Tuesday, April 18, 2006

We're getting serious today, boys and girls. We will get away from the giggles and grins for a lesson about the true grit in regional Australia. At least that's how I felt in finding this story about five years ago through the Daily Examiner classifieds in Grafton, NSW, Australia...

A saga that started deep in the north coast bush and continued on the world stage at the Sydney Olympics unfolded when I phoned to ask about a go-kart for sale.
A gruff but lively voice answered. I was talking to John Toms, of Coutts Crossing, south of Grafton.
I asked why the sale. He said: "We have a business down here."
That’s why this story has little to do with a go-kart and more with the nation’s heritage in the timber industry.
It’s a story not just of success and achievement but also of a struggle for survival and of tragedy.
More than half a century ago, John’s dad, Frank, was with the first loggers who opened up the Clouds Creek area, about 60km west of Grafton, on the Armidale Road.
Frank built his family home there and John is proud of being "born and bred in the bush’’.
John started labouring in the Clouds Creek sawmill when he was just 12 years old; 40 years later, he heads a big firm with three sawmills and a new one going in.
The build-up for the 2000 Olympics meant busy times for Tomsys Timbers, which won contracts to supply timber to the Homebush Games site.
"They (the Olympic builders) had to do a lot of relocation of homes and rebuild some of the old buildings they kept at Homebush,’’ he said.
"We had to get the timber so they could do it. We also supplied all the landscaping material.
"We sent a heap of semis down.’’
John said the firm’s eight-man team – "I also employ a few others" -- was busy supplying everything from tomato stakes to the huge beams and pylons used in bridges and jetties.
Its timber had been used in the Coffs Harbour jetty.
"We specialise in supplying the DMR for bridges out west and we do a lot of jetties,’’ John said.
"We also supply the railways in NSW and New Zealand and we are flat out.’’
That’s where the Karicar kart, 18 months old and with heaps of spares including three fully reconditioned -- "all raceworthy $4000" -- comes back into the story.
It belongs to John’s son, Jason, 29.
"We are putting in a new mill; we haven’t got time for any new activities this time of year," John said.
"Jason lost his hand two years ago. Well, he has one finger left. He can still handle it, no trouble at all."
John has three words about the circumstances of the accident. "We were sabotaged."
He said he had paid a large sum in legal costs to win a land and environment court case and keep his mills operating.
Six months after the verdict he is also reeling from the questioning over what his business means to the district.
"I put one and a quarter million into Grafton," he said. "Yet when they see that they say…"
He leaves the sentence unfinished. I sense puzzlement and frustration.
I know from talking to John Toms for half an hour that he’s as strong as the ironbark and tallowood he sends out for railway sleepers.
He must also be as strong as his dad, maybe stronger.

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