The Graeme Wood Foundation

Graeme Wood

29 June 2021

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For Sale: Renovator’s Dream, east coast Tasmania — Triabunna Woodchip Mill — Classic 1960’s brutalist architecture, views to Maria Island, plenty of onsite parking.

Price on application.

The early days of Spring Bay Mill

That real estate advertisement never appeared because everyone in the know, knew that Gunns Ltd had bailed out of wood chipping of old growth forests in 2010. What followed was a flurry of activity among Forestry Tasmania, loggers, sawmillers and the Tasmania State Government to find a way to keep the mill going.

Pictured — Graeme Wood and his partner Anna Cerneaz, Managing Director of The Graeme Wood Foundation

In its heyday…

The mill was processing 600,000 tons of “forest residue” per annum, or about 100,000 trees clear felled every year. And that does not take into account the devastation of understory species such as ferns and native shrubs and the native animals who called that place home.

Logging for woodchips was not financially viable in its own right. Federal and State Government financial support kept it going. Logging players were adroit political lobbyists. Logged volumes had been falling steadily over the years because of effective forest conservation campaigning.

Taking out the Triabunna Wood Chip Mill effectively stopped logging in southern Tasmania. That’s why, when we drive through the magnificent Wielangta Forest, we can enjoy a walk into a forest pretty much in the same condition as it was a hundred years ago.

The philanthropy opportunity

The opportunity to buy the mill appeared suddenly when it became known that various consortia of logging buyers were chasing financial support. Nobody expected philanthropists to buy it – which is exactly what happened when Jan Cameron and myself put up our hands and signed a contract site unseen.

I had at different times driven past the mill (and felt revolted at the monstrous wood chip pile) but did not get the chance for an inspection – “here’s the kitchen with Miele appliances and on the balcony, you can see the jacuzzi is perfectly positioned for sunset drinks…”

Our logging ‘friends’ were shocked, horrified, and generally cranky.

Even more so when we appointed ex-Wilderness Society Manager Alec Marr as General Manager of the mill.

Graeme Wood, The Graeme Wood Foundation

Threats of compulsory acquisition floated through the ether. Our expression of interest for an operator (non-subsidised and non-old growth sourced wood) received no bids from the logging industry, so we set about a partial dismantling of the mill in accord with our Environment Protection Agency obligations. The fact that this ‘dismantling’ allegedly took place under cover of darkness and used bulldozers, angle grinders and blow torches created more angst leading to a Parliamentary Inquiry. Insomniacs will find the 211 pages of the Inquiry report online, accusing us of all sorts of mischief.

But with the mill rendered inoperable and owned by environmentalists, the question was: “What next?”

Spring Bay Mill: It is hard to believe this was once a woodchip mill.

Now, Spring Bay Mill is a thriving event destination with an enthusiastic team led by now General Manager Joe Pickett.

Repurposing of the industrial buildings is complete. In June ’21 Spring Bay Mill won three awards at the Tasmanian Institute of Architects awards night.

Regeneration of the natural ecosystem began in 2018. So far around 12,000 trees and shrubs have been planted, many of them rare and threatened species. Native grasses are being reintroduced.

Onsite Aboriginal middens have been identified and protected. Partially completed flour mill grinding wheels can be seen in the sandstone.

Oh, and the drive from Hobart is no longer life-threatening now that log trucks are not coming around the corner every ten minutes.

Graeme Wood, The Graeme Wood Foundation

Lessons for budding interventionists?

First, get involved in real campaigning, not just digital signatures to online campaigns. It means moving your body to move your mind. Go and talk — to one person — or 10 people — or hundreds depending on your reach.

Second, understand that environmental vandals are generally stubborn conservatives who are easily outflanked by nimble, creative campaigners. Conservatives are scared of change. Campaigning is not a game of chess with limited actors. Keep scanning the horizon beyond the obvious battlefield for (often) subtle changes that can open new fronts and induce dyspepsia in our opponents.

In other words, you are constantly open to and searching for left-field ideas that can bring the future victory forward.

We at Spring Bay Mill are deep in the planning of Project Rewilding — a national project to mobilise abundant Natural Capital Funds to scale the many dedicated but under-resourced groups engaged in ecosystem regeneration. Project Rewilding was instigated because we know this is the only way to save our precious ecosystems at our doorstop and therefore our one and only planet. The fact only that a beautiful 43 hectares on the east coast of Tasmania — together with its magnificent facilities — was not enough to provoke change at the rate we collectively needed to save it and others.

Watch this space!

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