Timber industry revival: WA town unveils one of the biggest timber buildings in 80 years
A tiny wheatbelt town has received the keys to the biggest civic timber construction in Western Australia in nearly 80 years, as the state's timber industry shows signs of revival.
The Shire of Pingelly decided to build its new Recreation and Cultural Centre entirely out of timber — and the result is without a modern-day rival.
Not since the Merredin aircraft hangars of World War II has any public organisation built with timber on such a large scale.
Shire of Pingelly President Bill Mulroney said he is confident the size and style of the new building, which opens this week, will attract wedding parties and corporate events from Perth.
Mr Mulroney said cost estimates for the timber design of the new building came in around the same as brickwork.
"We decided we would have something really good, and we went for timber … the timber will make it a longer life and make it better looking than bricks and mortar, which can age over years," he said.
"We've organised tours for local groups to get them excited and spread the word throughout the community. Everybody is itching to get up here and enjoy the facility."
The shire built its new recreation and cultural centre in just over a year, at a total cost of $9.1 million.
One thousand tonnes of yellow stringy bark, sourced from a plantation near Manjimup, created the walls, floor and decking, with the structural timber imported from New Zealand and constructed by Sime Building and Construction.
"When you see so much timber in this building, it provides a very calming sort of feel, a very warm and homely atmosphere," Sime director Stephen Sime said.
The new facility will be used primarily to host a range of local sporting and social activities.
"People in the country don't have to put up with second-rate facilities when their counterparts in the cities have all the good facilities," Mr Mulroney said.
"That's what the concept of this building turned out to be...We hope that we can attract our surrounding neighbours to come and use this facility."
Photo: 1,000 tonnes of WA yellow stringy bark was used in the building's surfaces.
Timber buildings sprouting
Before the Pingelly facility was built, a shire delegation travelled to Melbourne to inspect firsthand some of the high profile timber constructions on the east coast.
The shire says its new social hub will be used by the WA Forest Communities Network, a timber industry group, as an example to encourage other local governments in WA to build with wood.
But it is not just the public sector showing interest in timber in WA.
The construction of a $25 million timber-framed hotel is expected to begin in Northbridge next-year.
Developer ADC said the 10-storey, 126-room hotel would be the tallest timber hotel in Australia, and is proposed to use locally-sourced timber.
"There is a lot of activity globally, a big push around the world for use of timber in medium and high-rise buildings," ADC Director Adam Zorzi said.
"We looked at projects not just in Australia, but overseas in Canada and Scandinavia as well."
Photo: The proposed $25 million development will be Australia's tallest timber hotel. (Supplied: ADC)
Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan said that as new timber construction projects were approved in the state, the WA government would help to ensure suppliers in regional WA were able to benefit.
"From what [timber suppliers] are telling us, it's an issue of resource security," Ms MacTiernan said.
"We have to make sure that we can provide that resource security, and that's the work that is being done across government.
"We certainly want to see the industry maintained.
"Over the coming years, there's going to be a lot of competition in the southwest for resources, but we do want to see that base of timber jobs."
Restarting the mill
The signs of activity are promising for the Nannup timber mill in the state's south west.
The mill is trying to get back on its feet after reopening in May this year, following consolidation with competitor Auswest.
"The demand [for timber] is rock bottom at the moment, particularly in the WA market, it's not so bad in the east coast market," Vince Corlett, general manager of Nannup Timber Processing, said.
"With us coming to a commercial arrangement with Auswest, it's helping us with some innovation and getting better penetration into the market."
Since it re-opened, the Nannup mill has employed 42 staff in a town of only 1,328 people.
It provides mostly sawn jarrah to domestic and overseas markets, to be used as decking and flooring.
But the mill plans to grow by supplying the demand for niche, decorative timbers, including exterior surface timbers.
"We're putting around $2 million per annum into the Nannup economy directly, and indirectly adding another million dollars through spending," Mr Corlett said.
"We're banking on [the industry] improving, it's been a particularly difficult five or six years … but as the economy improves, we should see a pickup in demand both here and overseas.
"[Shutting down] certainly wasn't good for the town, and people had limited opportunities for employment. So starting the mill again has been a good thing for the Nannup township."