Final whistle to blow on South West timber mills

EXCLUSIVE Angela PownallThe West Australian

Timber has been milled for more than a century in Pemberton and Manjimup in WA’s south.

But by next week that long tradition will have come to an end when the timber mills in both towns close for good.

The Pemberton mill closes next Thursday and the Manjimup centre shuts today as owner Austwest Timbers consolidates its operations at a single site in Greenbushes. Manjimup shire president Wade De Campo said it was the end of an era and he was concerned for the future of Pemberton and its “fragile” economy.

“The last whistle will be a sad day for the local economy and for those people. We’re living in tough times and it’s even tougher when you lose your job,” he said.

The Pemberton mill was built in 1913 and became one of numerous timber mills set up to capitalise on WA’s rich, established forests of karri and jarrah.

“Our shire really built the State of Western Australia. Every crossing, every bridge, every girder, every underground mine shaft came from this area,” Mr De Campo said.

About 60 people work at the Pemberton mill, 40 at the Manjimup site and a further 40 worked at the Deanmill site, which closed this year.

“There are people who have been left displaced so that is an issue for us as a local economy and community and we’re trying to support that,” he said.

“There are also issues where staff bought houses after being guaranteed 10 years of employment and they’ve only got two.

“Some chose not to do the 11/2-hour drive every day.”

Austwest Timbers site manager Mike Epp said all employees had been offered work at Greenbushes, or voluntary redundancy, with about 50 per cent choosing to leave.

“It’s about the scale of economy,” he said.

“We want to be a low-cost producer so we can be here in the long-term. There is an opportunity to be a long-term sustainable business.”

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