Dennis Cotter

Dennis Cotter - Primac Guru

Good day all Primac Wantoks (Gurus).

I have been encouraged to put to paper my working life, with firstly Mactaggarts and then Primac.

I commenced work with Mactaggarts on the 7th December 1970 as an office boy working out of the mail room with Mr Bill Cooper. This lasted for twelve months and during this time our duties were doing mail runs, delivering paper work to the wool and produce stores, and of course the Tuesday pig and calf sales at Cannon Hill with Fitzsimmons. I was working beside the capable staff of Mr Bill Webb, Vic Barwick, Stafford Campbell and Reg Grace etc. Thursdays was cattle and sheep day at “the hill” with Mactaggarts. The livestock department, at first, consisted of Don Milligan (the boss), Vic Perkins and I think Long John Sullivan. Bill (Bronco) Steer was also here for a period of time. Us juniors were also involved with the monthly wool sales, and this was the only time we were ever paid overtime.

An incident comes to mind whilst in the mail room, that we received a small parcel addressed just to Mactaggarts, so upon opening there was a match box, and inside wrapped was two small objects like small marbles. I tried to establish what these things were, so broke one in half, and eventually found out they were cattle gall stones consigned to our Produce Department, and that they were very valuable especially whole, so by breaking one, the value was halved. I remember we said that’s how they were received in the mail.

Mactaggarts Cairns Branch 1972 – 1974

After twelve months I was despatched to the Livestock Department, as a booking clerk. Four months later in April I was fortunate to be transferred to a reasonably new branch at Cairns. What a climate shock when I stepped off the plane. the heat and humidity which I later thought nothing about. Cairns branch had opened a couple of years earlier (not sure exact date). The original manager was Kevin Doyle, stock salesman was Graham Barrie and our office lady Isa Jones.

When I arrived, Brian McPherson was the manager, Mike Loxton the stock salesman and Isa Jones was still the office lady. My duties were merchandise. Cairns office looked after all the Gulf, Cape York peninsular, as well as the coastal belt down to Tully and the Atherton Tableland. The majority of our clients did not have telephones so communication was by telegram or two-way radio. Every morning and afternoon we would go out of town (Cairns at this time was still a small town) and throw an aerial over a tree and call up our clients. We supplied to these properties everything they required, from fresh fruit and vegetables, dry food stuff, and alcohol. 

Before the start of the annual wet season, we would get the stations wet season orders, and then despatch on semi-trailers to the various properties. I could go on with lot more about what other services we carried out for our clients. Cattle auctions were held in Mareeba during the dry season, and we held regular small sales at the Cairns show grounds or a small set of yards at Tolga.

I think it was 1973 that Mactaggarts bought out a private agent Feeny Bros in Mareeba, which became a sub branch of Cairns. Mike Loxton was appointed officer in charge. About this time Paul Bond, who was working for Australian Estates in Ravenshoe, joined us a Merchandise officer in Cairns, and I then worked as a salesman between both branches. Our opposition in Cairns was Primaries. In Mareeba there was Elders, AML& F and Dalgety’s.

It was whilst I was working out of these branches, that I met Jamie Long, who at the time was the Station Manager at Lakefield, which was a well-developed cattle property north of Laura, and is now a National Park. Once again, I could go on about work, and the great social life one had working this vast area of country.

As the older Gurus will know, it was in 1974 that the great cattle depression hit with cattle all but given away with fat bullocks selling for around $10, and fat cows $4. Mactaggart senior management decided to down size the branches and in early November 1974 I was transferred back to Mactaggarts Head Office as an office clerk, whilst unfortunately many of the office girls were being made redundant.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies 1974 – 1978

The last Friday of November some four weeks later at 5pm I received a message that Mr Jim Heading wished to see me. I thought ok my time is up, see you guys around the traps. Mr Heading explained that Peter Deaville who had been transferred to Papua New Guinea had resigned to join the PNG Agriculture Department and that he had no one to replace him, and was offering the position to me. He advised that he thought I was too inexperienced and young to take on the position but he had no one else. I then had to see Mr Doug Mactaggart, who said he thought I could handle the job. I took the weekend to think about it and on the Monday morning I said yes, I would go.

It was then full on to organize work permits for PNG, have certain vaccinations as recommended by Mr Trevor McGuire, and organize plane tickets. I arrived in Lae PNG at 4.30pm on Friday of that week to be greeted by Bruce Vidgen.

Dennis Cotter & Trevor Francis ( Another Mactaggarts Guru visiting from Queensland) having a break on the Kassam Pass, Highlands Highway between Lae & Goroka PNG .”

Photo Dennis Cotter circa 1977

Greg Jacobsen has written in a previous blog a very good account of New Guinea Pastoral Supplies that we both worked for, and I don’t have a great deal to add other than to say that for a very inexperienced young fellow it was steep learning experience, as Greg said as to hold us in good stead for when we returned to Australia.

Whilst I was still in Cairns I had some involvement in buying cattle to be exported to PNG, and then on Christmas Day 1974 I was in Lae PNG to unload the shipment off the “Ida Clausen”.

