End of an era

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Ian McDonnell, left, with Nathan Roberts of AAM Investment Group which will take over ownership of the NF McDonnell & Sons Mt Gambier timber mill next week.

Kathy Gandolfi

NEXT Tuesday marks the end of an era for Mount Gambier’s McDonnell family when its Suttontown Road timber mill officially changes hands to Queensland based company, AAM Investment Group.

However, the new owners insist it will be business as usual as even the name is not expected to change for at least two years.

“What’s happening here next Tuesday and what it looks like on Wednesday will be exactly the same; nothing will change,” said AAM Investment Group’s Executive Director for Growth and Development, Nathan Roberts who was at the mill this week.

“We will be continuing the legacy started by the McDonnell family and our ethos is to continue to grow into the future and to continue to support the community just as the McDonnell’s have.

“And it’s about the people here; without them it is just steel and wood – the people make it what it is.”

A wholly Australian owned business, AAM has invested in an array of primary industry businesses in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and the Northern Territory.

In South Australia, AAM has poultry businesses in the Riverland and Murray Bridge, and while the McDonnell’s timber mill is the company’s first investment in the south east of the state, they also have timber interests in Bathurst.

The third generation of his family to be involved in the mill, Ian McDonnell said Tuesday would be a day of mixed emotions.

“Selling the mill has been a big decision for me personally and for us as a family,” he said.

“We have had other business interests in farming and the like, but sawmilling has been the mainstay of our company for so long so making the decision to sell was a big one, but it was the right decision at the right time.

“One of the deciding factors in agreeing to sell was that the new company has the same values and the same interests for a strong future for the mill and will retain all the employees,” Mr McDonnell said.

“We have a magnificent community here and it is great to see that the new owners will be continuing the business in the same manner and will continue to support the community.”

NF McDonnell & Sons began in 1944 when Ian’s grandfather, Newman Francis McDonnell, began a sawmilling business “out in the bush” in the Mount Burr area in 1944.

These “bush” operations continued in the Millicent and Kalangadoo areas until about 1958 when the mill at Suttontown Road was established.

A photograph of the mill, taken in 1960, shows a small operation surrounded by farmland.

Today the mill covers 55 acres and processes 400,000 tonnes of timber a year or 24 logs a minute.

The ‘Sons’ in NF McDonnell & Sons were Don and Les.

The late Don McDonnell will be familiar with many Mount Gambier residents as the mayor of the city from 1983 to 2002 while Les, also deceased, was another icon around town and is the father of Ian who took over the timber mill with a brother and cousin when Les retired in about 2010.

Today, Ian’s son, Shaun is the fourth generation to be involved in the mill and he will stay at the site for a period after the official change over next week to help with the transition of operations to the new owners.