Monthly Archives: March 2014

More Stringfest Thoughts

In the review of my experiences and thoughts on the inaugural Deloraine Stringfest I said the major element missing were the proud, passionate and profitable tree-growing farmers – the first link in the chain from tree to instrument, farmer to artist. I was the only one exhibiting at Stringfest representing existing and future growers of blackwood and other special timbers.

From a business/market process point of view the Stringfest exhibitors (luthiers and tonewood merchants) were all pushing in the one direction. The luthiers were promoting and selling their instruments to players and performers, while tonewood merchants were promoting and selling their timbers to the luthiers – links in a chain. But there was little action in the opposite direction.

Why do we need action in the opposite direction? What action?

Markets work by an interplay/tension between supply and demand. The push and pull of the marketplace. If we are to encourage farmers to grow our special timbers for us then we need to provide as much incentive and information as possible. Trees are a challenging investment at the best of times so Stringfest provides an ideal forum for providing market, price and demand information in BOTH directions back to the farmer/tree grower all the way to the consumer/artist. All that passion, dedication and commitment can help drive some significant market activity.

At Stringfest the tonewood merchants should be looking to both sell their tonewood timbers to luthiers AND buy suitable trees/logs from farmers, and establish long-term relationships with tree-growing farmers. It would have been great to see some “LOGS WANTED” signs showing at Stringfest. Even some information telling people about what goes to making a good tonewood log, species, sizes, indicative prices, etc. The average farmer has absolutely no idea about the tonewood market. This needs to change and change quickly, so the more information the better.

Similarly Stringfest provides an ideal opportunity for luthiers to talk to tonewood merchants about their wood requirements and indicative prices. I saw plenty of this happening at the weekend, hopefully with some positive outcomes.

At Stringfest I spoke to a number of people who had trees they were interested in selling and I pointed them towards the tonewood merchants. I heard of a number of follow-ups being arranged which was great. At the moment the Blackwood Growers Coop remains more a dream than a reality. As the Coop develops then building relationships and markets with sawmillers and tonewood merchants will be an important goal. Hopefully in the future I will have “LOGS FOR SALE” as part of my Stringfest display.

Stringfest was not really marketed at the farming community but the farming community needs to be brought into the audience in future.

The question of the future supply of our special timbers was definitely the “elephant in the room” at Stringfest, especially given the extraordinary political events on the Friday. Stringfest provides a brilliant focus and opportunity to help resolve that question and remove the elephant once and for all. I’m already thinking about next years festival.


Black Friday

Last Friday March 21st 2014 Will Hodgman Premier-Elect of Tasmania on behalf of the forest industry, and particularly on behalf of the special timbers industry, officially declared war on the Tasmanian community.

That was my immediate and clear response to this news item:

Does the special timbers industry want to be part of this war?

Does the special timbers industry want to be used and manipulated as the reason for this war?

As a member of the special timbers industry trying to establish a business to help move the industry onto private land and away from the politics and conflict of public forest management I certainly do not!


In the last 30 years I don’t recall the forestry wars being so formally declared, not with such blatant hostility and certainly not with the forest industry as reluctant (?) participants. Poor Terry Edwards (FIAT Chief Executive) standing behind Mr Hodgman looks more like a refugee trying to escape a warzone than a General about to lead what remains of his troops. “The world has moved on.” Indeed it has!

Some people think this is just a war against “the greenies” or those who failed to vote Liberal this time. But conflicts affect everyone. There are never winners in conflict; everyone loses, some more than others, often the innocent are the biggest losers. And the last 30 years of the forestry wars have been littered with false hopes and promises, and thousands of innocent victims. Politicians come and go while the victims are piled higher.

The losers over the last 30 years have been the forests, the forest industry and the Tasmanian community. That fact should be obvious to everyone. This time is no different.

Having spent last weekend as an exhibitor at the inaugural Deloraine Stringfest, it became very clear to me that this may have been the first and last Stringfest. Stringfest is a celebration of Tasmanias world-class timbers, the craftspeople who turn them into musical instruments, and the artists who play them. I was the only exhibitor representing the first link in the chain back to the trees and the people who grow them. That link needs to be strengthened and promoted. Farmers as proud tree growers need to become an integral part of Stringfest if it is to grow and have a sustainable future. There was no one at Stringfest representing Forestry Tasmania and public native forest management.

I spent the weekend at Stringfest wearing a black armband in mourning for the forest industry and the people of Tasmania.

Landmark events such as Stringfest and the Wooden Boat Festival, which showcase special timbers, will be used by our politicians as weapons to escalate the conflict. Even retailers, consumers and artists will be used as pawns in the battle.

