Millionaires Graeme Wood, Jan Cameron to turn former Gunns woodchip mill into tourist attraction

2 December, 2013 Uncategorized0

By Michael Atkin

Updated 51 minutes ago

Two Australian millionaires will transform a key Tasmanian woodchip mill into a major tourist attraction, in a blow to the State Government and the forestry industry.

The Triabunna mill was sold to co-founder Graeme Wood and Kathmandu clothing brand founder Jan Cameron in 2011 for $10 million. Both are passionate environmentalists.

The forestry industry and the State Government have been desperate for the site to re-open, but Mr Wood has confirmed to 7.30 that will not be happening.

Environmental Protection Authority approval for the site to operate lapsed in May and it has now entered a rehabilitation phase.

The multi-purpose development will be known as Spring Bay Mill and will seek to boost tourism on the island, which is facing a faltering economy.

“I think it is time to move on. I’m interested in the future, I’m interested in economic development [and] Tasmania needs it badly,” Mr Wood said.

“I see this as the most effective way of achieving that.”

Mr Wood and Ms Cameron had maintained the site, formerly owned by timber giant Gunns, would be re-opened to forestry, even putting the running of the mill out to tender.

But Mr Wood is unapologetic about keeping it closed.

“We never got one tender that made economic sense and the reason for that was wood-chipping makes less and less sense internationally,” he said.

The value of woodchip exports fell by over 40 per cent in the past five years.

Shutting key infrastructure ‘ludicrous’

But James Neville Smith, who runs Neville Smith Timbers, a major player in the Tasmanian forestry industry, is not impressed.

“The whole of Tasmania should be disappointed about that decision,” Mr Smith said.

“The proposition that that infrastructure is shut and will remain shut is ludicrous.”

He challenged Mr Wood’s claim that the woodchip mill would not make money.

“If you chose to operate that site right now it would be a good business, but people do weird things,” he said.

If you chose to operate that site right now it would be a good business, but people do weird things.

James Neville Smith


“That would allow the state commercial body Forestry Tasmania to generate significant revenue that has otherwise been lost because they have to cart the wood to the north of the state.”

But Mr Wood is unfazed by the criticism, deriding it as “last-century thinking”.

He gave 7.30 an exclusive tour of the 43-hectare site to flesh-out his radically different vision. It is wide-ranging, including accommodation, artistic performances, a culinary school and farm stays.

He believes the tourism development needed a fresh start with a new name.

“Spring Bay Mill just has a nice ring to it,” he said.

“We’re not wanting to deny the forest history. I mean history is history.

“We’d like to incorporate as much of the existing infrastructure into the site as we can.”

Location, scenery represents ‘untapped potential’

Triabunna’s prime location is a major feature of the development. The key attraction is Maria Island national park, a former convict settlement and home to a disease-free population of Tasmanian devils.

“Triabunna’s fascinating because it is on the mid-point of the East Coast, an hour from Hobart airport,” Mr Wood said.

The whole East Coast, if you drive the whole length, it’s got pristine features: clear water, clear air, magnificent scenery.

Graeme Wood


“The whole East Coast, if you drive the whole length, it’s got pristine features: clear water, clear air, magnificent scenery. It’s untapped potential for me.”

But tourists have not been heading there in great numbers: just 12,000 travel to Maria Island each year.

Mr Wood is confident he can succeed where the tourism industry has failed.

“When you look at the natural beauty of this place, I’d have to say not enough people know about it,” he said.

“The tourism industry here hasn’t been coherent enough, bold enough.”

Link with MONA could provide ‘leg-up’

The first public performance at the site will be in January in a cavernous rusted tin shed that was previously used to store equipment.

The performance is a joint production with David Walsh’s MONA FOMA music festival.

“The Australian Chamber Orchestra string quartet, plus a couple of friends, are going to come and perform here,” Mr Wood said.

It is a strategic move to get involved with the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which is known for its unique events and art that focuses heavily on the themes of sex and death.

MONA has also changed the type of tourism the state is known for.

“800,000 people go there (to MONA) in a year,” Mr Wood said.

“If 10 per cent of those can come here and experience some weird industrial stuff going on here as well as all of the other tourist attractions, that’s not a bad leg-up.”

The Spring Bay Mill development is in its infancy, with no development approvals, a need for new investors and no estimates on the number of jobs it will create.

“We don’t have a really solid business plan,” Mr Wood said.

“We’ve got a lot concepts that we want to try. Some will win, some will lose. But I take gambles all the time. That’s the business that I’m in.”


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