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General News

30 October, 2022

Win/win formula developed by local business

A FAMILY-built Malanda timber business believes it has developed the ideal ecological balance between commerce and conservation.

By Sally Turley

Using a combination of plantation timber and salvaging local resources, Will Russell-Smith of Topaz Sustainable Timbers hopes to preserve and promote one of the region’s most precious resources.
Using a combination of plantation timber and salvaging local resources, Will Russell-Smith of Topaz Sustainable Timbers hopes to preserve and promote one of the region’s most precious resources.

Working out of the old Rankine Brothers saw-mill near Lake Eacham, Will Russell-Smith and Bess Murphy, of Topaz Sustainable Timbers, are one of the few commercial operators specialising in natural timber slabs.

“We supply a lot of timber to wholesalers, cabinetmakers, joineries and local DIY customers. What I love about working with timber is that every piece is unique and many pieces have a special history that makes them a conversation piece for their owners,” Will said.

“Increasingly, we are finding people want tim-ber pieces, recycled or repaired. By using epoxy resin, we can stabilise and reconstruct imperfect or damaged slabs that might once have been thrown out, turning their faults into features.”

He said a lot of the company’s clients were young couples building their first family home, who were seeking to create a special centre-piece that would last long enough to become a family heirloom for their children.

“Every few months we open our warehouse to the public for a sale day. We have a huge range of slabs and dimensional timbers and also other goods such as spoons, breadboards, necklaces and more. We run these sales by appointment only so we can spend quality time with clients,” Will said.

Like the Rankine family, who first bought into the industry in 1962, the Russell-Smith’s love of timber is generational.

Though from the Northern Territory, Will’s parents’ fascination with the Tablelands and its rainforests inspired them to buy a cleared, Topaz ex-dairy farm 28 years ago and convert it back to its natural state.

The 122-hectare property, adjacent to Wooronooran National Park, has been planted complete-ly back to native rainforest cabinet timbers which Will says are designed to be harvested in small sections over a 650-year circular rotation.

“As each group of trees is harvested, their replacements will be planted back into the canopy opening, creating a completely self-sustaining life cycle, minimising habitat destruction and allowing the plantation to function as a rich forest habitat,” Will said.

“High quality rainforest trees take an average of 35 years to reach a minimum critical harvest diameter of 500-1500mm and we aim to grow more trees than we will ever get around to harvesting, leaving us in a credit balance with the environment. It is our objective to help boost the market for local North Queensland timbers.

“I may be a bit biased, but I believe we have so many beautiful species here, much nicer than what they have down south.”

The company works with more than 60 species of trees, from the iconic Queensland Maple, Northern Silky Oak and Red Cedars to Camphor Laurel, Mango, Cadaghi and Bunya Pine and other beauties like Black Wattle, Sassafras, Satin Sycamore and Queensland Walnut.

“We do not, however, harvest any old growth trees, for, while timber is the item we sell, the product of our business is something far greater,” Will said.

“We have entered into a voluntary Nature Refuge conservation agreement and as the for-est grows, more and more animals and birds have come to visit, including five cassowaries we now see on a regular basis.”

Growing up in Darwin, Will initially spent time on the Tablelands with his parents during holidays and again during university holidays when he was completing his degree in economics in Wollongong.

His attachment to the area continued to grow until he moved here eight years ago.

While a percentage of timber used in the busi-ness is from their own plantation, the majority of their supply is salvaged from within a 100km ra-dius of their base.

“We collect native or exotic trees from people’s back yards or properties that have been blown down in cyclones or storms or are being removed for building or development purposes by the owners. We also work in with arborists, removing their offcuts at no cost,” Will said.

“Using our mobile milling equipment, we can travel to where people are building and process trees that need to be cleared on-site, allowing the timber to become a feature of the new home, reducing waste and sometimes cost for the owners.

“We were able to salvage around a dozen trees that were cut down in Atherton recently for the extension of the hospital there, resulting in a couple of semi-trailer loads of timber we can now give new life as part of another project.

“Our planet has finite resources and we need to take a holistic approach and develop sounder business models to cope with the world’s popula-tion growth.

“Timber is a fantastic and truly renewable product if grown and harvested in a sustainable manner,” Will added.

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