APM Forests (APMF) was formed in 1951 by Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM) (which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of AMCOR Ltd) with the primary aim of supplying economic pulpwood to APM's Maryvale Mill in Gippsland, through the establishment of a plantation base and co-ordination of pulpwood harvesting. APMF operations included:
By 2001, the APMF gross land holding (including freehold and leasehold land) in Gippsland was 85,000ha. Of this land base:
By 2001, the volume of wood harvested annually both from APMF plantations and State Forests was approximately 1.4 million tonnes. In that year the plantations were sold to Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP).
To plan plantation and industrial development within Gippsland, APMF constructed a long-term plantation planning model using simulation and linear programming techniques. This model undertook explicit evaluation of the combination and interactions of establishment method, tree breeding, fertilisation, thinning type and clear-felling age.
APMF's geographic information system incorporated the results of an extensive soil survey and associated mapping exercise across the whole estate. For each site this defined prescriptive treatments for soil cultivation, nutritional requirements and use of weedicide. An example is given in Table 1 of this work in relation to P. radiata.
APM Forests commenced thinning its 12-year-old pine plantations in 1962. The total annual pine wood input to Maryvale Mill was approximately 50,000m3 being supplied mainly from State plantations at a considerable distance from the mill. Input doubled the next year and redoubled in 1970. However, this young wood from the company plantations was not particularly attractive to Maryvale. The discovery of Sirex made the large-scale thinning of the plantations an urgent matter. As an outlet for this young wood a particle board factory was established at Rosedale, jointly owned by CSR and APM Forests. Production commenced in 1964 and wood intake increased to 50,000m3 per year. Because of its small size the factory became unprofitable and was closed at the end of 1978. Later, biological control of Sirex was developed.
During this period, the plantations were intensively managed with thinning commencing at age 10/11 and repeated at 2- to 3-year intervals. Demand was in excess of supply necessitating the purchase of wood from external sources at high cost. This intensive thinning minimised losses from Sirex attack in this period prior to biological control. Wood from second and subsequent thinnings from age 14 on was suitable for pulp mill requirements.
Although the plantations were planned to be pulpwood only, by the mid 1970s when the oldest plantings were 25 years old, the suitability of the pine resource for sawn timber production was investigated. The outcome was the establishment of a large sawmill at Morwell. Log intake commenced in 1976 with that from the company plantations increasing from an initial level of 50,000m3 to 100,000m3 in 1988 with further increases thereafter.
A major new pine Kraft pulp mill on the existing Maryvale site was planned for commencement around 1978. The minimum economic size for such a mill was then considered to be approximately 150,000 tonnes of pulp per year. To meet this project demand, planting rates were increased considerably in 1973. The new mill eventually commenced operation in 1985 with a capacity of 160,000 tonnes of pulp per year.
In the 1990s output from the plantations was 650-700,000m3/yr of pulpwood, sawlogs and peeler logs for external sales.
Planting rates averaged 1300ha/yr with clear-felling averaging 1000ha/yr.
By the 1990s growth was in excess of pulpwood demand. A less intensive silvicultural regime evolved with three thinnings. (First thinning at age 14-15 years with subsequent thinnings at 4 year intervals and clear-felling at age 26 to 28 years.)
Some native forests were purchased from the start of APMF operations including some natural regeneration on partially cleared farmland. Various thinning, timber stand improvement and other treatments were applied in the 1950s and 1960s but results were generally disappointing in terms of wood production.
Small trial plantings of several species of eucalypts commenced from 1952, but remained on a small scale until the commencement of the Strzelecki Project (Heartbreak Hills) for the future supply of additional eucalypt pulpwood in 1960. Successful establishment on this very steep topography was not readily achievable until the control of browsing animals was available through the introduction of myxomatosis and the use of 1080 poisoning.
Plantings were mainly of E. regnans with some E. globulus. In the 1960s plantings averaged about 200ha/yr and in the 1970s approximately 500ha/yr until the leasehold areas were completed. Then, because of increased availability of residual roundwood from State Forests, in the next seven years a total of only 370ha were planted.
In the early 1980s, APM decided to expand significantly into the business papers segment of the paper market, requiring a major rebuild of a paper machine and expansion of bleached eucalypt pulp output, requiring an increasing input of eucalypt wood.
The eucalypt plantation program was reactivated in 1986. Planting rates commenced at 100ha/yr rising to 800ha/yr in 1989. It was envisaged that the rotation age for E. regnans plantations would be about 30 years. For other eucalypt species shorter rotation ages were envisaged.
Plantation eucalypt research was greatly expanded with the establishment of a eucalypt seed orchard, eucalypt harvesting thinning operations in both plantation and natural regeneration areas and a comprehensive program of wood and pulping quality investigations.
In assessing areas for plantation development, the following criteria applied:
Each compartment of the plantation estate was approximately 40ha, but this varied according to plantable area and geographic features.
Water courses and depressions were protected by a buffer zone of undisturbed vegetation. For minor depressions which drain short and gentle slopes, a total buffer of 20m was generally adequate. On well-defined water courses, a minimum buffer of 20m was allowed. Earthworks and vehicular activity were excluded from the buffer zones.
As far as practicable roads were located adjacent to each compartment of planted trees.
All internal access roads were trafficable throughout the fire season. In hilly country, internal ridge tracks (to a maximum grade of 1 in 10) were maintained.
The main road network was trafficable to all vehicles and maintained in this state by appropriate methods such as grading and slashing.
No roads were allowed to dead-end for reasons of fire safety.
For second rotation sites, there was no burning of slash from previous harvests. All slash was macerated by chopper-rolling to ensure it was incorporated back into the site to reduce loss of organic matter and nutrients.
On undulating topography free of remnant vegetation, mechanical planting machines were used for P. radiata seedlings. On second rotation sites with undulating topography, hand planting was undertaken. Where mechanical cultivation was not possible, such as on steep topography, hand cultivation of the planting site was undertaken prior to planting.
APMF placed environmental and safety considerations high on its management agenda. Operations were undertaken in conformance with Victoria's Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production. Professional forest scientists were employed to ensure that soil, hydrology, flora and fauna, aesthetic values, diseases and weed problems were considered in plantation operations.For example:
Christmas tree plantations were established beneath major electricity transmission lines.
