ONE of the Eastern Bay’s biggest employers, Whakatane Board Mill celebrated its 80th year of production this month. Eastern Bay Life has spoken to three of its long-term employees about how the mill has shaped their lives and those of their family members. But first, here is a bit of history about how it all started.


MR Kernot of the Norwich Union Insurance Society and some friends invest in a project to convert a 41,000 acre (16.5ha) tract of scrub and tussock country on the Kaingaroa Plains into farmland. Named the Pukahunui Block, the project failed and the block ended up in the hands of Kernot and friends. On the advice of Auckland solicitor Henry Alexander Horrocks they formed the forestry company Timberlands, which bought the block.


TIMBERLANDS buys 21,000 acres (8498ha) at Matahina.


THE first trees are planted. Timberlands buys interest in Matahina private railway. American pulp and paper mill consulting engineer Mr de Guerre arrives and chooses the former meat works site for the mill.


MR de Guerre proposes a board mill to manufacture 10,000 to 12,000 tons a year and a groundwood mill to to supply materials. Mr de Guerre and Mr Horrocks travel to Europe to buy a board machine from a Swedish firm and steam and electrical equipment from England and Sweden.


FLETCHER Construction begins construction on the mill buildings. Due to money shortages debentures are given in lieu of payment to overseas firms for equipment and public debenture is also issued.


PRODUCTION begins in July using wood from thinning operations on Matakana Island. The mill produces 7000 tons of board in its first year. Due to competition from duty free exports, operates at a loss of 72,994 pounds.


THE company installs 10 addition drying cylinders and makes its first profit of 40,582 pounds. Managing director Mr Horrocks dies from pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 49. His ashes lie in a granite monument that stands in his memory on a lawn at the mill.


THE company begins drawing its log supplies from its own Matahina forest.


A NEW company, Whakatane Board Mills is formed to separate the mill and Matahina Forest from Pukahunui Forest, which will not be productive for some time. A third grinder is installed in the groundwood mill and an incentive production bonus is introduced.


THE company pays out its first dividend and, for the first time, there is a contested election of directors.


THE sawmill begins production to cope with the increased growth of trees in the Matahina Forest.


A SECOND board machine is bought from the United States.


THE no.2 board machine building is complete, along with 53 houses and flats


THE semi-chemical pulp mill is completed, using sawmill waste as its raw material.