Celebrating 30 years – The very beginning

30 years peterson portable sawmills

I remember living in the jungles of the Fiji Islands, spending my days making scrub huts and make-believe houses in the forest.

I remember the whole-night trips by boat to the nearest town once a month – that’s when I learned to love stars and respect the ocean.

I remember the boat filled with store-bought timber… so when the boat leaked and you couldn’t get to the bottom to bail properly, the timber just floated inside the boat. I remember the days of carting these boards by bullock-sled over three miles to the homestead site.

I remember being so proud of our first ‘timber’ house – a huge upgrade from the thatch huts we had previously lived in.

I remember the first hurricane that came straight overhead – Dad was in the rafters lashing the poles to each other with wire, while the whole place groaned and screamed, and the banana trees outside were flattened.

I remember Mum insisting we had to have a stronger house… incidents of shouting and throwing of coffee-tin-cups were frequent… there sure wasn’t too much privacy in a one-room cabin!

“I remember the whole-night trips by boat to the nearest town once a month –

that’s when I learned to love stars and respect the ocean.”


I remember my ‘slightly different’ Uncle visiting from the USA, bringing with him countless suitcases with hydraulic fittings for some crazy sawmill idea… but somehow they ended up planting a field of peanuts instead.

That sawmill never eventuated in the Fiji Islands. Crazy Uncle went home. The sun came out and my parents carried on with their market gardening and pig farming. I grew to a point where home-schooling was no longer feasible, and we moved to town. With real houses. And real schools. There was actually one other white kid in my high school!! I graduated and was looking forward to my first formal dance.

Then the 1987 military coup hit. Locals were rioting, minorities were being beaten up, and the military was out of control. Mum was 8 ½ months pregnant, so Dad sent us to the nearest safe country where they had friends – New Zealand.

He tried carrying on with his pig farm business, but the military got some tip that he was trying to lead a revolt (my Dad? Never. Lol). He ended up badly battered with a couple of broken ribs, so he was on the next plane out.

Being refugees into New Zealand is an interesting plight. You’re not allowed to work, because you don’t have a work-permit. Instead you are given a refugee allowance to live on. And the Salvation Army rallied ‘round and gave us clothes and food – I’d never seen so many clothes and such a full pantry! Sweet. So while we all waited for the immigration paperwork to run it’s course, I discovered boys and Dad discovered garage-sales.

I remember bringing Chris home through the side entry, because Dad had some gawd-awful contraption spread all over the yard – very embarrassing for a teenager! I completed a course at the local Technical Institute and married Chris the following year. We were so young we had to get our parents’ signatures on the license, and Chris’ mates laid money on the bet we wouldn’t last a year. Huh. We had our 30th anniversary last year. Still have that original $20 bill that is no longer legal-tender!

portable wood mill design

Meanwhile Dad the ‘mad professor’ continued to design his contraptions. It actually kinda worked. He built the machines from his garage at home, each one different from the last. As each new idea hit him, he would simply add it to the next machine. Chris had completed his mechanical engineering qualification by now, and was often helping Dad out in the weekends, suggesting how designs could be simplified etc.

Fast-forward several years and Dad has too many orders from his Australian agent, to keep up. Chris joins him first, and a commercial factory site is rented. I then completed my Management qualification and joined Dad to pull his business into the 21st century. Sadly, the team didn’t make it very far together. I’m talking about the court battles with Lucas Mills, Mum and Dad’s incredible losses, and the beginnings of Chris and my new Peterson company in 2003.

Our kids have now spent 10 years building scrub huts and chasing pigs, their dad now has sawmills all over the place, and I’m still insisting on a bigger house.

And the World is enjoying the best darn Peterson Sawmills ever, which are making bigger and stronger houses for all of your families!

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