APMF was one of the first forestry organisations to voluntarily cease using 245-T and 24-D and stop the application of herbicides from the air. In 1981 APMF introduced goats for the biological control of blackberries and other noxious weeds in its plantations. The project was described by the author in 1985.
APMF responded to public concern over the use of 1080 and mounted a substantial research program with the objective of finding acceptable alternatives for avoiding browsing damage in young plantations.
To offer landholders in Gippsland an incentive to invest in tree farming, the Farm Forestry Agreement was initiated in 1975. This scheme was complementary to the former FCV Farm Forestry Loan scheme.
APMF operated a school plantation scheme in Central Gippsland for over 40 years. Schools were leased an area of one hectare. APMF was responsible for planting and maintaining the plantation. The school received all royalties from the plantation at the time of harvest.
See also: The Strzelecki Project
“APM Forests had a similar pattern of land acquisition and planting but without the help of prison labour. The company’s first plantings of pine and ash took place in 1960. The first purchases of land were made in the 1950’s and they have built up over the years until today they total about 24,000 hectares of freehold and 8617 hectares of leasehold. The leasehold land is held from the state under certain conditions regulating the way it is used for plantations. The total area of freehold and leasehold as of 1986 was 5030 hectares of pines and 4502 of eucalypts.
The conditions governing the lease of land by APM Forests provide that planting of the area must be completed within 15 years of the issue of the lease, which runs for 60 years. During that time, the company may use any timber it grows but must re-establish the plantations within three years of harvesting. The company pays an annual rent calculated at five percent of the unimproved valuation and is required to hand back in a reforested condition the area at the completion of the lease.”
The development of the Australian paper industry and the Victorian forest industry are intrinsically linked. The research undertaken to use short fibred eucalypt pulps to replace imported long fibred softwood pulp in the 1930’s represented a major technological triumph for Australia. What began in 1868 on the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River, today contributes over nine hundred million dollars annually to Australia’s gross domestic product.
The major products of the Australian paper industry today are the linerboard and corrugated paper used by the fibre box industry, newsprint, printing and writing paper, bag, sack and other industrial papers, cartonboards, tissues and towellings.
There is a document describing the history of making paper available here and this paper describes the positions of the three major companies that arise from this history of plantation expansion and pulp and paper making.
The paper making industry in the Australian colonies was founded on rag and waste paper. High international freight costs meant wood pulp was not available.
Because the world’s pulping industry was based on the softwood forests of Europe and the Americas, the Australian papermaking industry remained static for decades.
During the Depression, which commenced in 1929, APM Ltd was concerned with its growing imports, particularly of bleached and unbleached sulphite pulp from the long fibres of the world’s softwoods. It employed scientists, LR Benjamin and his assistant RB Jeffreys during the 1930’s to find a local replacement using the short fibres of Australian eucalypts. The Kraft tests, using three batches of Eucalyptus regnans, were undertaken at the Kraft digester at the Botany Mill NSW, and gave the promise of a pulp which was easy to bleach.
Further testing showed:
In 1936, APM decided to build the Maryvale Kraft mill in the Latrobe Valley. In December of that year, the Victorian Parliament gave APM the right to log timber in the eastern forests.
Maryvale Mill Gippsland was established in 1937. It was the pioneer of a new type of wood pulp production, not only in Australia but globally, using native eucalypts through the technique known as the “Kraft” process. By 1939, this new Kraft mill had an annual capacity of 28,000 tonnes of wood pulp.
In 1986, Australian Paper Manufacturers was renamed AMCOR Limited.
In April 2000, AMCOR demerged its business printing papers to focus on global packaging. The spin off company was named Paperlinx (which included Australian Paper and Australian Paper Plantations Pty Ltd).
In June 2009, Paperlinx’s manufacturing business - Australian Paper – Maryvale Mill Latrobe Valley Victoria was sold to Nippon Paper Group Inc. of Japan.
In 2018, 80 years of papermaking at Maryvale Mill was celebrated.
Today (2019) Maryvale Mill is an integrated pulp and paper mill, producing both wood pulp and paper, owned by Australian Paper, (a subsidiary of the Nippon Paper Group of Japan)
APM Forests was formed in 1951 by Australian Paper Manufacturers (which became a wholly owned subsidiary of AMCOR Ltd.) with the primary aim of supplying pulpwood to the Maryvale Mill through the establishment of a plantation base and co-ordination of pulpwood harvesting.
APM Forests operations included:
By 2001, APM Forests gross land holding (including freehold and leasehold land) in Gippsland was 85,000 hectares. Of this land base:
By 2001,the volume of wood harvested from both from APM Forests plantations and State Forests was approximately 1.4 million tonnes per year.
In 2001 APM Forest plantations were sold to Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP).
This Agreement was superseded by subsequent agreements, and in 1984, following a sharp downturn in the industry, the stipulated annual quantity was drastically reduced and the exclusive provisions of the Act were withdrawn.
The Company never exercised the power to acquire land.
APM’s plan in 1937 embraced the lease arrangements and later the acquisition of freehold for its own future plantations, and the encouragement of the surviving farmers in the area to plant pines to be purchased and harvested by the company.
A railway branch line was constructed by the Company over land it owned.
Homes for employees were constructed in collaboration with the State Savings Bank of Victoria. Within 5 years 90 houses had been built in and around Morwell and Traralgon.
Production of eucalypt Kraft pulp at the rate of 90 tonnes per day commenced, and the first pilot runs of paper were produced.
APM Forests reaches its initial target of 12,000 hectares. With the continued expansion of Maryvale Mill (paper machines installed in 1940, 1956 and 1972) the target was increased on several occasions.
In the 1980s APM decided to expand significantly into the business papers segment of the paper market, which involved a major rebuild of a paper machine and expansion of bleached eucalypt pulp output, requiring increasing input of eucalypt wood. The eucalypt plantation program was reactivated in 1986 coupled with an expansion of eucalypt research.
