The Pulp Paper Trail: a gift to the community of Burnie.
From Emu Bay to Burnie…
Burnie is a city on the north-west coast of Tasmania, and a major deep-water port for the north of Tasmania. Originally settled in 1827 as Emu Bay, the name ‘Emu Bay’ was chosen because the Tasmanian sub-species of emu, which was smaller than the mainland Australia emu, roamed the area at the time of settlement. This sub-species became extinct in the 1850s. The town was renamed in the early 1840s for William Burnie, a director of the Van Diemen’s Land Company. Burnie was declared a city in 1988, with a population exceeding 23,000, but that figure has now decreased, the City of Burnie today has a population of 19,160 (2012).
Associated Pulp and Paper Mills
Burnie today is a city in transition, the major industry, APPM (Associated Pulp and Paper Mills) upon which the town grew to its height has now closed. When APPM began production in 1938 the impact on the town was nothing short of astonishing, this industry set Burnie on its path to becoming a city. The rate of building prior to APPM was only around 20 houses per year, but in the year ended June 1938 when the South Burnie mills were being established 262 houses were built. Prior to APPM, Burnie had a population of around 4,000, but by 1945 the population had risen to 10,000, by 1965 it was around 18,500. As the town continued to grow the port was expanded, container facilities were built and the paper mill grew larger, becoming the biggest employer on the North West Coast.
The Pulp Paper Trail…
Located on the foreshore at Burnie, opposite where the remains of the paper mill stand is a new interpretive walk, The Pulp Paper Trail. The Pulp Paper Trail was designed to honour the men and women who came from and to the North West Coast of Tasmania to work at Burnie’s pulp and paper mill between the years of 1937 and 2010. Slowly the historic paper mill is being demolished. Locally known as ‘The Pulp’, the mill was a dominant part of both the life and the landscape of Burnie for almost three quarters of a century. At its peak, The Pulp employed around 3,600 people. The history of the mill is also a major part of the history of Burnie itself and this 600 metre long path, The Pulp Paper Trail, tells the story.
A Vision for Burnie…
The man behind the vision to build the pulp and paper mill in Burnie was Sir Gerald Mussen, a New Zealander, who like many others came to Australia in 1897 to seek his fortune in the Coolgardie Gold Rush. His vision began when visiting Tasmania’s North West in 1908 where he saw the vast tracts of eucalypt forest in the region. Although he had very little experience in the paper making industry, Sir Gerald Mussen pursued his grand vision to build a pulp and paper mill in Burnie. After thirty years of setbacks, but fuelled by sheer determination, this man’s vision was realised, and the first paper rolled off the machines in Burnie’s Pulp and Paper Mill in August, 1938. Today, history remembers Sir Gerald Mussen as ‘The Father of the Pulp’, his vision now recognised as having played a major role in the growth and development of Burnie.
The Papermaking Machines…
At the heart of production was the paper machine itself, a very large piece of machinery. During 72 years of operations at the Burnie mill ten different paper machines were installed, with up to eight machines in operation at the height of production. These paper machines were around the length of a soccer field and produced a sheet of paper up to 5 metres wide. When the first paper was produced at the Burnie mill in 1938 the sheet speed on the No. 1 papermaking machine was 15 kilometres per hour, the machines running at the end of operations in 2010 produced paper at a speed of 550–600 metres of paper per minute.
The Pulp held ‘family’ in high regard and was a well-known company for ‘looking after’ its employees. The APPM Council was founded in 1938, from the vision of Sir Gerald Mussen, a man who emphasised the importance of family and employee welfare. This council managed medical and hospital cover, a dental clinic, scholarship funds, life assurance and home building schemes which were among the most original and advanced in Australia. There was also a canteen which doubled as a ballroom, sporting clubs and even a rifle range.
Children’s fancy dress balls and the Pulp Christmas Tree were also annual events organised for children of the employees. As a child of an APPM employee I have fond memories of these events, the Pulp Christmas Tree being a highlight of every Christmas season. The APPM Council was succeeded by Health Care Insurance Ltd., a not-for-profit health fund which still serves the forestry, timber, paper and down-stream processing industries today. The Pulp played a major part in both Kevin’s and my lives, both having parents who worked at the mill most of their working lives, not only parents, but brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Kevin too was employed by The Pulp for 21 years.
A Symbolic Echo…
So, when next in Burnie, take the time to stop at the foreshore, opposite where The Pulp once stood. Walk the 600 metre path which represents a giant paper reel unrolling, the path a symbolic echo of The Pulp. A leisurely stroll and interpretive sites along the way will tell you the history of Burnie’s paper industry, the history of one man’s vision which gave so many families in Tasmania a good start in life! This interpretive walk was gifted to the Community of Burnie by Paperlinx, the last owners of The Pulp.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography.
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