Bushfires the Cruellest Cut for Sawmill Workers

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Vinnies is helping bushfire-impacted families and communities every step of the way towards recovery. We have distributed $10.6 million across Australia so far.


The Tarmac Sawmill at Wyan, near the village of Rappville in northern NSW, was a significant employer in an area where permanent jobs were hard to come by.

Until recently Mick Buggy, a colourful local, had worked at the mill for nine years, supplementing his income with a small beef cattle farm.

Kevin Hill, with a partner and several children, also relied on the mill for his livelihood. Like workmate Mick, he enjoyed the work and expected it to last long-term. The mill was close to home, the company had invested in modern technology and was committed to providing training opportunities for staff.

On 8 November 2019, a massive bushfire swept through the heavily timbered Busbys Flat area near Rappville. The flames engulfed the mill in a blaze that was uncontrollable, completely destroying the site despite every effort to combat it.

Nothing was salvageable, including the jobs of more than 25 hard-working staff, few, if any, of whom have found employment since.

The destroyed Tarmac sawmill.

There has also been an impact on local businesses, including the softwood plantations that had become the mainstay of the company’s sawmilling operation: hundreds of hectares of pines ignited, prompting a scramble, when the flames were out, to harvest trees whose burnt outer bark could be removed and the timber salvaged.

Burnt trees and harvested logs ready for export.

For Mick, who remarkably can still smile, it was his second encounter with bushfire, having largely been burnt out in August 2018. This time was much worse: he lost his home, buildings and fences and saved only 15 of his beloved 50 cattle. Despite grass reshooting, he must still hand-feed them with expensive hay.

Kevin lost sheds, generators, a solar energy system and caravans that two of his boys lived in, including a shed just 10 metres away from his home which erupted in flames. Fortunately the family’s house survived, enabling them to continue living at home.

In early February, Vinnies volunteers issued a public invitation for people affected by the local bushfires to attend information sessions at Woodburn Evans Head RSL and Casino RSM clubs. The aim was to reach out to people who may not be aware, or be too embarrassed to ask, about how Vinnies can help. The volunteers were also equipped to assist with paperwork, and to provide contact details for other organisations involved in bushfire recovery.

Vinnies Volunteer Paul Muldoon at Woodburn Evans Head RSL

To date, Vinnies has distributed more than $250,000 in bushfire assistance to residents of the Richmond Valley, which includes Rappville, Busbys Flat, New Italy, Bungawalbyn and other areas.

Former employees of the Tarmac mill were prominent amongst those attending these sessions, saying they greatly appreciated the support and advice the Vinnies team offered.

“This is a really tough time, mate,” said one worker who had been at the mill most of his working life.

“I can walk you around a timber mill and explain exactly what’s going on. But when it comes to going online and filling in forms, I’m totally lost. The fact of the matter is that I’m pretty much illiterate. That’s why today has been great… these guys [Vinnies] are wonderful.”

We are still raising funds for our Vinnies Bushfire Appeal, to ensure we can be there for people like Mick and Kevin in the long term. Every dollar raised goes to people impacted by the bushfires, who still face long months of recovery ahead.

Please make a donation today.