Max Hickey, the longest-serving Bostobrick mill employee.
Max Hickey, the longest-serving Bostobrick mill employee.

Shut the gate


MAX and Dave, Wayne, Bill and Stuart, Rick, Cathy . . . and Bosto, Dot and the kelpie. They straggle out of the propped-open gate of Bostobrick sawmill, men, women . . . and dogs. Bosto is sitting on his haunches by the road, waiting for a log truck that will never arrive. The last log, ironbark, has finished its journey through the mill and the sawn timber has been sorted on the table. But they're all reluctant to leave their known world. Hope of a new start, doubts about leaving town or staying put, fear of losing their homes or feeling useless, worries over money, loneliness, relationships, new faces and new places. This is the human face of forestry structural adjustment and economic rationalism. This is what it's like for 22 people facing a new and unexpected change of direction in their lives. Dougie Buchanan is just 18 and Max Hickey and Bill Gilbert are closer to 63 than 62, but all of them have enjoyed working at Boral's Bostobrick sawmill, which closed yesterday. Dougie, who started work at the mill just four months ago, says it was okay working with his father, foreman Stuart Buchanan, 'because no one picked on me'. The high school footballer said sawmill work had even been fun. "You work up a pretty good sweat," he said. Trim saw operator Max Hickey has worked at the Dorrigo and Bostobrick sawmill for more than 34 years. He has lost most of the hearing in one ear from all those years of work before earmuffs became mandatory. "I'm 62. I started in the mill when I was 15. The work never changes much, it's still hard yakka," he said. "I'd work if I had a choice, but I'm too old to get another job." Bill Gilbert is a week younger than Max Hickey. His father Charles Gilbert was once the maintenance man for the Bostobrick mill. He and his wife have relatives all around the plateau and they live on land which has been in the Gilbert family for more than 100 years. They are not about to leave the village and he'll still keep the village park mowed. "It's all over, red rover," he said. "Everyone wants to advise you what to do - but I'm going to do what I want to do." Log yard forklift operator Wayne Moult starts at Boral's Herons Creek mill on Monday, a mill which 'makes this place look like a pub.' He came back to the plateau after 15 years in Queensland and got work at the Bostobrick mill three years ago. "I thought when I left I'd never come back," he said. But the plateau gets its hooks into its citizens." So it's goodbye and good luck to Bob Greenhalgh, Paul Couch, Graeme Harvey, John Lamb, Wayne Fittock, Craig Fittock, Daniel Lombo, Stuart Buchanan, Dougie Buchanan, David Bale, Rick Campbell, Cath Hartin, Ronnie Belmore, Leigh Jago, Michael English, Bill Gilbert, John Pryor, Wayne Moult, Alan Luke, Max Hickey, Mark Upton and Phil Grace ? the last of a long line.

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