East Gippsland Timber Milling Project

PROJECT UPDATE                           20th July 2021

Bernie Farquhar clearly remembers sitting back listening to Ingrid Biram and Glen Schaeche at Simon and Fran Conn’s residence for a BBQ last June 14th 2020. It was a think tank of ideas flowing from tool libraries to picnic tables to assist Fire affected people. But it was the Lucas Mill that had been loaned to the Biram’s that set us on a journey together. He was representing the East Gippsland Rotary Fire aide group. His part in the group was coordinating fencing materials donated from around the country and purchasing from grant money applied for through Rotary international, working alongside Blaze Aid who were doing external fencing only and only went where materials were supplied. The realization of the extent of replacing fences internally was overwhelming and a looming issue for Farmers across the Burnt-out East Gippsland.

Driving through areas such as Sarsfield, Buchan and Bete Belong talking to farmers about future needs was heart breaking and overwhelming, how were we going to assist so many. While on the day it was nothing more than an idea that was discussed in General, the bells started to ring and Bernie started the discussion with others in Rotary, and with Ingrid Biram’s constant ringing, the first monies was raised by 5 Rotary Clubs of Melbourne when he had our first Mill.

Initially it was thought a group of volunteers could supply labour to operate the mill and things would be great, Then we saw the mill and realized this had to be operated by well-trained operators or a disastrous accident could occur. Insurance, training, transport, security, privacy and above all safety issues all needed addressing and the East Gippsland Timber Milling project was Born, a group of amazing volunteers who knew the end goal was to assist Farmers, but no way did we consider how important and how well received it would be with sponsors and more importantly by Farmers.

The East Gippsland Timber Milling Project was imagined to utilise all trees fallen during, and because of, the 2019/2020 summer bushfires. The trees are located on private landholdings throughout East Gippsland. The project mills these trees and turns them in to a useable resource for the landholder at nil cost to them. The common uses for this repurposed timber are for the construction/ replacement of fences and stock yards. This assists the landholder in their personal recovery. In the terms of farming land holdings this assists their agri-business recovery as well

As Rotary had bought the Lucas Mill financial support was sought from DELWP and the Australian Lions Foundation. ALF was to provide vehicle and trailer and DELWP operational funding to deliver the project. Both organisations provided generous support allowing the project to proceed. The project was launched at Sarsfield Recreation Reserve on 26th of February this year. It’s a project between the Lions Club of Bruthen and The Rotary Fire Aid Group.

Two not for profit companies were set up with the express intention of providing milling for the project. Each company providing one employee. These contractors were unemployed East Gippslanders who now possess an Accredited Tafe Trained certificate in the safe operation of a Lucas Mill and other timber milling best practices. Training was provided by Forestec a part of TAFE Gippsland, and funded Rotary. Both companies were offered mentoring / assistance in their setup and ongoing business operation by the qualified financial manager Ray Mengler who is part of the project.

Milling commenced at the Kennedy property in Clifton Creek on the 15th of March. This property had very large logs in 2 locations on their property. The timber milled will be used to rebuild their cattle yards, which were burnt beyond repair. The Kennedy property had a fantastic outcome not only for the client, but also for the project. Our contractors were able to hone the skills learnt during training, and to understand how to do operate efficiently. This is one of the largest jobs undertaken by the project to date. Both in size and number of logs.

Photos at Kennedy Property, Clifton Creek

Once milling commenced it was quickly realised that the oversight structure, being a simple project of the Lions Club of Bruthen was not fit for purpose for a project of this size and complexity. A board of management was enacted by the Lions Club of Bruthen and in early April commenced managing the project. The board has members from the Lions Club, Rotary Club, Lions District and an independent financial controller. It meets on average every 2-3 weeks.

The role of the Board of management is to:

  • Provide financial oversight and compliance to the project
  • Move ownership of all assets donated by Rotary, Australian Lions Foundation, and various Lions Club into the project, as part of the Lions Club of Bruthen (current assets are)

➢ 2X Lucas Mills- Donated by Rotary

➢ 2 X Toyota Hilux’s (specially fitted for project)- Donated by Australian Lions Foundation

➢ 2 x Purpose built trailers – Donated by Australian Lions Foundation

  • Chain saws, and equipment to assist in the milling operation- Donated by various organisations
  • To provide regular updates to stakeholders
  • To create a full OHS manual, code of conduct, environmental Health Policy and to oversee compliance
  • To create an agreed Memorandum of Understanding between the project and contractors
  • To create a remuneration policy have been established
  • To provide ongoing development of all these documents and policies in conjunction and consultation with contractors.
  • To seek ongoing financial support of the project, giving the project longevity.
  • To provide forward planning for the project

We are now actively discussing the need for two more machines to aid with the stacking and moving logs. Total spend on machinery alone will reach $300k if we go ahead with the purchase of two Bob cats.

Once milling began it became clear very quickly that a second mill would be needed. Rotary again stepped up and purchased another mill. As did the Australian Lions Foundation who purchased another Toyota Hilux and trailer. Minderoo Foundation heard of the project and came on board. We now have two mills operating across our project. Each of the two companies now employed 2 trained staff members. Training was again done at Forestec. Again, two more unemployed Gippslanders were used to fill these roles. So, we are now providing 4 milling jobs.


The latest property for mill no 2 is at Les and Sandie Anderson’s property Sarsfield. The logs are in lengths around 3mts to 3.6mts long, which makes milling and setting up logs a lot easier and safer. Having a Bob cat on site has made the job so much easier and more efficient. The logs are milled, timber banded and stacked for drying.
To date we have milled 31 logs on this property, mainly comprising of stringy bark and red box timber. A lot of the milled timber is cut to 150mm X40mm this size is the most common for all the property owners to date.

Photos at Les and Sandie Anderson’s property, Sarsfield

We found a need for an administrative assistant, to assist in the delivery of this project. Applicants were sought and we had an appropriate candidate. The board approved the appointment for a period of 10 weeks when the role will be reviewed. The new administrative assistant will do site visits, job planning and job allocations to our contractors. This person has a strong background in mental health and has a strong knowledge of the bushfire experience, having lost her own house in the fires. BRV have also agreed to fund a professional grant writer. She will work with the board, to develop a plan for longer term funding, write and submit funding applications.


This is a longer-term project. The costs going forward would be: Based on 4 Mill operators working 40-hour week, and 1 administration Assistant working 30- hour week, for 40 weeks of the year, equipment replacement, fuel, maintenance servicing, insurances, will require $350k per year ($1.75mil for the life of project)


We are extremely proud of this project. It is unique. The fact we have a combined Lions and Rotary committee, immense funding from government, Rotary, Lions and private sector has been greatly welcomed. The project not only delivers for the landholders but also for our team members, and as we make all our purchases locally it provides economic stimulus for the community as well. We do need to fund this project for least another 3-4 years. The machinery purchased can be used for any disaster in future years, and people can be quickly trained and deployed anywhere where a disaster may require us.


Steve Boyce


East Gippsland Timber Milling Project