APM Ltd Publication. MARYVALE MILL 1979
APM Ltd Publication. APM TODAY 1980
APM Forests Farm Woodlots in Gippsland - 1991 edition. A guide for farmers, investors and tree planters
Opal (was Australian Paper)
Chandler W G Pine plantings operations of APM Forests Pty Ltd. Paper presented to ANZAAS 29 Meeting August 1957
Hancock Victorian Plantations
Kitchener D T The Australian Pulpwood Story July 1979 - Produced by the Tasmanian Forestry Commission for the Australian Forestry Council
McGregor Peter PAPER 1988 - Part of the made in Australia learning activity topics ISBN 0 0949219185
Mann M.J. APM Forests plantation projects – the first forty years.
Page 157 Prospects for Australian Forest plantations edited by John Dargavel and Noel Semple, CRES ANU 1990
Murray P R Paper and people APM 1981
Noble W S The Strzeleckis - A new future for the Heartbreak Hills
Sinclair S. K. The Spreading Tree – A History of APM and AMCOR 1844 – 1989
History of Paper (Wikipedia)
Wooster R The long road from seed to paper. Page 4-18 December 1984/January 1985 Logger an AFIJ publication
The Company’s fire protection was very conventional when I took over the role of Fire Protection Officer in about 1982. We had a fleet of 4x4 and 6x4 fire tankers, several D7 sized dozers and some Caterpillar graders. All our fire crews were Company employees and had, in the main, many years of accumulated experience at wildfire suppression. We had 6 registered CFA Brigades, which meant that we could give the rank of CFA Captain to 6 of our Incident Controllers. This was handy at times, although there was a tacit agreement amongst local CFA volunteers that our Incident Controller would be in charge of fires on our property and they would be in charge of fires outside our property.
Then came a time of upheaval.
The National Safety Council (NSCA), headed by the legendary John Friedrichs, started growing. Our first experience of their firefighting capability was at a fire in the Strzeleckis at which our Incident Controller was Frank Coppock. Frank came back from the fire full of praise for the assistance that the NSCA Hughes 500D helicopter fitted with a collapsible Bambi bucket had given to the fire fighters. He said they would have had extreme difficulty controlling the fire, which was burning on a very steep hill, without the aid of the helicopter.
A week before the Ash Wednesday fires in the Western District, we had a day on which the fire danger rating was as high as it was on Ash Wednesday with a follow up cold change including 120 km/hr south westerly winds. Three potentially dangerous fires started that day. Fire one was deliberately lit on top of the Haunted Hills, just south of the Prince’s Highway. It burnt down towards the town of Morwell and the two open cut brown coal mines, Yallourn and Morwell. The NSCA had a large Bell helicopter with a belly tank fighting the fire. The Company fire tower on the Haunted Hills called in a south westerly wind change of 120 km/hr, and the helicopter put down on the north eastern edge of the fire to wait out the change. The fire at that point was burning in grass, and when the change hit, the fire burnt straight under the helicopter, with the two crew members inside. Luckily, the fire was travelling so fast that it only scorched the paint work on the bottom of the helicopter. As a result, Friedrichs got me to give a quick fire behaviour lecture to his helicopter crews two days after the fire!
Somehow, this fire was brought under control shortly after the change.
A second fire started after the SW change, as a result of some burning cow dung from a small fire that had been extinguished earlier in the day being blown across the bare control line that had been graded around the fire. This fire burnt across a paddock that had virtually no visible grass in it, crossed a 55 metre wide road easement containing a bitumen road that had a pipeline ditch alongside it, and slammed into one of our plantations. Within minutes, the NSCA had three Hughes 500D helicopters fitted with Bambi buckets water bombing the fire, which was just south of the Latrobe Valley Airport. Luckily, that was the NSCA’s base at the time, so their response time was excellent. We backed up the helicopters with a dozer, and our plantation loss was only about 3 ha
The other major fire on the day was caused by power lines clashing together, and ironically it burnt into the State Electricity Commission’s storage area for the construction of the Loy Yang A power station, which stopped the fire, but not before many thousand dollars worth of damage had been done to reels of insulated wire in the yard.
We had a standing arrangement at the time with the Latrobe Valley Aero Club to use one of their planes for our air observer at wildfires. At the time, a lecturer at the Latrobe campus of Monash university (Ray Hodges) was experimenting with running his plane on standard vehicle petrol, and he wanted to run the plane for long hours while still within gliding distance of the airfield. I came to a financial arrangement with him to experiment flying a fixed circuit over the Latrobe Valley with one of our radios in the plane, to see if we could replace three of our fire towers with an aircraft. After Ray finished his trials, we had decided that the replacement of the three towers with an aircraft was feasible, and John Willis, the manager of the Aero Club, was keen to participate. We came to an arrangement that the Club would agree to supply an aircraft with a pilot and an observer on board, to fly the fixed circuit, whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted. They would charge us club rates for the planes alone, and their members would get free flying hours in return. The Club would also get much greater utilization of their planes, which would keep their costs down. The cost to the Company was about the same as manning the three towers, and we no longer had to maintain the towers. The planes were fitted with a Company radio, and with a GPS when they became available. On particularly turbulent days, one of the Club’s instructors would fly the plane. The plane could be diverted to a fire for a preliminary report but would revert to its patrol as soon as we could get a second plane up with one of our air observers in it to report on the going fire.
There wasn’t one day when the Club did not honour this agreement, despite some very turbulent days.
All good things have a habit of coming to an end, and unfortunately the NSCA imploded. This left us with no aerial tanker capability, and the Company felt extremely vulnerable without it. In discussion with Angus Pollock, the Gippsland manager at the time, it was agreed that I would explore the possibility of hiring our own helicopter for the fire season. Initially, we all expected to hire a Bell 212 with a belly tank, which would be extremely expensive. However, I was convinced by the owner of a Hughes 500D with a Bambi bucket to go for his machine for the following reasons:
So we went for the Hughes. The machine was parked in the open behind our office and the pilot gave it a daily inspection first thing in the morning. Due to daylight saving, the pilot did not have to come in to the office until about 1000 on most days. He/she spent the day in the Fire Control room in our office, answering the radio and so was always up with the latest fire situation and weather. We kept the machine only half fueled so that its lifting capacity was maximised, and one person, Luke McDermott, had the task of towing behind his vehicle a trailer equipped with a drum of Avtur and extra foam compound. His role was to follow up the helicopter to keep it supplied with fuel and foam. We could have the machine in the air within 5 minutes of a suspicious smoke sighting, with an Incident Controller on board. This gave the Incident Controller a chance to have a good look at the fire from the air, make a selection of the best route in for the ground crews, pick a good location for the Controller to set up, brief the pilot on tactics for the helicopter and finally to help the pilot deploy the bucket when the Controller was being set down.