As well as hard work, we also had a great social life, especially at a plantation called “Awilunga”, which was being managed by Henry Leonard, who, when he returned back to Queensland, worked out of our Beaudesert Branch, and later at Goondiwindi Branch as Property Consultant.  We held Greg Jacobsen’s 21st birthday at “Awilunga”, and I remember it was a big weekend.

It was during my time in PNG that Primaries and Mactaggarts joined forces to become Primac Association Limited. I spent four wonderful years in PNG, and in early November 1978 I returned to Australia.

Back to QLD, Primac Mitchell to Primac Julia Creek – 1979

On my return to Queensland I took eight weeks leave, Mr Derek Andersen then appointed me as branch manager of Mitchell office, to replace John Moody, who was transferred to Tara Branch. The wonderful Miss Simms was the office lady, and one could say, she was the Branch Manager, as she knew more about the clients and the business than anyone. I was only in Mitchell not quite four months when I had a call late on a Thursday night from Mr Heading asking me to pack up head to Julia Creek Branch with some urgency, as the manager Mike Habin had been transferred to the branch manager’s position, Townsville Branch in a hurry.

I took four days to pack, and arrive at Julia Creek. Mr Ron French, the company branch inspector, was caretaking the branch and was glad to see me arrive.

Julia Creek was a two-person branch, myself, and a female staff member by the name of Colleen. Within a few months, we were joined by Steve Fleming. Julia Creek was mostly cattle with some sheep, and I would say we had the majority of the business. Julia Creek was a large trucking centre for rail, and many a night was spent at the various rail yards in the district loading cattle onto trains. The clients in Julia Creek were very loyal, but the social life was very lacking. There are numerous stories I could relay about my time in Julia Creek but that can wait for another day.

Dennis Cotter auctioneering at a special cattle sale at Julia Creek. Working with Dennis on the rail are Steve Fleming & Allen Mitchell

Photo – Dennis Cotter

Private Agency Venture – 1979 to 1983

In October 1979 I resigned to join up with Geoff Daniels of Brodie and Co, Cloncurry and Ian McMillian of AML Estates to operate out of Cannon Hill. We had purchased the small agency of Gordon Hawkins. This office was to receive cattle from Cloncurry and Winton from Daniels and McMillian properties but the drought at the time continued on, and the cattle never eventuated. As well all the small properties around the Gold Coast, Samford and near Brisbane areas, were be being subdivided, and hence the demise of Cannon Hill as a selling centre, was on the cards. We closed up shop, and went back to Brodie and Co in Cloncurry in March of 1983. This was one of the worst moves I have ever made, and very much regretted this move.

Primac Richmond – 1983 to 1985

This was a nightmare and I was very happy when approached by Steve Fleming and Ken Glasheen, if I would come back to Primac as branch manager in Richmond. Andrew Jensen, the then manager, was on transfer to Charters Towers Branch. I arrived in Richmond in early June 1983. Richmond was a two person branch. The the office lady was Katie Forster. Richmond was a difficult branch as, at this time, the Cattlemen’s Union was very strong. They had an agency in Charters Towers, and received good support from the Richmond district. We did have some good clients, and over a period of time we managed to increase our share of business. Peter Woollett joined us as a salesman, Katie left, and was replaced by her cousin Jill Kennedy. When Peter left he was replaced by Bernie Frawley.

One Saturday afternoon in 1984, after we had finished working cattle in the Richmond yards, I received a call from Peter Kennedy, the president of the turf club, they were in desperate need of a race caller. I said I would have to get cleaned up as I was covered in dust. Peter said there was no time, the first race is about to start. Unfortunately the race caller had been involved in a car accident.

For the next fifteen months, the new venture as a race caller had me calling races from Cloncurry to east of Hughenden for at least two Saturdays every month. I was calling races on a Saturday afternoon and with this exposure, it definitely helped in increasing our Primac business.

Primac Mackay 1985 to 1990

In early April 1985, Primac purchased a rural merchandise business in Mackay. I was approached to transfer, to take on the merchandise managers’ role, of the now greatly expanded Mackay office. I arrived in Mackay in mid-June. Allen Mitchell was the manager, Grant Stone was in merchandise, but went to a salesman’s role. Ross Palmer was the stock salesman, and I think, Wayne Jahnke was also there in stock. Viv Weise was our office lady. The new expanded business had extra staff, of three merchandise counter sales people and a storeman.

During the sugar cane depression in 1986 I was approached by one of the sugar mills if Primac could supply their growers with all their fertilizer and chemicals. The mill would pay the account every Monday morning if we sold the goods at a much reduced margin. I agreed and this was the beginning of Primac’s launch into the fertilizer and agriculture chemical business. 

This involvement did not go down too well with the opposition and Crop King, as we did not have an agreement to sell fertilizer, but I pointed out that Primac did have an account with them, and there was nothing they could do about it. In the first year we had ten percent of the fertilizer market share, and continued to grow. We then had to employ a special cane salesman to assist with the expanding business.

In 1988 I convinced Head Office that we should buy a produce business on the southern outskirst of Mackay, and from here, we could expand our sugar cane business. This turned out to be a great success, we had to employ another sales person to keep up our support to the business.

