Scientific trials that shaped the State

Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, 26 December 1928

The scientific trials conducted at the Kermandie Experimental Pulp and Paper Mill site at Tasmania's Port Huon would create a burgeoning industry for the state and a supply of locally-produced pulp and paper for Australia.

The country's need to find a localised paper-production solution begins with World War I. Before the war, wood pulp used in the production of paper was imported, as was around 80 per cent of Australia's paper. During the war, disrupted supply chains impacted the few paper mills operating in Australia and by 1917 the country was facing an acute paper shortage.

This was the catalyst for the Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry (now CSIRO) to begin investigations into the use of eucalypt timber, rather than the commonly used coniferous timbers, to produce paper. By 1926, lead scientist Louis Benjamin and his team of researchers were consistently producing paper from pulped logs of young Eucalyptus regnans timber. Now they needed to prove financial viability on a commercial scale.

With financial backing, the Tasmanian Paper Pty Ltd was formed in 1927 to construct and operate a semi-commercial pilot pulp and paper mill at Kermandie. Support from the Tasmanian Government came with the introduction of the Kermandie Wood Pulp and Paper Industry Act 1926 and lease of around 400,000 acres in the Huon Valley of E. regnans forest for 99 years.

It would take the mill's technical superintendent Louis Benjamin only three months to realise that harvesting the young stands of E.regnans timber alone would provide no more than a few years of paper supply. “We would have to assume at once that the establishment of the industry depended on successfully pulping old-growth wood."

The team adapted their processes to successfully pulp old-growth E. regnans, and before the Great Depression forced closure of the mill in 1930, Benjamin and his team confirmed the suitability of old-growth Eucalypt wood for commercial-scale wood pulp and paper manufacturing. The outcomes would influence the industry's ongoing use of old-growth forests for many decades.

The chain of influence does not stop there.  Benjamin joined the Derwent Valley Paper Co Pty Ltd, which in partnership with leading Australian newspapers formed Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd (ANM). In 1938, ANM commissioned construction of the Boyer pulp and paper mill near New Norfolk. At the same time, Australian Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd (APPM) was formed, with its Burnie mill beginning paper production in 1938. The Boyer Mill opened in 1941. During World War II, the Boyer mill's output was used in a supply pool that kept the newspapers of Australia in circulation, and the Burnie mill was the sole source of fine writing and printing papers for the whole of Australia.

The remains of the Kermandie Experimental Pulp and Paper Mill are a reminder of the important technical achievements that took place in the later 1920s and which strongly influenced the developing paper-manufacturing industry in Tasmania.

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