After 25 years with Visy Pulp and Paper, Kenneth Epp, who was with the Tumut mill from its establishment in 2001, has retired.
Chair of the Softwoods Working Group and Murray Region Forestry Hub, Peter Crowe OAM, said Mr Epp played a major role in the development of the plantation-based forestry industries and in particular the establishment of the Visy enterprise near Tumut.
“The Visy mill at Tumut is a global-sized pulp and packaging plant and is the largest softwood plantation-based investment ever constructed in Australia. Even more remarkable is its establishment near a relatively small regional town, which meant Kenneth had numerous logistical and operational challenges to meet to make this mill a reality,” he said.
“The project brought Kenneth’s great talents of communication, negotiation, and technical expertise to the fore and he is widely respected across the industry. Because of his valuable participation in guiding the project to a highly successful enterprise – his contribution to the wider community is almost immeasurable.
“Kenneth’s ability to assemble a huge portfolio of pulpwood and chips supplies was no mean feat and his legacy in this regard will endure. The assembly of a large array of mechanical harvesting and transport vehicles and having them operating 24/7 was a mighty challenge – successfully met.
“The pulpwood thinnings from young plantations have set up the plantation estate in NSW for maximum production of a high-quality product – much of this would not have been possible without Kenneth’s efforts on behalf of Visy.”
Photo: Ron Hardwick and Kenneth Epp at Sugar Pine Walk, Bago State Forest, Laurel Hill.
Prior to Visy, Mr Epp spent 16 years with Laminex Group, and seven years with British Columbia (Canada) Forest Service.
Reflecting on his career he said it had been varied, interesting, and very demanding at times but highly rewarding, mostly due to the fine people he had worked with over the years.
“Looking back, what strikes me most are the people that supported and trusted me. My mentor and friend, the late Ron Hardwick, especially needs to be mentioned,” he said.
Mr Epp’s career in the timber industry began in 1974 when he was recruited for the fire season by the British Columbia Forest Service.
“After a busy fire season working on southern Vancouver Island, I was offered a position as a forest ranger. In those days forest rangers did everything from fire duties to harvesting and planting. It was a great taste of the industry and allowed you to stream into where your strengths or interests lie,” he said.
After five years, Mr Epp streamed into forest protection working to protect forests from fire, insects, and diseases.
Prior to becoming a protection specialist, Mr Epp had travelled to Australia where he met his wife Lleanne.
“With a recession in the timber industry in the early 1980s, and I was also sick of the rain, I felt there were good opportunities for someone with my skillset in Australia, so I immigrated with Lleanne who was pregnant with our eldest son Nathan,” he said.
“The first medium density fibreboard manufacturing plant in Australia was being built by the Laminex Group at Wagga Wagga and they needed a logging supervisor. I took the job and was later promoted to logging manager, a position I held for a number of years.
“I lived and had an office at Tumut and often commuted to Wagga Wagga. The Laminex – ACI Timber Products Group had a sawmill at Tumut, as well as other timber processing operations, and I had responsibilities for the company’s forestry resource management activities across eastern Australia for the combined sawmilling and panel manufacturing assets.
“It was at this stage that my mentor and friend Ron Hardwick approached me about looking after the fibre supply side for Visy’s Tumut Mill (Stage 1) and constructing the woodyard.
“I spent a lot of time securing resources and then in 2007 became general manager of fibre resources. In more of a corporate role for Visy Pulp and Paper division, I was tasked with finding 1.8 million tonnes of wood to secure Stage 2 expansion of the mill.
“Without Richard Pratt’s foresight and drive and his view of a sustainable, environmentally compliant, operation, the mill would not exist. It was his vision and he saw the mill as being critical to the rest of the Visy business – the packaging business and the integration of products from recycled paper through to packaging.
‘Richard Pratt was putting the principles of the circular economy in place more than 20 years ago – he was a man well ahead of his time. It was wonderful to be there – challenging and rewarding – but you had to be able to deliver. The company thrived on growth and very high performance – it was an exciting time.
“About five years ago, I moved into an advisory role and my successor is Dean Hawkins who has stepped into the GM’s role with me as his mentor.”
In retirement, Mr Epp and his wife intend to resume their travels overseas, continue their caravanning holidays, and build at Diamond Beach, near Foster on the mid-north coast of NSW, where they bought a large block of land a number of years ago.
They will also spend time with their two sons, Nathan and Matthias, and their families including four grandchildren, currently on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and in South Gippsland, Victoria.