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Bittersweet Tumut mill reunion

John Aitken and Owen Aubrey at the CHH pine panels mill reunion at Tumut Golf Club on Friday.

There were mixed emotions at the Tumut Golf Club on Friday evening as former workers at the recently closed Carter Holt Harvey pine panels mill gathered for a reunion.
There is an expectation the mill may continue to operate in some form under a different owner, but it’s likely to employ only a fraction of the 88 workers who finished up on Friday.
Many of the 130 that were gathered at the Golf Club enjoyed catching up and sharing memories with those they hadn’t seen in many years, but also sadly reflected on the loss of 88 jobs.
Former plant manager Stephen Smith described Carter Holt’s decision to close the mill as an “absolute tragedy.”
“It is very sad because you very rarely get to work at a facility this size and complexity in your home town,” he said.
“I went to school here and my dad was the building inspector when they built the plant.”
Mr Smith started as a fitter and turner and worked his way up to being in charge of the whole wood panel operation in Australia.
“Tonight I have seen people I haven’t seen in 20 years,” he said.
“Today I bumped into an old workmate and he had a shifter that had my name on it. I lost it in 1976. He wouldn’t give it back to me.”
Another former facility manager, Mike Olsten, also expressed sorrow about the closure.
“I’m sorry to see the plant close,” he said. “It gave a lot of people a great opportunity to work in town and was a critical investment for the town of Tumut. This is very sad for the town and will have a much bigger impact on the town.”
He also caught up with plenty of old friends on the night.
“I managed to get back as far as the first apprentice in the 1960s,” he said.
John Aitken was facility manager for four years up to 1991, and came to the reunion from Gympie in Queensland.
“I guess it is in my blood,” he said.
Like many, he was stunned at the news of the closure.
“It was a bit of a shock; it is not what you would expect to happen,” he said.
David Crampton started working at the mill in 1967, then went to Sydney to do an engineering degree, and came back in 1976.
He became a factory engineer before leaving in 1985.
“Everyone looked after each other, and you can see by tonight; people have come a long way to be here.”