South East Fibre Exports has exported woodchips from Eden for 44 years, packing them onto ships to send off to Japan.
But while countless tonnes of wood have left our shores, technical services officer Mick Wood has always stuck around, bringing up 40 years of service with the company on Tuesday.
Having been around since the early days, Mick has seen an array of changes at the mill, and said as a 22-year-old in 1974, he thought there was “no way in the world” he would still be here today.
“My first day on the job was bedlam,” Mick recalled.
“We had a problem with the generator, and we were trying to load a ship but had no power to do it.
“The general manager at the time was an electrical engineer, and it had him and the senior electrician scratching their heads.
“It turned out to be a blown fuse, but it only took them about eight hours to find it.”
When Mick arrived at the mill after completing his apprenticeship at the steelworks in Port Kembla, he was immediately struck by the difference in safety precautions.
He was one of the pioneers of the OH&S movement at SEFE, and remembers one particular incident that proved the catalyst for him to speak out.
“There was one occasion where a production supervisor was jumping up and down on the logs, trying to push them through the chipper,” Mick said.
“At the time, we had a chipper that was a vertical drop, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to see this’.
“I went down to the workshop expecting to get a phone call saying, ‘shut it all down, he’s gone’.
“Luckily enough he didn’t go down with them, but I got on the bandwagon to try and bring the safety into line with what I’d seen at the steelworks.
“After a few years and WorkCover having a look at us, we finally got things underway; the difference from then to now is huge.”
SEFE general manager Peter Mitchell paid tribute to Mick’s dedication, describing him as a man who wasn’t afraid to stand up and work hard.
“One of the things I’ve always appreciated is the fact you’ve always been willing to step up when it’s been needed,” he told Mick as he presented him with a gift on Tuesday.
“And not only that, you’ve been heavily involved in the local community with the local soccer club, which probably wouldn’t have survived for a while without you.”
So after 40 years, what’s next for Mick?
“I’d say 12 months, then I’ll be moving onto retirement,” Mick said.
“I’m heavily involved in the town aspect of things with ESSCI; we do a lot of projects in town for those who need them done.
“You get to meet a lot of fellows from different walks of life and have some interesting conversations, rather than talking about woodchips all the time; they can become a bit boring after a while!”