Gunns was founded in 1875 by brothers John and Thomas Gunn and is one of Australia's longest standing companies. From its humble origins as a building business the Gunns company is today a listed ASX/200 company operating a range of forest products, wine and MIS (Managed Investment Schemes) divisions.
The first significant building project undertaken by the J & T Gunns building company was the construction of St Andrews Church in Launceston; today, a building which stands a proud reminder of a bygone era. Launceston has done an excellent job in preserving its historic buildings, many of them monuments to the work of J & T Gunns building company. Many of Launceston's historic buildings stand testament to the quality and craftmanship that is still evident in the work of the present day Gunns construction arm; Hinman, Wright and Manser in the 21st century.
In the 1890s, Gunns entered the timber producing industry. Gunns' first saw mill was erected near the Tamar River at Henty's Wharf which was later reclaimed and developed into a beautiful park for the people of Launceston. Gunns' foray into the sawmill and hardware business was driven by the need to provide materials for their building business. The business continued to grow during the early 1900s and new premises were built, to house the expanding hardware and building businesses, including the architecturally impressive Post Office building with its unique Bell Tower on the corner of Paterson and St John Street in Launceston. Gunns are still very much involved in the building and hardware business, but it is the timber and forest products business that forms the greater part of their operations today.
Initially Gunns' sawmills were scattered through the bush and the production of timber was a the result of hard labour as trees were felled with axes and cross saws. Chain saws were not used until the 1950s. Even the transportation of logs was primitive until the 1940s with bullock and horse drawn wagons the main mode of transport until the introduction of bulldozers and trucks in the late 1940s. Most of the mills were driven by steam from a boiler fuelled with saw dust before it was supplemented by diesel and eventually electricity. Conditions were harsh, breeding the tough woodcutter of the bush who worked a 48 hour week.
Tasmanian Oak comprises about 95% of hardwood produced in Tasmania. It is an extremely versatile timber being used for everything from heavy construction to fine furniture, but it is difficult to produce, requiring careful seasoning before use. Tasmania leads the world in seasoning techniques due to the difficulties encountered in producing Tasmanian Oak. Gunns were among the first to use kilns for drying timber. They were the first to apply the term "value added" to their business as they moved into the joinery business and the prefabrication business. While much of their timber was imported during the early days of production, as the business grew Gunns eventually began exporting Tasmanian timber to other parts of the world.
Frederick John Gunn and Frank Lindsay Gunn continued to run the family business following the deaths of their respective fathers John and Thomas Gunn. Fred ran the Gunns business in Launceston while Frank moved to Hobart to run the southern half of the business known as Crisp & Gunn. Fred Gunn continued to run the business for 39 years taking it through the Great Depression and the war years. Fred's sons John and David joined the company in the 1940s but both had careers interrupted by war and appointed Keith Hardman to administer the family business. It was left to John and David with the assistance of Keith Hardman to cope with post-war re-construction, modernisiation and a growing emphasis on timber production and marketing. Finally in the mid 1980s the Gunn family would dispose of its interests and the business would become a public company. Increased capital would permit dramatic expansion and a dynamic move into a broader field of forest products. Much of the success of the Gunns operations during these years has been attributed to the calibre of their employees who proved a capable and loyal workforce. Both John and David were directors for 40 years but the day to day running of the business was managed by Hardman who was succeeeded as General Manager by Robert Graham in 1971. John Gay was appointed as General Manager in 1985 after a number of appointees holding the position for short terms only. John had been timber manager since 1973. John's practical, commonsense approach to business coupled with his experience working in the sawmills gave him a solid platform for leading the company through the next 20 years of expansion.
In 1986 Gunns became a public company after 115 years of private ownership by the Gunn's family. The Gunn's family made a greater contribution to the development of industrial, commercial and community life in Launceston than any other.
In 1894 a Melbourne Newspaper wrote of Gunns enterprise:
" The name of Gunn is to the front of Launceston as that of a family of old and prominent citizens. By their works ye shall know them. They build not for today......but for generations "
A sentiment that is very much alive in Gunns business philosophy today.
The development of a plantation estate has been part of Gunns strategic vision for the past 50 years. We commenced our plantation estate in the 1940s, planting softwoods for paper supply to the Burnie Pulp and Paper Mill in north west Tasmania.
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