The special timbers industry, whether it likes it or not, is being used as a weapon against the Tasmanian community. Talking to people at Stringfest there was a wide range of opinions within the industry. There was certainly no possibility for consensus on a future strategy. Many were resigned to the wars as passive observers. Some in the industry have already moved their supply sources onto private land in an attempt to avoid the conflict. A few are even looking forward to the coming battle in the hope that they will succeed. The last 30 years clearly show that outcome is very unlikely.

Many people have a “why don’t they….?” or “if only they would….” attitude to the problem. “The forests are there, if only we could manage them properly, then everything would be ok and everyone would be happy”. This fairytale dream just won’t happen. If anything the real world has moved in the opposite direction. The more people hold onto this fairytale the worse the nightmare becomes. In my opinion this fairytale has now become part of the problem. We need to give up the fairytale and move on.

Many people will not accept my interpretation of these events. That’s fine by me. People believe what they want to believe. Everyone has a different view on life.

Does the special timbers industry, including retailers, artists and consumers, want to be used and manipulated as the reason for this war?

What is more important?

Continuing to have access to conflict-ridden, unsustainable, taxpayer-subsidised special timbers from our public native forests, or moving the industry onto private land and bringing peace and prosperity to Tasmania?

For some in the special timbers industry this transition will be impossible, but for many it is a very real alternative. Many have already made the transition.

Please don’t be a pawn in Mr. Hodgman’s political power games. It is time to decide!

Go Deloraine Stringfest!

What a hoot!

I had a fantastic time as an exhibitor at the inaugural Deloraine Stingfest.

It was fantastic meeting so many people in the industry as tonewood merchants, luthiers, and artists. It was also fantastic meeting and talking to so many of the public who came along. I had many great conversations with people.

I met many farmers and landowners who expressed interest in becoming commercial blackwood growers. I will be contacting the most enthusiastic to arrange a visit, and hope to get phone calls or emails from many others.

I want to thank and congratulate the organisers and people who volunteered their time and talents to make Stringfest happen. And to the people of Deloraine who helped make the event such a success.

As an exhibitor I didn’t get to see much of the festival myself. But I saw 5.5 hours of absolutely brilliant performances on Saturday night. It was a long day but well worth it.

Stringfest definitely has the potential to become a major Tasmanian cultural and community event. It features so many aspects that attract and interest a wide audience. And there is no doubt about the quality, the passion and commitment.

From my point of view one major aspect missing (under-represented??) was the proud, passionate tree-growing farmers. I was there promoting that dream, that opportunity, but if Stringfest is to have a sustainable future then all the links in the chain from tree to instrument, from farmer to artist must be represented and promoted. This is especially true within the current political madness and conflict with the public native forest resource.

I spoke to a few people about the idea of having a mini-Stringfest stall at Agfest to help promote and build interest and relationships with the farming community; to help create that first link in the Stringfest chain. Some of us are discussing this idea to make it happen in 2015. Anyone interested?

Create the full chain from farm to stage and Stringfest could easily become a unique major international event.

Thanks to Kevin for buying the two display blackwood trees that I brought up from Hobart and didn’t want to bring back home. I hope they have found a good home.


Deloraine Stringfest Final Program

The final program for this weekends Deloraine Stringfest is available here:

Stringfest Program 2014 p1

Bigger than Ben Hur!!!

See you there!

State election and the future of the forest industry

With the State election over I guess I need to make some comments on the outcome and what it means for the future of the forest industry, special timbers and blackwood. I’ve been a passionate supporter of forestry and special timbers for many, many  years, but it has been a very hard road. The next few years will most likely bring no relief.

There is no doubt the election was a resounding defeat for the incumbent Labor Government. But in my experience of Australian elections, if there is a change of Government the story is primarily about dissatisfaction with incumbents. In very few cases I have witnessed have Governments changed because of Opposition policies. The main reason Opposition parties win elections is because it is mostly a two horse race and one horse goes lame. Some people call this the “Bradbury effect” (no relation by the way).

Another thing that was absolutely perfectly clear in the election campaign was that Labor and the Greens promised to uphold and support the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA), while the Liberal Party made it perfectly clear they had a very strong adversarial forest policy. No Liberal candidate I heard or read said anything about peace in the forests. A vote for the Liberal Party was a clear vote for a return to chaos and conflict in the forest industry.

For the Liberal Government to now say that the people have spoken and all opposition to Liberal forest policy must cease is just nonsense. This is akin to saying that opposition parties in Parliament must cease questioning Government policy. I never saw Will Hodgman behave in this manner when he was in opposition. That elections are a clear decision-making process on any single issue is in my opinion drawing a very long bow indeed, but that is the game politicians like to play.

