Import system had people foremost in the planning
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN-based Durable Hardwoods, operated by Rod Taverner and Justin Daws, started about 20 years ago with the specific intention of importing timber sourced from low ecological impact villagebased operations in Papua New Guinea. After working there for many years Rod had developed an empathy with the country and its people at a grassroots level.
“We have broadened our business plan to source and supply timber from ecologically sound sources wherever possible. Our main stock lines are Kwila and PNG Rosewood, two of The finest and the most versatile timbers available. We dry and dress timber on site to clients’ requirements, whether from our main stock species or other Australian or imported species,” Rod explained.
“Over the years we have developed a network of reputable sawmills and timber merchants so that we can handle projects large and small.
“Our site at Lonsdale (south of the Adelaide CBD) is our third location since starting business and we now have permanency and room to move.
“We make a particular effort to be sure our clients understand the properties of the timbers they are considering for their projects,” said Rod.
He said Adelaide was an interesting and challenging market. “Other than Pine, Victorian Ash and Jarrah, the appreciation of timber (particularly hardwoods), its properties and its applications is low, both among the professionals and the public.
“Consequently, there are many projects around Adelaide that have not met the users’ expectations – not because timber is inappropriate for the job, but because inappropriate timbers have been supplied. Our goal, alongside supplying ecologically sourced timber, is to make every effort to be sure our clients get a species that is fit for the purpose to which it is being put and that they understand the properties of that species.
“As all timber merchants know, supplying timber from “ecologically branded” sources is more marketing than science,” Rod said.
“For instance, when we sourced timber from village-based harvesters it provided both ecological and social benefits to the PNG villagers that may not be immediately apparent to Australians with accessible health care, education and social security. Village-based harvesting gives the villagers control over their only major asset – their forests. It gives them work, an income, and the opportunity to pay school fees for their children, and buy medicines when they are sick – education and health care is not free in PNG and there is no Social Security.
“Village-based harvesting has the lowest impact of any timber harvesting. It is species-selective, very small scale using portable equipment and leaving all the waste to decompose in the forest. Regeneration is rapid.
“We also paid the villagers well for their timber. The royalty for log paid by the international logging companies was Kina 50 per cubic metre. We paid 25 times that for sawn board and that much again once it had been graded for export.”
Rod said Papua New Guineans had lost immense areas to “legal” loggers since WW2 with the timber going to Asia, if in fact it wasn’t windrowed and burnt to clear for oil palm plantations.
“The royalty payments were small and were quickly spent.
"They derived no enduring benefit and were left with a degraded environment or vast acreages of oil palm, which
many might say is the same thing.
“Now, the villagers are reluctant to allow logging, although it is forced upon them by the Government issuing Timber Permits to overseas loggers.”
Rod said that, generally, people respected the efforts we have made to diminish the impact of timber harvesting on the environment by using village-based harvesters. “Certainly it is small scale because if it wasn’t it would be no different to commercial logging. Its benefits are local, not national.
“The Illegal Logging Act will now end this practice if we want to continue buying from PNG. PNG law makes it illegal for villagers to harvest timber unless they have a Timber Authority. “These are issued for selective logging operations for the domestic market. We are getting professional advice on the legality of importing timber from a source covered by a Timber Authority to ensure we are compliant with Australian law,” he said.
“The impact of the Illegal Logging Act on our business is probably small. However, our capacity to support Papua New Guineans at a village level, which was the founding principle of this business, has been eliminated for the present.
“In the meantime, we will not purchase from the “legal” loggers, whose main interest is in exporting logs, not valueadded product. Also, their logging and business practices are not consistent with our ethical and conservationist values.
“On the other hand, the Act will have no impact on companies like the main Malaysian logger in PNG, Ribunan Hijau. Their log exports go to Asia with no value adding or material benefit to the PNG people. They will continue to use their environmentally destructive logging practices. The loop will continue of illegal logs going into Asian sawmills and coming out as legal, certificated products.
“Australia’s laws have zero impact on their business plan,” Rod said.
“The greatest impact on our business is the lack of consumer confidence, which hit its lowest for 17 years in SA in June of last year. It appears to be on the rebound, but that is likely to take a hit with the fall in the dollar and the commensurate increase in the shop-floor price of our many imported items.
“The constant political wrangling doesn’t help either – basic economic theory doesn’t rely solely on Government spending for economic stimulus. Generating a positive view of the future loosens consumers’ purse strings and that positive view is lacking at present and our political leaders are doing little to build that positive view.
“Our clients come from the more conservative group in the community and according to surveys these are the ones with the lowest consumer confidence. For us, this is particularly the over-40s who have had tight budgets when they were younger and did cheap get-by jobs. They now want to get the job done and done properly so that it will last with minimal maintenance - if they have the confidence to spend!
“This also applies to our commercial and Government clients.
“We have maintained our turnover target over the last two years, but we have not gone into price-cutting. Clients can either afford hardwood or they cannot. No-one can compete with Pinus on price, but hardwood can certainly compete on quality, performance and durability. Also, we have sacrificed a lot to build up our stock of seasoned, quality product and there is no benefit in dumping that on the market solely for cash-flow. "In this difficult trading environment, we have not increased our advertising budget. We rely on our website and word-ofmouth. This is a challenging approach because we have to sell on the basis of quality, service and professionalism, not price alone. However, it is also personally satisfying because we generate loyal repeat clients, instead of one-off customers.
“Our business probably belongs in an earlier time and goes against much of today’s practice. Our client base covers school projects to civil projects. We provide personalized service to our clients, whether city, country or interstate. Our substantial stock of quality timber is machined in-house and we indent from reputable mills to meet client’s expectations for other species. We do not sell Pine,” Rod said.
PNG village sawmill.
Machinery maintenance blocks for mining.
Rod Taverner and saw operator Stephen reprocessing village Rosewood flitch.
Timber coatings test area.
Geoff Wright at a Log Pond Bialla.