill.

    Although the actions of Gunns Limited and the State Government cause many in Tasmania to shudder at the mere mention of the words ‘pulp mill’, the City Of Burnie occupies a proud and significant place in the world history of paper. With a little imagination and the help of a few locals who worked at the Mill, I am sure that the Mill Administration Building could be converted into a very interesting museum displaying the rich industrial history of the City. In the right hands, the Burnie Museum of Technology could become an attraction for tourists and a place of education for school children. Children can learn a lot from making paper themselves – it can be both a lesson in art and a lesson in science at many levels from Year 1 to Year 12. Even having the museum staffed with people dressed in clothing from the mid-1930s and an exhibition of restored cars and trucks – even agricultural equipment from that era could provide a very interesting and unique tourist attraction (like Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, but with a 1930s theme rather than 19th century).

    So, citizens of Burnie, you may be feeling downtrodden at present, but please put your thinking caps on and take some pride in your heritage. Seize this opportunity to build something akin to Melbourne and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museums as a tourist and educational centre point for your city.

  11. Shaun

    August 22, 2011 at 1:38 am

    The drawn out demise of the Burnie mill is perhaps the single greatest example of what is wrong with Tasmania.

    Local production has been replaced not by Chinese or Indian production based on low wages, but by production elsewhere in Australia where wages are higher than Tasmania. The same could likewise be said of environmental standards. Meanwhile, the best use we can find for the site seems to involve selling an assortment of (mostly) fairly cheap hardware items.

    It seems that Tasmanians have finally worked out that a low value “chop it down and sell it” mentality doesn’t work too well in the timber industry. Those with their eyes open will have noticed the same problem now being faced by tourism as well. Simply exploiting natural capital, whilst adding little or no value to it, isn’t a smart move.

    The Burnie mill, undoubtedly a site of huge significance through much of the 20th Century, ought to be preserved not as a tourist attraction, market or a hardware store but as a monument to the collective incompetence of Tasmanians over the past 35 or so years.

    It takes a great deal of stupidity to completely obliterate what was once a world leading manufacturing operation and have it replaced not by some sweathshop in Asia, but by better paid workers elsewhere in Australia. Such a level of ourtight stupidity is worthy of note and ought to serve as a permanent reminder next time we hear the usual whinging about Tasmania’s lack of economic prosperity or the effects thereof.

    We should have ended up with a modern paper manufacturing industry employing many without much harm to the environment. Instead we’ve ended up with some empty buildings in what has become a basket case town in the nation’s basket case state. The vast majority of ordinary, working Tasmanians deserve better than this. Much, much better.

  12. RJ Peak

    August 22, 2011 at 1:14 am

    Facilities of the kind Mr Schofield suggests exist all over the world, and the ones I’ve visited seem extremely successful, judging from the crowds at them. But such a use of the place would detract from that already existing tourist magnet, the magnificent woodchip pile. (I’d have to rank it with the big slide at Dismal Swamp and the clearfell viewing platform at Tahune as must-see attactions.)

    And if they turned it into a technology park, what sort of technology will park there? Given the support that education and the fostering of advanced technological expertise receive in this state, will it be whale-oil refining? Carriage-making? Chamberpot manufacture? Or something more contemporary and in keeping with local interests, like chainsaw maintenance. No, I suspect that instead of Silicon Valley, Burnie will be stuck with Cellulose Mountain.

  13. Elisabeth

    August 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Excellent article Leo. I’ve been advised that a heritage report on the pulp mill was undertaken but the owners and Burnie City Council have chosen to ignore the findings. And the Heritage Council are nowhere to be seen. Looking at their recent listings (www.heritage.tas.gov.au) if it ain’t a Georgian house in Oatlands/Kempton or a Victorian house in Launceston it hasn’t got a hope in hell of protection.

  14. Barnaby Drake

    August 21, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    As far as I can see it is a bloody eyesore, and the sooner gone the better. Can you imagine a tourist liner pulling into Burnie and be confronted by this? If I were a passenger, I would demand a rebate – it’s that bad!

  15. John Wade

    August 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    And rusty sheetmetal whatever-they-are.

  16. John Wade

    August 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I think the site has been reserved for the Brethren businesses to build furniture and explosives storage boxes.

  17. Bob Murfet

    August 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Excuse me but I am looking for a group of people that might be interested in a class action for those people that grew up in Burnie in the 1960’s. Up to age 16 we did not know not to expect that your eyes would sting and the back of your throat hurt when you went through the town past the pulp mill. We did not know that it was not normal to have holes in your underwear from acid falling out of the sky. We did not think it unusual that areas of the sea was red. That a big wall of dirty grey foam 5 meters high would role in on the beach when the easterly wind came in. There was also an abattoir that sent out a smell of blood and bone across the town and sent bright red blood into the ocean. We missed out on the wood chips. We had footballers as politicians.

    But then we went to Melbourne to study and that was also scary. They had buildings more than two storey’s high and our mothers told us not to trust mainlanders.

    What would we be like now without all of this happening to us in Burnie?.

    Dr Bob

  18. jabsert

    August 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    It’s hard to think of ways to make Burnie even more ugly than it is: but trust council to find something!

    Burnie is so close to the bottom when it comes to urban ugliness and despair I think they should forget about trying to pretty up the place. Why not try to trade on the “ugliest place in Australia” label?

  19. Just Me

    August 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    But can’t anyone imagine the sheer number of national and international visitors that would rush to Burnie to marvel at the brand new Bunnings store? They could flock there from all over the world to buy rakes, doorknobs and paint. And, if they had a BBQ out the front every weekend, even the “Lonely Planet” might encourage backpackers to visit. Burnie will be famous! With the promise of saving five bucks on a wheelbarrow, you can’t expect locals, let alone the Burnie City Council, to look into the future and see that they actually have an important site that should be preserved – and dare I say it – “cashed in on”. Here’s the chance to be proud of something that has been a major part of what Burnie is today and not fooled by the lure of a shiny new discounted wheelbarrow.

  20. Dave Groves

    August 21, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Fine idea, and one that would enhance the waterfront no end. Get rid of that ugly as sin woodchip pile and the rest of the rabble that graces the foreshore and Burnie will continue to “shine”

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