This system seemed to work well, although there was a definite variation in pilot performance.
Another major problem occurred.
One Total Fire Ban day, a neighbor who had been carrying out a fuel reduction burn on his property the day before had allowed the fire to continue to burn overnight. It was creeping towards our boundary in the early morning. The forecast the previous evening had been for a strong NW winds with a south westerly change the next morning.
I sent Braden Jenkin as our Incident Controller to the scene in the morning, and he started blacking out the burning edge of the neighbour’s fire that was creeping towards the fire break on the western boundary of our pine plantation. Shortly after, the CFA Volunteer Group Officer arrived, and decided to negate Braden’s good work by starting a back burn from our boundary towards our neighbour’s burn. In his defense, there was only a light breeze at the time.
The back burn had just been completed when the forecast strong NW winds appeared.
The result was that both fires combined, flared up, and spotted across our ploughed fire break into our plantation.
Braden now had the use of a D7 I had sent him. He used it in the excellent classical tactic of starting at the source and creating a break down the north eastern flank of the fire.
It was a success. The fire did not cross the line created by Braden with his first dozer. Braden was then given a second dozer, which he started working from the southern edge of the fire in a north westerly direction. Later, the aerial photo of the burnt area was used by the ANU Forestry School as an example of what to do at a wildfire.
Shortly after, the SW change arrived and after about half an hour 50 mm of rain fell. Braden’s breaks held, though the fire broke out in the area that the dozers had not yet reached. The fire was then mopped up. We lost about 110 ha of Pinus pinaster plantation.
This made me think.
How could we locally predict when the forecast strong NW wind would arrive? After all, when the Group Officer had started his back burn there was virtually no wind at all.
Shortly after that I was able to accept an invitation to a Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) fire weather forecasting course. During the course, I described the fire to the people lecturing, and they introduced me to the mechanism of Inversion Layers.
They told me that the Latrobe Valley frequently has an inversion layer formed over it overnight. This layer acts as a barrier which deflects the strong north westerlies coming over the Alps next day from our north and stops them penetrating to ground level. It is not until the temperature at ground level reaches a certain level that thermals are triggered with enough heat to punch through the inversion layer. This breaks up the inversion and allows the NW wind to reach the ground. As a warning sign, this phenomenon can be seen from the ground by the presence of lenticular cloud streets formed by the NW wind rippling off the top of the inversion layer. These cloud streets are usually oriented NE/SW.
For this reason, the Bureau sends up helium filled balloons to measure the temperature in the air at various levels until the inversion is past. With the aid of a chart of something called an Adiabatic Lapse Rate, they could predict at what ground temperature the inversion would break up and the howling NW wind would reach the ground. Unfortunately for us, they had no facility east of Melbourne to do this.
At the time I was a glider pilot and had been in a couple of gliding competitions. I had noticed a plane taking off early in the morning, and gliders had not been launched until some time later. That had puzzled me, but I now knew why. Armed with a file of adiabatic lapse rate charts and a promise to send the daily results back to the BOM, I returned to the Valley.
Much to the puzzlement of many, I went to the Aero Club and arranged for them to do a “temperature trace flight” early on the mornings I specified on the night before. The results of the flight were plotted on the BOM’s chart and were faxed immediately to the BOM. I then had our weighbridge monitor the temperature build up at ground level and tell me when the temperature reached a specified level two degrees below that I had realized, from the BOM’s charts, would result in the break up of the inversion layer. Our crews were called back to their bases at that time and spent the rest of the day checking their gear to ensure they were ready to respond to any fire emergency.
We had total cooperation from our logging contractors, who pulled all their operations out of our plantations at that time, at our request.
We were never caught napping again.
Our tankers were initially a mixture of diesel and petrol trucks, and all their water pumps were petrol. Problems of vapourisation of the petrol had occurred occasionally in very hot conditions, so over time I converted all the water pumps to the new standard CFA diesel unit. The tankers only covered about 3,000 km/year, so each year our Equipment Supervisor (John Morgan) was asked to source a good second-hand diesel 4x4 truck to be converted into a tanker. The body of the old truck was transferred to the new unit with a few modifications, and we had a replacement tanker at a fraction of the cost of a new unit. Eventually, we had a completely diesel powered fleet of tankers. Later, we split the water tanks into two sections, one containing ¾ of the water and the other ¼. The water was drawn initially from the ¾ full section, and the crew had to make a decision as to whether to switch on the ¼ section and continue at the fire or pull out to refill at that stage. A good safety check.
Our manpower was gradually reduced over the years, so I recruited a fire crew from each of our pine logging contractors and trained them in fire behaviour, equipment handling and firefighting tactics. In some ways they were better than our own crews. Their truck driver was an experienced log truck driver and many of their members were skilled at mechanical work. They were also as keen as mustard, as firefighting was something new and exciting to them. I always lit a real fire in eucalypt bush and allowed it to develop before releasing them on to it to put it out, as a final test of their skills.
Other rules I instituted were:
I retired from the Company in 2000, just prior to it being sold to Hancocks. Our Mapping Officer, Malcolm Grant, calculated that, ignoring the fire Braden Jenkins had so classically controlled, the Company had lost less than one hectare on average for each year I was in charge of their fire protection.
See also: APM Fire Competition 1974
When the Company first started using pine for pulping, they had no plantations of their own. They sourced pine pulpwood from Government plantations in various parts of Victoria and South Australia, and the wood was railed to Maryvale. It must have cost a great deal. I remember pulpwood being cut for Maryvale in the Forests Commission plantations at Stanley, in Victoria’s North East. The pulpwood billets were loaded on to a truck and were delivered to the railway station in Beechworth, where they were hand loaded into open rail wagons. They were then railed via Melbourne to Maryvale.
