A.E. Gibson and Sons is a fourth generation, family owned and operated business located in scenic Kendall. Manufacturing equipment for the saw milling industry, the business has been in operation since the late 1800s.
But the business’ long and proud history hasn’t left the owners and operators feeling complacent … indeed, they have used cutting edge technology and innovation to help them diversify and remain economically viable in an ever-changing timber industry …
Good afternoon. What’s your name and your position with A.E. Gibson and Sons?
I’m John Scott, and I’m the Sales Manager. I’ve been with the business for 25 years.
From your knowledge of the business, how did it actually get started?
The original Gibson (Arthur) who started the business came from Scotland. He was a marine engineer who worked for the local saw mills and fishing fleets around Kendall. His son, Mannie Gibson, really helped the business to progress and focus more on the timber industry. Mannie retired in 1971, and his two sons, Mac and John, ran the business until 1978. At this time, Mac left for Fiji where he owned a timber mill, and John became the sole owner. John retired in 2006, and today, the business is run by his four sons: Bevan, David, Adam and Christian.
In laymen’s terms, what exactly does the business do?
General engineering and structural engineering, but mostly we manufacture timber processing equipment. We supply equipment throughout Australia and the Pacific Rim. These days, there wouldn’t be too many hardwood timber mills in Australia that don’t operate with some Gibson equipment.
The equipment we supply includes both green mill and dry mill equipment. We also supply structural steel – for jobs such as the Riverside Plaza at Kempsey, Aldi in Port Macquarie and St Joseph’s school.
In the past three years we’ve built two complete saw mills in Papua New Guinea, and we’ve also completed quite a bit of work in New Zealand. To quote for the two saw mills in PNG, we competed against companies from Europe, and we won on our own merits.
Locally, we supplied nearly all of the equipment for the Herons Creek timber mill and the Australian Solar timber mill. Hayden’s, at Telegraph Point, also has Gibson machinery. So basically, any sawmill of reasonable size in the local area has our equipment.
Logistically, how do you organise work in isolated places such as Papua New Guinea?
Transporting equipment and supplies would be a massive undertaking …
Yes. We basically project manage the job from here. After we’ve been commissioned for the job, we send our people out to install the equipment; and we do all the work locally.
Hi Bevan – thanks for joining us. You’re one of John Gibson’s four sons … What’s your role with the day-to-day running of the business?
Bevan: I’m the General Manager. I maintain control of all facets of the business, and I’ve been here now for 25 years. I have a hydraulics background, leaving the area to complete my trade, before returning to the business.
Now, you’ve both been with the business for 25 years out of its century-long history, what have been some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed – both in the business itself, and within the timber industry?
John: In the ‘60s, Gibsons were instrumental in putting the first riderless log carriage into Australia – which was huge progress. Then 20-25 years ago, we started to go hi-tech, introducing PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) equipment.
In terms of the industry, the number of saw mills around now has changed drastically – there are probably only about 10 per cent of the mills around now that were operating 20 years ago. The size of the market in Australia has reduced, and that has led us to work on more off-shore jobs.
The business premises have also grown since the late ‘50s. We take up the whole block on this side of the street now, and the premises have kept moving down the hill over the years.
We also have another factory at Johns River which mainly does guillotine and folding, but if we get busy here and have space issues, we can use the factory there to accommodate more of the work.
Bevan: In recent years we’ve been doing a reasonable amount of work outside the timber industry, such as structural steel for projects such as the Coles at Kempsey. Prior to this, we worked on around 100 per cent saw milling equipment, but this ratio has definitely changed. We also do some general engineering work and sub-contract to other industries these days, which has allowed us to diversify as the timber industry changed.
How do you think the business has been able to trade successfully for such a long period of time?
Bevan: Our ability to adapt and innovate.
John: Thirty years ago we would have been making a log carriage for the local hardwood timber industry. Today, we’re building complete saw mills for overseas operations – and project managing all of them.
What is it about the business you’re most proud of?
Bevan: Definitely the business’ longevity.
John: Yes – we’re still here!
What does being a part of a small, close-knit community such as Kendall mean to you personally?
John: It’s a very big factor. We’ve sponsored many local sporting competitions over the years and continue to do so.
How many staff actually work for the business?
Bevan: Forty staff. There are tradesmen on the floor, and we have three draftsmen and two office staff. Every year we hire two, or possibly three, apprentices.
John: All of our employees are local. We’re very proud of the fact that we employ local people and that we’re a key part of the area.
Bevan: We’ve also just had Laurie McDonald who worked for us retire after 54 years of service.
John: We have a lot of staff who’ve been here for 25 years, and many who’ve been here for ten or more.
You must provide a fabulous place to work then! Congratulations on achieving such longevity in a challenging industry – and here’s to another 100 years!
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 81 of the Greater Port Macquarie Focus