Towns and cities are usually born as a result of colonisation, exploration and settlement. At other times, towns are born as a result of the discovery of resources. One only has to look at the Victorian gold-rush of the 1800s to see the establishment of towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo as an example of this. Occasionally though, towns are established as the direct result of government policy and the creation of industry.
In 1873, the South Australian Government introduced the Forest Trees Planting Encouragement Bill in order to stimulate tree planting in South Australia. The first plantings occurred in 1875. In the early 1900’s, the South Australian Government established large forests of Radiata Pine across what would become known as “The Green Triangle”. Logging and milling was the next logical progression. A timber mill was needed as well as employees to run the operation. The question was where to house the employees.
The state government of the day opted to build, not just a timber mill, but an entire town with which to support the operation. The government established all the facilities a town requires – homes, shops, schools, etc. The town was built from local materials and erected on government owned forestry reserve.
The timber mill opened in the early part of the 1930s. The operation was modelled on Scandinavian timber mills. Radiata Pine itself is native to the Scandinavian region. For this reason, workmen from Scandinavia were brought to Australia to install and supervise the machinery workings. The timber mill was an immediate success and employed hundreds of people churning out over 2,500,000 metres of timber per year. The government established more timber mills in the green triangle area and the timber industry became the leading employer in the district.
The operation was not without its challenges. A devastating bushfire ravaged the local forests during the 1940s placing huge strain upon an industry already suffering through the loss of manpower to the war effort of World War Two.
In 1991, South Australia suffered a huge financial blow with the collapse of the State Bank. Over $3 billion in government-guaranteed funds was lost. What followed was akin to a fire sale. Government assets were sold and privatised – a legacy South Australia lives with even 25 years later.
Consequently, in 1993, the timber mill was sold to a large multi-national. The town, which until then had been owned by various State Government agencies such as Forestry SA and Housing SA, was sold piece by piece. With a number of timber mills operating across the region, as well as ongoing maintenance costs and mounting upgrade costs, the new owner did what any large company does when faced with such challenges: it cut costs by consolidating operations. Multiple timber mills operating in the region may have suited the market needs and transport infrastructure of the 1930s but replicating services across multiple smaller sites made little sense in the modern world. In the early part of the 2000s the timber mill closed leaving many local people unemployed.
Today, portions of the site have been repurposed for other uses. Large parts of the site however have been left to decay and collapse. The town itself quietly survives – the former timber mill a stark reminder of what was once a thriving community.