Neville Smith Forest Products Pty Ltd (NSFP) produces high quality, sustainable, Tasmanian Oak hardwood products for local, domestic and international markets through an integrated hardwood processing business operating from Southwood, near Hobart, and Mowbray in Launceston, Tasmania.
The family-owned and -operated company began three generations ago in 1924, when Neville Smith opened a small business in central Melbourne; selling perfume, cigarette holders and sporting goods. By 1926, the business centred on the selling of Victorian timber and the company had acquired its first of three timber yards in South Melbourne. A year later and the business had expanded to Tasmania with the purchase of a timber yard in Launceston. The company was well-regarded for supporting worker’s rights during the 1929 Timber Workers Strike and proudly retained its entire staff through the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
The business continued to expand through the 1930s and in 1934 it opened its first sawmill asht Hoddles Creek near Melbourne, and its first Tasmanian mill at Forester in 1947. Many other mills followed around Victoria and Tasmania. By 1937 its three South Melbourne timber yards were overflowing and the company regularly purchased sawmills’ entire outputs in advance. The company continued to expand and by the 1950s was importing timber from South East Asia.
By the 1970s, the focus of the business was the sawmilling, seasoning and processing of Victorian and Tasmanian hardwood. The company was producing 33,040 cubic metres (14 million super feet) of timber products annually by 1973 with demand consistently outpacing production. Further mills were purchased in eastern Victoria including two large mills at Heyfield, providing a constant economic support for these small rural communities.
An international branch of the company began exporting timber to Europe in the late 1970s, with the company earning its first export award in 1981. In 1995, the company began exporting timber to Japan, before expanding to Taiwan, Thailand, Korea and New Zealand.
By 2000, Neville Smith Timber Products (NSTP) was the largest hardwood sawmiller in Victoria and the second largest in Tasmania. The company directly employed over 250 people and had over 200,000 cubic metres of holdings in Victoria alone.
NSTP was one of the first groups in the timber industry to support environmentally friendly and sustainable harvesting and to work with environmental groups to achieve sustainable outcomes. The company principally focused on value-adding to timber and regrowth. NSTP was the first company in Australia to chip instead of burn its end dockings, and pushed forward the idea of charging each length of timber in 100mm increments instead of the usual 300mm. NSTP was also one of the first groups in Australia to harvest, process and value add younger regrowth logs from non-sensitive areas. By 2004, NSTP was Australia’s largest regrowth hardwood producer and the only company to kiln dry (season) and value add its entire hardwood production of Tasmanian Oak.
In 2004 the family sold their shares of the company, and the Neville Smith Group merged with ITC to form the second largest integrated forestry company listed on the Australian stock exchange. Despite this, the Neville Smith family retained equity in the company.
In 2006, Elders (Then Futuris Ltd) acquired through a scheme of arrangement the balance of the shares in ITC and for the first time in 82 years the Neville Smith family were out of the forest industry.
In 2011, James Neville Smith and Ken Last put together a plan to re-enter the sector. At this time Gunns Ltd was in financial trouble and the industry in Tasmania was in turmoil. However the consortium making up the Neville Smith Family and Ken Last took a more positive and optimistic view and went about acquiring several strategic assets. Through Neville Smith Forest Products Pty Ltd (NSFP) the group acquired the plant and equipment at the Mowbray processing facility; this was the original block of land that James’ grandfather Neville Smith had acquired back in the early days to season green timber before it was sent to Victoria. The facility today is comprised of an automatic racking line for green timber, re-conditioning chambers, kilns and, most importantly, a fully automated boiler used for generating heat and in turn drying the timber in the kilns. The dry mill processing shed was emptied by Gunns and needed to be completely re built with dust extraction, moulders, in-feeds and out-feeds, end matchers, straight line edger’s etc
Once the processing facility was secured, the group then negotiated with Gunns to acquire their entire existing inventory. This provided the processing facility with immediate stock for sale in addition to the rack stock that was in various stages of drying. The missing piece of the strategy was longer term stock and supply. This issue was solved by taking over the Southwood sawmill, along with a log supply contract for 40,000m3 of regrowth high quality sawlogs.
By mid-2012, the business was up and running and the supply of Tasmanian Oak flooring, architraves, mouldings and DAR products was again flowing out into the market under the Neville Smith name. Today the business employs in excess of 100 staff directly, and at least twice that indirectly.
The group has also played a role in supporting the Intergovernmental Forestry Agreement in recent times and is delighted to see the agreement legislated through the Tasmanian Parliament. The group are passionate about the forest industry and believe with this agreement, the industry should now be able to focus on driving efficiency through investment and innovation and striving to maximise the value out of all aspects of the sustainable forest operation through new market investment – all of which is good for the business, good for the environment—culminating in very positive news for many timber communities around Tasmania.