When their first pine plantations were about 12 years old, the Company started thinning them for pulpwood. Obviously, this led to a marked cost saving, so the plantations were thinned hard. Maryvale Mill’s pine wood line could only take 1.8m billets with a maximum diameter of 30cm. The wood was hand cut, stacked in the plantation row in neat heaps and extracted to the road side. Initially, this was done using old ex-military Blitz 4x4 trucks, which were eventually superseded by Timberjack skidders. The Blitzes were then used to load the billets on to trucks for transport to Maryvale. Methods kept evolving and forwarders gradually replaced skidders and Blitz’s, as they carried out extraction and truck loading more efficiently and safely. While modern harvesting methods have continually changed, forwarders remain a key piece of equipment.
Pine logging contractors met migrant ships as they docked in Melbourne and recruited men as cutters. They transported them to Gippsland, put them up in makeshift camps and started them working. No training seemed to be involved. I remember asking a new cutter once, in about 1968, how his new chainsaw was working. He told me that it had been fine at first, but it wasn’t cutting so well now. I asked him how often he sharpened it. “You have to sharpen them, do you?” he replied. I gave him a brief demonstration of how to sharpen his saw, for which he was very grateful.
The Company decided to build a particle board plant in Rosedale to make a product they called Pyneboard. (This plant commenced in 1962/64 and closed in 1978). This put a deal of stress on the plantations to produce enough wood to supply both Pyneboard and Maryvale. In 1972 to 1974 Australia went through a boom in which full employment was achieved, and the supply of people to work in the physically hard job of pulpwood cutting started drying up.
The Company’s General Manager, Les Schultz, tasked me with the job of mechanizing pine harvesting.
At the time, the CSIRO had a small group researching timber harvesting, headed by Bill Kerruish. Bill spent a year in Sweden investigating the Swedes’ harvesting methods. On return he found an engineering company in Brisbane called RL Windsor whose principal, Rob Windsor, was willing to co-design a prototype tree harvester with Kerruish. Windsors did a lot of engineering work for APM at the time, so it was a logical choice to develop a tree harvester.
So the Windsor harvester came into being. It was built on a Timberjack chassis and looked a bit like a Yabby. It was designed to shear off a tree, lift it up to a delimbing carriage mounted on its back and delimb the stem. It missed the branches on the bottom 1.5 metres of the stem and could only delimb each stem for a length of about 9 metres. The rest of the stem was wasted. The partially delimbed stem was then dropped into a bin on the side of the machine. When the bin was full, the heap of partially delimbed stems was tipped on to the ground. The wood had then to be cut to the required 1.8 metre lengths and the remaining branches had to be removed.
The Company was willing to try it. No other tree harvester was available in Australia, so the Windsor came down to Gippsland for trials in 1972.
No one had ever worked the machine, so there were no manuals or instructions to go by. I had a small three man crew to carry out harvesting research, and we tentatively started working this new machine.
It soon became obvious that a young man, John Killeen, was the outstanding operator. However, even he had trouble keeping the machine going. Its utilization averaged about 45%. The rest of the time it was broken down and being repaired. As well, it produced wood in a form unacceptable to Maryvale’s wood line, so the wood had to be further processed by hand to make it acceptable to the mill.
However, in 1974 it looked as though Maryvale would run out of pine pulpwood, as our contractors could not find enough cutters to manually produce the volume of pulpwood required. So Les Schultz ordered two more Windsor Harvesters, and I had to persuade a contractor or two to take them on. The prototype machine was returned to Kerruish’s CSIRO group. Jack Irish and Gary Leeson of LJ Crawford agreed to take on a Windsor each. They were responsible for the running and maintenance costs, and had to produce the wood as 1.8 m long billets without limbs. This required manual work after the Windsor had finished with the stems, and the cost was greater than doing the whole job by hand.
Keeping these machines going was no mean feat. The most successful contractor was Jack Irish, and the only way he could keep his machine going was to have a supply of spare hydraulic cylinders to replace the ones on the machine when they failed. He would replace the failed cylinder with a good one and have the unserviceable cylinder repaired ready for the next failure. The transmission on the Timberjack carrier also failed, so Jack had a spare reconditioned transmission as well.
It was obvious that the Windsor was not the answer to mechanically harvesting Pinus radiata.
I had been keeping a sharp eye on overseas developments through the excellent head office library, which was able to supply me with all the harvesting magazines from the two countries that seemed to be in the front of mechanical tree harvesting - Canada and Sweden. P.radiata had a few characteristics that made it particularly hard to harvest mechanically.
So I searched the literature for a machine that appeared to be able to handle all these characteristics.
The only one that appealed to me was the Swedish Logma. It was a single purpose machine, designed to pick up felled trees, delimb them and leave them in a heap on the ground. It was the only machine that seemed able to handle limbs such as those on radiata. The fact that it did not do any of the other actions we would have liked was secondary. At least, it seemed to be able to delimb our problem radiata.
I said as much to Les Schultz, and his response was typically immediate. “Go and look at it” he said.
So in 1976 I went to Sweden on a trip organized by Noel Burrows of Kockums, the Swedish company who manufactured the Logma. Noel had a good idea of what was required, and had capably understood what myself and the other experienced member of our group, West Australian logging contractor Mayne Coverley, were looking for. The weakness of the Logma was not its delimbing capability, but its inability to buck the delimbed stems into the required lengths. Luckily, one of the Swedish Kockums representatives knew of a contractor in the south of Sweden who had fitted his Logma with a hydraulically powered bucking saw alongside the operator’s cab, under the delimbing boom. This made the machine acceptable, as both Mayne and I immediately recognized.
Kockums agreed to bring a Logma fitted with a bucking saw to Australia for a 3 month trial in APM Forests (APMF) plantations. They would pay for the transport of the machine to us, and we agreed to pay for its return to Sweden if the trial was a failure. If the machine was considered a success, APMF would buy it for an agreed cost.
The weakness in the arrangement was that there was no one in Australia who could operate a Logma. So I suggested to Les Schultz that I would draft a letter to APPM, ANM and Bowaters, the other three companies who had a high interest in the upcoming trial, offering them the results of the trials, and the invitation to inspect the trials at their convenience, in return for them paying for a skilled Swedish operator to come to Australia for the three month trial. They immediately agreed to this arrangement, and Kockums arranged an excellent operator for the machine.
