Tasmania’s Stories

High-end market loves Hydrowood

Edition 183_Hydrowood_Salvage

Innovative business Hydrowood — and the government decision-makers who backed it — have struck an unusual jackpot in Tasmania's man-made lakes.

They are dragging trees from the chilly depths that contain timber that has become sought-after in the top end of the timber market.

And they calculate that they have enough of it to maintain supply for perhaps another 30 years.

The Managing Director of SFM Forest Products, Andrew Morgan, said 50km-long Lake Pieman, where his company has launched its operations, could be hiding 80,000 tonnes of in-demand timber in its tannin-darkened waters.

Hydro Tasmania dammed the Pieman River in 1986 to produce more of the renewable power that was driving hydro-industrialisation.

The Pieman Valley forests that were soon to be submerged were selectively logged, but it was a rushed job and much valuable timber was left standing.

The once-dominant eucalypts still raise limbs through the lake's surface and they are a valuable resource.

But such under-storey species as myrtle, sassafras, celery-top pine and Huon pine have increased enormously in value since the 1980s as more than half of Tasmania's land surface has been progressively declared off-limit to loggers.

The last major lock-up, the 2013 Forest Peace Deal, caused a new spike in the value of minor species wood.

The under-storey trees can't be seen from above the surface so Mr Morgan and his team needed to get creative.

"Our harvesting machinery mirrors forest operations on the land except that the 45-tonne harvester sits on a GPS-positioned barge," Mr Morgan said.

Attached to the harvester is a long hydraulic extension arm that can reach down to depths of 26 metres.

The company is investing in a new sonar system that will enable them to work at greater depths.

"The telescopic harvesting arm is based on a crane's design except it doesn't need as much force because it's not pushing up," Mr Morgan said.

On the end of the extension arm is a huge red claw that grabs the base of a tree and then cuts through it with a hydraulic chainsaw.

The operator needs to be versed in forestry methods and is required to hold a marine master's certificate.

The Hydrowood founders reasoned that logging skills were easier to acquire than a maritime certificate so they recruited qualified skipper, Will Gordon.

After a single day of operations, Mr Gordon told the ABC's Fiona Breen: "I think I've worked it out. I've only done it 10 times.

"You grab the log sort of loosely and feel your way down, grab it tightly, put a little bit of upward pressure on there ... when the log [is cut it] comes up a little bit."

Before investing in their equipment, the Tasmanian team had researched similar underwater harvesting projects in British Columbia.

"What we saw was that you can do this, it is possible," Mr Morgan said. "We then went and approached Hydro Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government about a feasibility study and they funded us.

"We went out and proved the wood was sound, that there was technology out there to extract the timber safely.

"The advanced manufacturing skills of some Tasmanian partners were really important to us. We worked with Taylor Brothers, Plastic Fabrications, William Adams and Cawthorns to build the barge."

The Federal Government helped out with $5 million in seed funding and as Mr Morgan said "the rest is history".

The company expects to work Lake Pieman for three or four more years and has identified five other man-made lakes with significant submarine resource.

"We’re probably thinking that there’s 20 years’ worth of resource there, at least," Mr Morgan said. "So we’re talking about tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of tonnes of timber."

Lake Pieman, with its ageless surrounding forests, feels a long way from anywhere.

"We’re on the west coast," Mr Morgan said. "There’s lots of mines and there’s a lot of mine support here ... those guys have been fantastic."

Salvaged logs are moved to Wynyard on the north-west coast for milling and then to Exeter, in the Tamar Valley, for kiln drying.

"There’s obviously a lot of transport stages in that supply chain and it’s been quite challenging," Mr Morgan said.

The kiln-dried timber's quality is as good as that of land-harvested timber.

"Once it was inundated it became frozen in time. So that timber hasn’t deteriorated ... it’s pretty much a beautiful piece of special species," Mr Morgan said.

"We’re pulling out myrtle, blackwood, celery top pine, sassafras and we’re also getting a bit of Huon pine and a little bit of eucalypt.

"So it’s those key Tasmanian species, those ones that furniture designers and architects really want.

"We’re angling at high-end architectural and appearance-grade timbers. So furniture makers, joiners, architects, interior fitouts … those [applications] where the story really plays heavily."

The story — the timber's provenance — is arguably as valuable as the product itself.

"That’s really one of our strengths  ... along with the reclaimed environmental tick that it gets as well," Mr Morgan said.

"There’s a novel extraction method, but also the fact that it’s on the rugged west coast.

"It’s ethical, it’s sustainable. It fits the reclaimed/recycled market niche.

"And then you’ve got the overlay of Tasmanian specialty timber which is revered, anyway.

"It's resonating with people around the world. It’s really quite exciting."


 Image courtesy of the ABC

1 May 2017, Edition 183

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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