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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2398


Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:57): I rise this evening to pay tribute to a prominent Tasmanian who sadly passed away recently: Mr Milan Vyhnalek. I had the opportunity to meet Mr Vyhnalek in the early 1990s when I was a young lawyer. Mr Vyhnalek approached our law firm and I worked on some of his legal affairs at the time. At the time, I took the opportunity to get to know a little bit about him and what he had achieved. As a migrant to Australia, he really was an impressive man and delivered a lot of benefits to the people of Tasmania, particularly the north-west of Tasmania. He was a true entrepreneurial pioneer of the dairy industry on the north-west coast of Tasmania. As I mentioned, he sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 87.

Mr Vyhnalek migrated to Australian in 1950 after fleeing communist Czechoslovakia. Although he was a dairy technologist by trade and training, like many European immigrants of the time he ended up first working on the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme before moving to Tasmania to take advantage of opportunities he saw in the dairy industry. He first attempted to begin cheese making at Marrawah in the far north-west of Tasmania in the early 1950s, but due to opposition from the local and then existing butter factories that venture failed to proceed. This is an example how the protectionism of the time actually did hold back enterprise, wealth and job creation.

Mr Vyhnalek then went on to establish the Lactos Cheese Factory in 1955 on the site adjacent to Betta Milk on Old Surrey Road in Burnie. As I understand it, the idea at the time was that he would use the excess milk from the Betta Milk production to make the cheese and rented some of the land at the Betta Milk factory site in order to make that possible. So it was presented as a win-win for the milk factory and for him.

Back in 1955, Tasmanians were basically used to cheddar cheese in blue cardboard packets, but Mr Vyhnalek's focus was on specialty soft cheeses, such as white mould cheese like brie and camembert, for which Australia's new migrant population provided a ready new market.

In focusing on these types of cheeses and developing the factory that he developed, Mr Vyhnalek put the north-west coast of Tasmania on the map for being home to some of the finest quality speciality cheeses in the world. Mr Vyhnalek sold Lactos in the early 1980s and went on to establish the Lacrum factory at Mella on the far north-west coast of Tasmania near Smithton. Lacrum was significant in size and the first of its kind for the state with leading edge technology such as a 60-cow rotary milking system and silos with capacity for up to 16,000 litres of milk, such was the production capability of this farm.

Mr Vyhnalek also had the foresight to develop Lacrum into a tourist venture, providing a viewing platform for tourists to observe milking. Busloads of people used to come and take advantage of what he was offering. The tourist attraction was included on the itinerary of many touring companies at the time and it actually became a key attraction of the Circular Head region.

Mr Vyhnalek was a true pioneer of the dairy manufacturing industry in Tasmania and indeed in Australia. Through skill in cheese making and the clever marketing he applied as he built Lactos, he turned Lactos into the largest manufacturer of specialty cheese in Australia and also a considerable exporter. Although Lactos is no longer Tasmanian owned, it both directly and indirectly continues to be a major employer on the north-west coast region through its support of local farmers and suppliers.

Milan Vyhnalek contributed significantly to the north-west coast community and indeed to the broader Tasmanian community. He leaves a legacy that the community to continues to benefit from around 60 years since he opened his first factory. The people of Tasmania and of the north-west coast in particular are very fortunate to have had a pioneer of such vision, dedication and skill as Milan Vyhnalek.