We selected an area in our Silver Creek Tree Farm for the trial, which was to be in a thinning operation. Silver Creek was chosen for two main reasons:
We borrowed a shear felling head from Bill Kerruish’s organisation in the CSIRO, and rigged it on a tracked front-end loader to cut and bunch the stems for the Logma. This was fine in pulpwood operations, but when we later moved into sawlog production the shattering of the stems for about 45cm up from the butt caused by the hydraulic pressure of the shear made it unsuitable. However, Kockums had a feller buncher with a specially designed hydraulic chainsaw felling head that overcame this problem, so we bought one of them to complement the Logma processor.
After a month, it was obvious that the Logma was an outstanding success, so the other two months of the trial were spent in training my three man crew in its operation. Once more, the outstanding operator was John Killeen. At the end of the three months, the Swede said that John was as productive on the machine as he was himself.
Ironically, the Logma was never used by us in a thinning operation. The sawmilling subsidiary of APM, Brown and Dureau, had built a sawmill outside Morwell, and the Logma spent the rest of its life in clear falling operations producing sawlogs for this mill as well as pulpwood for Maryvale and Pyneboard.
The advent of the sawmill meant the required cut from the company’s plantations had increased considerably, so it was decided to buy another Logma and have two contractors operate them.
Gary Leeson and Robert Crawford tendered for the jobs, on the basis that they would cover the operating and maintenance costs, and would deliver wood for an agreed price per cubic metre. John Killeen trained the contractors’ operators and the operation was a great success. As a result of the meticulous tree measurement and work study carried out by Don Hay during the trials, we had a good grasp of the machine’s productivity which varied with tree size, so we set the contractor's quotas to maximise their output and so minimize their costs, and so the cost to us of the wood.
Within 12 months we had to increase these quotas by about 20% as the operations became more efficient. Subsequently, ANM bought 10 Kockums systems comprising Logmas, feller bunchers and forwarders for their contractors to supply pulpwood to their Albury Mill. Noel Burrows asked me if he could “borrow” John Killeen as a trainer and with John’s consent I agreed. John was taken to Sweden and thoroughly trained as an instructor on these machines, not only in operating them but also in their routine maintenance. He was then used by Kockums as the instructor for ANM’s logging contractors.
However, this didn’t solve the problem of mechanizing harvesting in APMF’s thinnings. The output of any machine processing one stem at a time is very dependent on the size of those stems, so we looked for a cheaper solution than the Logma.
At this time a New Zealand equipment manufacturer by the name of Waratah had made what amounted to a feller buncher mounted on an excavator chassis with sharpened grasping knives. The machine grasped the tree, lifted its head up, taking the branches off as it went, and sheared off the top of the tree when it reached the end of its stroke. This machine was promising, but it had two disadvantages.
One day I was watching John Killeen operating the machine, and he did something I had never seen before. He had become frustrated that he was often throwing away the merchantable tops of the trees because he could only reach to a certain height. So what he did was he grasped the tree, sheared it off, lifted it up and opened the shear blades. The stem then dropped through the delimbing knives which took the branches off on the way down. John then cut the stem with the shear into approximately 1.8m lengths which he judged by eye.
I was amazed at this and asked John to repeat the operation, which he did several times.
The drawback was that John had to do some slow operating due to the machine’s hydraulic sequence being unsuited to his new found method.
I immediately got in touch with the manufacturer in NZ and asked him to come over urgently to see this new technique and see if he could rearrange the hydraulics to speed up the process.
He was equally amazed at what John had figured out and in a very short time he had changed the hydraulics so that John’s new technique could be carried out smoothly. However, Waratah could not work out a satisfactory length measuring system, and despite my searching for a solution to this problem we never came up with a satisfactory answer.
This was a great disappointment as the machine had eliminated one mechanical operation, which increased it mechanical reliability. It used gravity and not a mechanical method to pull the stems through its delimbing head. So a great machine came to an end, as all our pulpwood operations had to be able to produce fence post lengths for preserving, and these had to be cut to a precise length.
Waratah produced a few of their original harvesters which they sold to a Tri Board mill in Kaitia in NZ, but they were never a success.
However, Waratah then produced a head that had a chainsaw in place of the original shear and feed rolls to pull the stem through the delimbing knives. It also incorporated a measuring wheel that allowed the machine to measure lengths precisely. This was a success, and later and larger machines are currently widely used today. They were only possible as a result of the magnificent tree breeding work by many people and organisations that had produced a radiata that resembled the Spruce and Pine of the northern hemisphere, straight trees with no forks and branches that came out at right angles to the stem. This type of machine made mechanical pine thinning operations economically possible.
After a while, the Swedes increased the price of their equipment to such an extent that we needed to find alternatives. By asking around, I was given the name of James Nagorka from Hamilton in the Western District, who had started manufacturing very large agricultural tractors similar to those produced mainly in America, but for a lesser price. I asked him to come to Gippsland to have a look at a Swedish forwarder and see if he could make similar machines in his workshop. His comments were encouraging. He named components that could be bought off the shelf, ranging from engines to transmissions, axles and differentials, and said he would have no difficulty building such machines. I gave him the name of a suitable hydraulic crane and he went home and designed a forwarder. When he was ready, I arranged to fly our pine contractors to Hamilton to have a conference with James, and the result was that Gary Leeson agreed to buy a forwarder from James. This was successful and worked for many years in our harvesting operations. It only had one drawback. The Swedes had access to very high tensile lightweight steel, that James could not get in Australia, so his machine was heavier than the Swedish machines – a drawback in wet boggy conditions.
We then had to find a substitute for the Logma. By now, the Canadians had seen how successful Logmas were, and had developed two similar machines mounted on excavator chassis. I went to Canada to inspect them and arranged a trip with Gary Leeson and Robert Crawford to inspect the machines available. Gary was impressed by a Koehring processor and ordered one for his operation. Robert later built his own processor mounted on a Caterpillar excavator, using slack periods in his own workshop to do the construction.
