THE Walferton tannery in Aberdeen closed on Friday leaving 23 local families wondering where they will find work.
Management attributes the closure to a protracted legal battle with Darley in the land and environment court and a strong Australian dollar.
Dave Topper, executive manager of AI Topper and Co, which owns and runs the tannery, said it was a sad, but unavoidable end.
“Everyone is a little sad after such a long operation and the reality of the closure will take some time for everyone to come to terms with,” he said.
“All of the workers have conducted themselves like gentlemen throughout this whole process and it is sad situation considering many of them have worked here for 10 and 20 years and enjoyed working together. We are looking at a number of jobs for employees from Aberdeen at our facility in Gunnedah, but we appreciate that won’t help everyone.
“The consent we needed has been in court for four years and it was basically awarded too late.
“There have been many ups and downs over those four years and a decision had to be made on Thursday, once our directors had the chance to review either reinvesting or closing.
“Some of the conditions (in the consent) were virtually impossible to meet, plus a strong dollar has been terrible for exporters.”
Mr Topper said a handful of staff would be retained, with cropping and cattle fattening planned at the Aberdeen site.
The tannery, which was established in 1973, is estimated to have contributed up to $5 million to the local economy, processing and exporting cattle hides to Asia and Europe.
The plant used to produce 250 tonnes of hide per week for export, but during the last few years was able to produce less than 100 tonnes, due to consent restrictions which were delayed in the Land and Environment Court.
Upper Hunter Shire Council mayor Lee Watts said it was a blow to local families and confirmed council had been in contact with Primo to see if they had positions available.
“We’ve talked to Primo to see if they have any positions for the workers; hopefully they can help,” Cr Watts said.
“It’s a blow to the workers and their families, local businesses and the schools in the town.
“We could lose these people from our communities.
“Most of these guys aren’t young and they are worried who will employ them.
“They have families they support, children and in many cases elderly parents relying on them.
“Many of them thought they’d be able to finish their working lives here.”
Cr Watts’ husband, Colin, worked at the tannery.
The workers said they were disappointed in their union, the tannery’s management and Darley.
Mr Watts said he was disappointed the union organiser would not be coming to help them negotiate their entitlements with the company.
“I’ve paid into the union since I was 16 and they won’t drive eight hours when our livelihoods are being negotiated,” he said.
Frank Jeans, who had worked at the tannery for more than 23 years, was critical of management and Darley.
“The place could have been managed better and ever since they brought Gunnedah the writing has been on the wall.
“As people left here they didn’t replace them.
“It all started getting bad three or four years ago.
“Darley spent millions protesting a court case they didn’t win, but it has possibly cost people their jobs. Darley wouldn’t help us.”
Charlie Saunders said he had approached Darley for work when the tannery had temporarily shut.
“Last time it closed here I went there looking for work, but I was told they had nothing and that was it,” Mr Saunders said.
Mr Watts added, “a guy at my age won’t get a job in the mines”.
The tannery had closed four times during the court battle and employees had used most of their entitlements.
They now worry what entitlements will be left.
The workers also speculate that the tannery may continue in a limited capacity to treat hides from Scone abattoir during the summer months to ensure they do not spoil when they are transported to Gunnedah.
Cr Lorna Driscoll said some residents would be pleased, but said it was a great loss to the community.
“There are some people who will be pleased to be able to build more houses, but I think the tannery has contributed a lot to the town,” she said.
“They spent a lot of money fixing the plant so there were no smells coming from it anymore.
“They were very good people and used the shops in town as much as they could.”
State member for Upper Hunter George Souris said he felt sympathy for the families and the development was a loss to the community.
Federal member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon said it was disappointing and he hoped the workers were able to find other employment soon.
“I will be happy to assist those workers in any way that I can,” he said.