So like it or not Tasmanian’s voted overwhelmingly for a return to chaos and conflict in the forest industry.

If I was Alan Kohler on the nightly TV News I would now be showing a chart of Sovereign Risk in the forest industry plotted against Investor Confidence. And guess what? The former line would now be rocketing skyward, while the latter (if it was visible at all) would be negative and heading south.

The new Liberal Government has promised to tear up the TFA, and to rescind part of the recent additions to the World Heritage Area. Under these conditions the chance of Forestry Tasmania achieving Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is now very slim indeed. No FSC Certification means very limited market opportunities for Tasmanian timber. Forestry Tasmania is technically bankrupt and cannot survive for much longer under these conditions.

The special timbers industry, which is currently mostly dependent on logging old-growth public native forest, must now play the final game. My guess is that the new Government will allow this logging to resume, at increasing taxpayer’s expense. Perhaps even allowing logging within our National Parks. It will be a complete and very expensive disaster. When the political tide turns again there will be nothing left.

In some ways this should bode well for a blackwood growers cooperative. Markets should begin calling for alternative sustainable supplies of special timbers, which are profitable and free of politics. What will likely happen however is that media and political attention will focus entirely on the drama and spectacle of the escalating forestry wars. Options for the future will be ignored. Unless members of the blackwood and special timbers industry want to be swept away in the coming tsunami then they had better think carefully about their future.

And all of these shenanigans impact the forest industry Australia wide. Tasmania continues to be the pariah that infects the whole country. As has been the case these last 30+ years, forestry is all about politics in this country. It has very little to do with commerce and business. And so it shall remain for the foreseeable future.

It’s going to be a very interesting and entertaining year.


Here is the latest program for Stringfest. A great weekend with lots of activities and entertainment. I’ll be there at the Deloraine Community Arts Centre with the other displays by luthiers and tonewood merchants.

See you there!

StringFest Program

Friday March 21

2PM – 5PM: Deloraine Community Arts Centre – Displays by luthiers, tonewood suppliers Once only entry charge $5 per person children under 13 free
2PM: Buskers in the Street in Deloraine
10AM – 4PM: Deloraine Creative Studios: Mahalo Painted Ukulele Art competition and display
5pm: Little Theatre – Workshop with Mustered Courage $5
7pm: RSL club – Welcome to StringFest Dinner with Music
7pm: Senior Citizens Club – Dinner with Guest Artist Hank Koopman
7pm: Little Theatre – Vikingo De Jerez, Daniel Brauchli, Marie Casanova, Thom Jackson,Lyn Thomas, Rob van der Elst, Justin Johnson $15

Saturday March 22
8AM : Farmers Market – Agricorp, 2 Racecourse Dr.
9AM : St Marks Parish Fair – St Marks Church grounds
10AM – 4PM: Deloraine Creative Studios: Mahalo Painted Ukulele Art competition and display
10AM – 5PM: Deloraine Community Arts Centre -Displays by luthiers, tonewood suppliers, etc. Once only entry charge $5 per person children under 13

10AM -5PM: Buskers in the Street in Deloraine
`10am: Riverside stage – Breakfast with Ed Tuleja and special guests, Childen’s activities
10.30am: Little Theatre – Workshop – Daniel Brauchli Free
Noon: Riverside Rotunda – Open Mic session Free
Noon: Gallery 9 – Recital/Masterclass – Gareth Koch with Tasmanian Guitar Trio $10
Noon: Little Theatre – Concert – Phillipe Fourstring $10 1pm: Little Theatre – Concert – Matt Bayes $10
2pm: Little Theatre – Concert – Justin Johnston $10
2pm: Gallery 9 – Flamenco concert – Vikingo De Jerez $10
2pm: Baptist Hall – Circle Dance
3pm: Little Theatre – Cigar Box Guitar workshop with Justin Johnson $10
3pm: Senior Citizens Club – Celtic Jam Session
4pm: Little Theatre – Concert – Matthew Fagan $10
4pm Gallery 9 – Ukulele workshop – Tom Jackson $5
5pm: Little Theatre – Special guest appearance Ronnie Burns “Unplugged”. Marie Casanova. Ed Tuleja, Lyn Thomas and more $10
5pm: Gallery 9 – Rose of Bertrand, Music for Two Viols Free
5.30 pm Senior Citizens Club – Concert – As the Crow Flies- Hobart Old Time String Band $10
7.30pm: The Community Complex, Alveston Drive – Concert hosted by the Meander Valley Council featuring Melbourne band Mustered Courage $15
9pm: Little Theatre – Concert – Matthew Fagan, Matt Bayes, Tasmanian Guitar Trio with Gareth Koch, Philippe Fourstring, Justin Johnson $15