Initially eucalypt pulpwood was produced by hand cutters. The process involved falling the tree, delimbing it, cutting it in to 1.8m lengths as required by Maryvale Mill, debark it and splitting it into no larger than30cm diameter billets. Splitting was often carried out using splitting guns, which resembled a cannon with a sharpened muzzle. Black powder was poured into the mouth of the gun followed by a tamping paper. The gun was then hammered into the end of the 1.8m length to be split. A 15cm length of safety fuse was then placed into the touch hole. A crow bar was placed behind the gun, firmly dug into the ground and the fuse was then lit. The resulting explosion blew the wood into smaller diameter billets. The billets were then hand stacked into metal pallets which were winched on to trucks for transport to the mill. Later, the splitting operation was carried out by hydraulic splitters mounted on old truck chassis, and usually the billets were ejected into metal pallets already on a truck. All this was dictated by the wood chipping line at Maryvale, which could only accept billets up to 30cm diameter and 1.8m long.
Eventually APM decided to build two new wood lines for their Maryvale mill, one for pine and one for eucalypt. I was nominated as a member of the design team for these lines, which as far as I could ascertain was a first for wood lines. Previously they had been built by engineers with no input from the foresters who grew the trees they would be processing. The results were economically bad, as they invariably seemed to increase the cost of the wood delivered to the plant. Engineers seemed to consider that all trees grew straight and neat, and so they built wood lines that would have been great to process large pencils, but which struggled with real life tree stems. As an example, I was able to persuade the design team to increase the acceptable diameter of eucalypt pulpwood resulting in major cost savings and productivity in the forest. I also spent a day taking the Canadian design engineer from the construction firm involved, HA Simons, around our pine plantations and logging operations, pointing out to him why we were unable to change the shape of our trees and so he would need to build a line capable of handling some pretty rough stems. To his absolute credit, he did exactly that, once more saving the Company money in their wood costs. Pine was accepted in random lengths between 3 and 6 metres, and eucalypt in 3 metres to truck lengths.
Some time later I showed the pine wood line to the chief forester from New Zealand Forest Products (NZFP) and he was amazed at what the line could handle. He asked me who had designed it, and when I told him it was Simons he said that they had just designed a pine wood line for the NZFP mill in NZ and they were having many problems supplying pulpwood prepared to a standard capable of being handled by the new wood line.
The major problem with harvesting eucalypt species in Victoria is debarking. Nearly all the species used at Maryvale Mill had fibrous bark, which weighed roughly 10% of the combined weight of the stem with the bark on. Further, if the bark came in to the mill, apart from the increased cartage cost for something that had no economic market, the fibrous nature of the bark resulted in the conveyor belts grinding to a halt as they became entangled in bark.
I had long been annoyed, as a forester, in our inability to economically thin the native forests that had prolifically regenerated after being clear felled for sawlogs and pulpwood. There was a large resource available that was being wasted while we waited for nature to kill the suppressed stems in these stands as they grew to maturity. If we could economically thin them, we would not only capture a resource that was wasted before, but we would shorten the time it took for the stands to grow to sawlog size. Bill Kerruish’s CSIRO team was also working on this problem but had not come up with an answer.
At the time, a salesman called Bob Smith was trying to persuade me to buy a Finnish Lako harvesting head, which was mounted on an excavator and used feed rolls to pull the stem through the delimbing knives. The machine was meant for pine harvesting, but I decided to run a small trial with it in eucalypt thinning. One day, the hydraulics to the delimbing knives failed, and we were considering stopping the trial. However, I asked the operator to try processing a few stems without the delimbing knives. To everyone’s amazement, the bark peeled off the stems as they were drawn through the feed rolls.
Kerruish’s team had established that it required much less effort to strip eucalypt bark from a stem if it was twisted off compared to trying to strip it off. We had already trialled the Logma in eucalypt thinning expecting it to be able to strip the bark from the stems, but it had been a failure. So I persuaded Bob Smith to get the bars on the feed rolls of his machine to be modified to an angle, so that they were trying to turn the stem as it was pulled through the feed rolls. As the stem still had its canopy on, it resisted this turning, so a strong twisting moment was applied to the bark. This was effective, and the technique has been used in eucalypt harvesting ever since. It had long been recognized that it was much easier to debark eucalypts if it was done immediately after falling the tree, and here was a machine that debarked each stem as soon as it was felled. Further, it left the bark widely distributed through the stand where its nutrient value would be maximised as it rotted away.
The larger stems at the time were debarked using an excavator fitted with a “Crab Grab” head. This machine was also capable of loading the wood on to the log trucks, so it became widely used in logging operations. However, nowadays some massive tree harvesters using a scaled up version of Bob Smith’s Finnish Lako harvesting head and, manufactured by Waratah, are widely used in eucalypt harvesting operations.
APM Forests was established in 1951;by APM Limited to manage the input of wood from State Forest into the Maryvale Pulp and Paper Mill, but more importantly to establish a source of softwood fibre to allow the production of strong papers (cardboard and sacks). APMF began planting pines in Gippsland in 1951 southwest of Sale on the sandy soils of the coastal plain. Over the next 40 years the estate grew to a total of approximately 85,000 hectares of which 42,500 was pine plantation (P.radiata) and 7,000 eucalypt plantation (mainly E.regnans) with the remainder being native forest. This land was mostly freehold title with a smaller amount (ca. 11,000 ha) being in long-term leases from the Victorian Government – mainly on the northern half of the Strzelecki Ranges.
After a number of small nursery sites were used in the early years, an ongoing nursery was established at Crookes Creek Longford in the mid 1950’s which is on the Southern side of the Longford Rosedale Road.
Many millions of P.radiata seedlings were produced there until 1978 when the nursery operations were transferred to the Richmond Nursery Cowwarr on the banks of the Thomson River adjacent to Cowwarr Weir. This nursery was named after Keith Richmond who led the nursery operations up until that time. The Richmond Nursery Cowwarr is still in production today (2018) producing seedlings and cuttings. A key figure the nursery operations for most of those years was the late Johnny Abel a dedicated and hard-working nurseryman. In addition the nursery at Cowwarr pioneered the large scale production of radiata pine propagation by cuttings from advanced generation stool beds, a first for the world.
