Australian Newsprint Mills

Australian Newsprint Mills, Boyer (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

The Australian Newsprint Mills evolved from the need for an Australian paper industry. In 1920 the Melbourne-based Mussen Group funded research at Kermandie to make newspaper from Tasmanian hardwoods. A breakaway newspaper syndicate led by Keith Murdoch (Herald & Weekly Times) and Warwick Fairfax (Age) formed the Derwent Valley Paper & Pulp Company (1932) and negotiated extensive forest concessions in the Florentine Valley with the government. The two groups came together as Australian Newsprint Mills and began building the Boyer Mill in 1939. A residential suburb for workers' families was constructed at New Norfolk. The mill opened in 1941, and ten Australian daily newspapers used Boyer newsprint, averting serious war-time newspaper rationing.

Logs were extracted from areas around Fitzgerald and Karanja, workforce camps providing comfortable but basic accommodation. Bushmen used crosscut saw and axe to fell timber and tractors dragged logs to sidings, where steam haulers winched logs on to rail trucks. Spur lines joined the main railway to Boyer. In 1947 the township of Maydena was built as a base for logging in the Florentine Valley. Thriving communities developed at New Norfolk and Maydena, with company-built amenities including halls, football grounds and swimming pools. The workforce included many single men, often migrants. Incorporating his Maydena experiences, a Czech anti-communist activist writing as VL Borin published a novel, The Uprooted Survive, dealing with the migrant dilemma. Extensive silviculture research led to Maydena becoming known as the 'cradle of Australian wet forest silviculture'. Tasmania's first modern conservation controversy occurred in 1948, when the government annexed 2000 acres from Mount Field National Park to extend the Florentine Concession.

By 1960, the chainsaw had replaced the crosscut saw, increasing the timber extraction rate. Boyer Mill expanded, with new machines increasing production. But mechanisation and contracting work out gradually reduced the workforce, and the area adjacent to Maydena was made part of the South West World Heritage Area, limiting possible expansion. With out-dated machinery and global competition, Boyer Mill nearly closed. New Zealand paper giant Fletcher Challenge took over in 1988 and reduced the workforce from 3000 to 600. Maydena Depot closed in 1990. In 2002, Fletcher Challenge was taken over by Norwegian paper giant Norske Skog, whose international reputation for professionalism suggests long-term viability for the newsprint industry at Boyer.

Australian Newsprint Mill's long-term influence is its contribution to wet forest silviculture and training, which has influenced current forest practices and expertise.

Further reading: P MacFie, Maydena, the newsprint town, forthcoming publication.

Peter MacFie