Horse, Harness and Greyhound Race Calling

During my time in Mackay, I was involved with announcing, at various gymkhanas and other sporting events. Primac was very much involved with supplying dog food and minor drugs to the greyhound racing industry and in 1988, I was approached to be the race caller on a Thursday night, as the regular caller had taken a position with Sky Racing. I took on the position, and then the Harness Racing club asked me to call their races on a Wednesday afternoon. Then the Horse Racing club asked me to call their races every Saturday. With all this race calling, came a ten minute television program on a Saturday night. All this public exposure led to an increase in our Primac business.

Primac Mareeba – 1991 to 1995

In November 1990 I was approached to transfer to Mareeba Branch, as there was an issue. I agreed to go, which in hindsight was not one of my best moves, I have made. Cyclone Joy hit on Christmas Day, and there was massive flooding from Cairns to south of Rockhampton. Crops were destroyed with massive erosion and thousands of livestock killed.

I managed to relocate to Mareeba in late January 1991 after the flooding had subsided. Alistar Stewart replaced me as manager in Mackay. Mareeba was staffed by John Souter as stock salesman/auctioneer, there were three merchandise sales people and two account ladies. We also had a property sales person. Business was difficult. Primac’s share of the livestock business had reduced greatly due to reasons I will not discuss. (Old Gurus will remember the situation that occurred in this branch in the 1990’s).

Primac conducted monthly night store cattle sales at the Innisfail showgrounds. They were a great success, and good for Primac business. All of the staff worked very hard to increase our market share. We ventured into horticulture and obtained market share, but not enough to make the branch very profitable. John Souter bought into a private agency, and Mark Peters was transferred in from Richmond as stock salesman/auctioneer.

I was involved in announcing at various rodeo’s and gymkhanas. During one rodeo the television program 60 Minutes was on site doing a story and hence I was recorded. Wayne Fisher called me the morning after the episode appeared on air, to ask what was happening?

In 1995 Primac purchased a large fertilizer business in Tully. Primac Townsville had been supplying chemicals into the coastal belt from Innisfail to south of Townsville. The new Tully branch would take over all of this business as far south to Ingham.

Primac Tully – 1995 to 1996

So in June 1995, I transferred to Tully as the Branch Manager. Staff consisted of a specialist cane and sugar salesmen, a storeman, truck driver and two account ladies. During the sugar harvest we would be supplying in excess of 100 ton of fertilizer a day. I am not sure if Primac purchased a small outlet in Innisfail, but Primac had a large warehouse on the northern side of town, and from here, big sales of fertilizer and chemical were made.

Primac Kingaroy – 1996 to 1997

Whilst in Tully I approached Wayne Fisher that if a position became available in South East Queensland, I would like to be kept in mind, as our elderly parents were in Toowoomba and Hervey Bay, and we would like to be closer. In early 1996 I was advised that Kingaroy Branch was available, and was I interested. Yes I said, and in June 1996 we relocated to Kingaroy as manager, which included Murgon as Allen Mitchell had resigned. These two branches were not trading well as the private agents had the majority of the livestock business, and what they did not have, went to either Dalby, Toowoomba or Oakey saleyards.

We tried to increase our cropping business, and was successful in some share especially into the wine grape industry. On several occasions we asked for specialist crop sales staff to try and combat the opposition, but the answer was always NO. We even asked for an irrigation specialist, as we could see that this was the future but again NO. Now there are four specialist irrigation companies servicing the South Burnett, where as before there was NIL.

D.C.M and the end of my agency career – 1997

Times were difficult, and morale was low, especially when that company starting with the letter “E” became involved, and it was not long after that, at 10.30pm one night in November 1997 I received the call that I was given a D.C.M. Very typical of this mob as to how they treated their staff even some of the own long term staff.

Life after Primac – 1998 to Current

Hence ended my livestock agency association, after 27 years. I then spent  years just doing casual work and then commenced work in real estate in Kingaroy until May 2016. I took up a position as General Manager of the Professionals Real Estate in Lae Papua New Guinea, with another old Guru, Mike Quinn. (This chapter in my life is another story for another day)

In March 2021 I returned to Queensland to undergo treatment for cancer that had been diagnosed in 2020.

I thoroughly enjoyed my agency work, met a lot of people, and saw a lot of Queensland, especially north of a line, from Mackay to Mt Isa. This is only a brief outline of my agency story. I could have gone into a lot more detail, but did not want to bore you all. As per some previous Agents I am thinking of putting together a more detailed and in depth story of my agency work, and social life, as there were a lot of adventures. I trust you all get something out of this story, and can fill in some gaps to the wonderful Primac story.

Guest Auctioneer at Mareeba

Dennis comes out of Retirement

On the 15th of November 2022, Dennis had an opportunity to sell a pen of heifers at the Mareeba Saleyards. As Dennis said “The last time I sold cattle at auction, they were in the 100’s of c/kg, today the heifers made 400.2c/kg, that took quite a bit of getting used to! “

View a video of Dennis at this link:

Published 28/06/2021 GJ

Posted in : Primac Gurus