The nursery site at Cowwarr also hosted a large pine seed orchard and advanced breeding program ensuring high quality plants both genetically and physically. In 2006 a significant wildfire impacted on the nursery, destroying the caretaker house, machinery sheds, machinery and about 25% of the crop. The sheds were rebuilt and the machinery replaced without the loss of a year’s planting.
In addition to the pines, APMF was establishing a plantation resource of E.regnans for use in packaging papers and later in fine writing/business papers. The seedlings for this were grown in the Traralgon Nursery located on Argyle St (Princes Highway) between Liddiard Road and Head Street. APMF had a site at this location which was a nursery, workshop, fire store, storeroom and research centre. The site was sold in 1984 when the entire facility was relocated to the APMF site on the southern edge of the Maryvale Mill adjacent to the Mill weighbridge.
APMF ceased planting eucalypts from 1980 to 1986, but began again in 1987. This followed the conversion of one of the paper machines to a photocopy machine requiring more high quality hardwood fibre. To service this need the Angus Pollock Eucalypt Nursery was established to grow eucalypt seedlings and conduct propagation and breeding research. Angus Pollock was a long-serving General Manager of APMF. This nursery produced many million E.regnans, E.nitens and E.globulus seedlings in containers over many years up until 2005. Key innovations over that time were the development and application of browsing animal repellents, the use of cupric carbonate to reduce root spiralling in pots, the use of direct seeding into trays by machine, and the use of osmotic priming of seeds to get uniform germination directly in trays.
The nursery at Maryvale is now partly leased to a private nursery company, and partly retained by Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP) for a tree breeding and research facility. The nursery is now known as the Maryvale Nursery.
Most of HVP’s planting stock requirement is currently grown at Gelliondale (near Yarram) in a massive nursery/tree breeding facility, growing over 10 million plants a year, mainly in containers.
APMF was expanding pine plantations into areas that had not had pines before, and there were many challenges. APMF also established and resourced a large research and development effort aimed at growing the maximum amount of wood on the least land with the least impact to the community and environment. In addition to the effort by APMF, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) had a field station of the Division of Forest Research co-located with APMF at the research facility in Traralgon from about 1970 to 1983. This proved to be very synergistic and resulted in a productive period for plantation research in Gippsland.
APMF were faced with many nutritional challenges. Research identified key nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. As well as the usual nitrogen and phosphorous deficiencies key issues were discovered particularly related to potassium and copper. A detailed soil mapping exercise was initiated and completed in the late 1970’s, and this became the foundation for nutrient management but also for growth modelling, harvesting seasonality and wood property research. Key figures involved in this area of research were Mike Hall, Robin Cromer, Nigel Turvey, Philip Smethurst and Chris Weston.
APMF also pioneered a computer-based forest management system in the early 1970’s utilising live inventory data and growth models to optimise the management of the estate. This was very innovative and initially based on mainframe computer systems based out of the Southgate and then Camberwell Offices. Key figures involved in this aspect of research were John Dargavel, Peter Filmer, Darryl Cowen, Henry Lieshout and Malcolm Mann.
Weeds presented a major problem for plantation establishment and growth. Competition for moisture was the major issue. APMF was heavily involved in the research and introduction of herbicides used in pine establishment, particularly hexazinone and those used in eucalypt establishment particularly simazine, clopyralid and haloxyfop. In addition APMF developed a program for blackberry control using goats.
Browsing animal issues were enormous in the Strzelecki and Longford areas, and following the decision of APMF to cease using 1080 poison, a large research program looking at alternatives for controlling browsing animals was conducted. This led to some developments of repellents and more targeted control methods still in use today. Key figures involved in this research on pests and weeds included John Cameron, Tom Montague, Dick McCarthy and Braden Jenkin.
Insects were also a problem and a major collaborative program was started to tackle sirex wood-wasp as well as other minor issues.
APMF had very advanced and active genetic improvement programs resulting in advanced generation breeding for both pines and eucalypts. These programs were in strong collaboration with the CSIRO. In addition a program of vegetative propagation by cuttings was commercialised, including intensively managed stool beds. This program is still maintained to date.
Considerable effort was put into vegetative propagation of eucalypts and tissue culture of both eucalypts and pine. Despite showing promise, none of these became commercial realities and, as has occurred around the globe for radiata pine and temperate eucalypts, propagation has reverted to seedlings and macrocuttings for pine and seedlings for eucalypts.
In addition, despite many species trials testing a wide range of pines and eucalypts across a wide range of sites in Gippsland, no species has been found that is more suitable than radiata pine on any site. In a commercial sense the only eucalypt species that has been found to date to provide comparable growth is E.nitens when planted on fertile high rainfall sites.
Key figures involved in genetics, tree breeding and propagation research included Ken Eldridge, Rod Griffin, John Cameron, Maarty Krygsman and Phil Whiteman
APMF had a strong focus on wood properties due to the in-house downstream processing at the Maryvale Pulp Mill and the Brown and Dureau Sawmill in Morwell. There was a strong focus on wood density in the tree breeding program and also in site selection and harvesting mix. Wood density was highly correlated with paper tear strength and is affected by site, growth rate and genetics. Much work was done to improve wood density but also to model the expected wood density of the wood entering Maryvale. Key figures in this research were Alan Farrington, John Cameron and Phil Whiteman.
APMF maintained a strong relationship with researchers from the abovementioned Government entities. In particular the following people featured strongly in collaboration - Leon Pederick (Genetics and Tree breeding), David Flynn (Soils and Pest control), Ian Smith and Geoff Marks (Pests and Diseases), Fred Neumann (Insect control) and Gary Waugh (Wood quality).
APMF also participated strongly in the Australian Research Working Group structure having strong participation in RWG1 - Genetics; RWG2 - Mensuration and Modelling; RWG 3 - Soils and Nutrition and RWG5 - Plantation Silviculture.
"Let us regard the forest as an inheritance, not to be destroyed or devastated, but to be wisely used, reverently honoured and carefully maintained. Let us regard the forest as a gift, entrusted to any of us only for transient care, to be surrendered to posterity as an unimpaired property, increased in riches and augmented in blessings, to pass as a sacred patrimony from generation to generation."
Baron Ferdinand von Mueller - Suggestions on the Maintenance, Creation and Enrichment of Forests (1879)