Sunday March 23
10AM – 4PM Deloraine Creative Studios: Mahalo Painted Ukulele Art competition and display
10AM – 3PM: Deloraine Community Arts Centre – Displays by luthiers, tonewood suppliers, etc. Once only entry charge $5 per person children under 13 free
10AM – 3PM: Buskers In the Street in Deloraine
9am: Riverside stage – Musical Breakfast, Food vans, Children’s activities, Free
10am Deloraine Creative Studios – Seminar – The future of Tasmanian fine timbers and tonewoods.
11am: Little Theatre – Wayne Appleby – Workshop – History of the Steel Guitar $5
11am: Rotunda – Children’s Ukulele Workshop with Thom Jackson Free
Noon: Riverside Park – gathering of ukulele players (ukuleles will be available for sale) Free
1pm: Little Theatre – Concert – Jean Stafford $15
2pm: Senior Citizens Club – Celtic Jam Session
3pm: Little Theatre – Farewell Concert., As the Crow Flies, Vikingo De Jerez, Lyn Thomas, Philippe Fourstring, Justin Johnson $15

*Subject to Change

The raffle for Maton Concert Ukulele signed by Tommy Emmanuel, with road case, valued at $1000 will be drawn at the Ukulele concert – 12 Noon Sunday – Rotunda.
Tickets at the Little Theatre foyer – $5 or 5 for $20

Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative

21, 22, 23 March 2014

This will be a great event!

I’ll be there to talk about how we can turn blackwood into an internationally recognised and appreciated tonewood with a Blackwood Growers Cooperative.

Put this weekend in your diary now.

See you there!

Luthiers, musicians, collectors and lovers of fine instruments and great music will gather at the inaugural Deloraine StringFest Tasmania in March 2014.

Deloraine is the home of the annual Rotary Tasmanian Craft Fair in November and is recognised as a centre for the arts with many fine crafts-people and artisans living in and around the Meander Valley.

Deloraine StringFest Tasmania (StringFest) is a celebration of stringed instruments, especially those made in Tasmania or made with Tasmanian woods such as blackwood, huon pine, sassafras and macrocarpa.  Tasmania has many fine artisans who create guitars, ukuleles, violins, harps, banjos, lutes and other fine instruments. Tasmanian woods are used…

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IST March Tender Results

The Island Specialty Timbers March tender results posted today show a dramatic drop in market sentiment. Prices for all species were dramatically down on recent trends.

Lot 13

Whether this is a temporary dip or the start of something bigger remains to be seen. Certainly the increased political debate and tensions around the forest industry as a result of the new Federal Government and the State election campaign are severely damaging for the forest industry and general market sentiment. Why would anyone want to invest in an industry at the centre of such a destructive storm?

Only two blackwood logs were included in the March tender of 22 items. Prices were subdued for all species, even for the popular blackheart sassafras.

Both blackwood logs were of good size with plain grain; but prices were a disappointing $180 and $300 per cubic metre, representing $277 and $405 per log. Remembering that two of the three logs tendered last November failed to sell, this continues to demonstrate a weak blackwood market over the past few months.

Then again, even at $180 per cubic metre for good plain-grain blackwood sawlog, that still represents a profitable $50,000 per hectare for a mature blackwood plantation.

New laws a ‘watershed’ for co-operatives

Here’s a story on the ABC News website yesterday from Tasmanian rural reporter Sally Dakis.

New [first ever] national laws launched this week are expected to make co-operatives a more attractive business model. Read the full story here.

I hope the Tasmanian Government introduces the supporting legislation soon. Anything that will facilitate a blackwood growers cooperative is a good thing.

Here’s the website of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals.

Another guitar story

Following on from the Cort Guitars story here’s another guitar story that recently appeared in ABC Business News website.

A great little story (video) about renowned Melbourne-based Maton Guitars.

Cort Guitars

Not everyone can afford a nice custom make guitar. Cheap mass produced guitars are essential in the marketplace.

I’ve mentioned Cort Guitars previously in the blog about Victorian blackwood legend Murray Kidman. Murray supplies blackwood from the Otway Ranges to Cort Guitars. It’s not Tasmanian blackwood, but maybe…… day.

So here’s an impressive video tour of the Cort acoustic guitar factory. They even mention blackwood at 53 seconds!

The machinery and technology you can invest in when you build >1,000,000 guitars per year! Quite amazing!

Could this one day be Tasmanian certified farm-grown blackwood? Absolutely!