“One of the aims of establishing the Primac Gurus website, is to preserve the amazing stories of Primac, and it’s people, in a secure site available to all. This includes our future generations of families and friends.
Since becoming involved, as Secretary of the inaugural Primac Gurus Association Inc committee, I have had the privilege of gathering a wealth of information, provided by a host of Gurus, and posting it to our website. So many of the stories are like “gold”, and provide an opportunity to learn more about the people we worked with.
Some time ago I had my “bullet point” bio added to the site, but always felt it was rather inadequate compared to many, more recent biographies. Some, provide a truly wonderful insight to the lives of our members, outside of the Primac network. I for one, am always interested in the “missing gap” of sometimes decades of our workmates lives.
That said, I have been editing my own story for some time now, and felt the time is right to update my bio to the site. I anticipate that it may stimulate others to provide their very own story, and follow suit, it is a rewarding exercise.”
Kingaroy – The Early Days
I was born and raised in Kingaroy in the 1950’s & 60’s, firstly living in town, and moving onto a farm when I was fourteen.
Dad, had his own cabinet making business, his greatest claim to fame at the time was fitting a new kitchen into Sir Joh and Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen’s home at “Bethany”. Later, with my uncle, they formed a partnership, and farmed two properties in the district. In 1969, after dissolving the partnership Dad moved his family to the Booie district, where he purchased two smaller farms and grew a range of row crops, and ran cattle and pigs.
After finishing Senior, I spent time on the farm, but could easily see that, working with Dad was never going to be a long-term proposition, so after twelve months at home, I started to look at other options.
It was a chance trip to a cattle sale at Boondoomba’s Happy Valley saleyards, conducted by Mactaggarts legend and guru, Jerry O’Sullivan that, set me on a determined course to become an agent. I had been to plenty of livestock and clearing sales around Kingaroy, prior, but this experience, was something else. I was mesmerized by the conduct and logistics of the sale in this bush setting.
After telling Mum, I remember her supporting me, by sitting me down at the kitchen table, and between us, we drafted and sent off letters to all of the major pastoral houses. To this day I believe she did it by stealth, to not let Dad know what was going on, as he presumed, I would stay by his side on the farm. Soon enough, I had replies from three firms inviting me down to Brisbane for interviews. Fortunately, Mactaggarts was one of those, and having the recent Boondoomba encounter with Jerry fresh on my mind, I was determined that was the firm I would join at all costs.
Brisbane here I come!
Like many Gurus before me, I was initially interviewed by Derek Anderson, who was an absolute gem of a bloke, and then individually I met with Jim Heading and Doug Mactaggart. All three of them made this young adult from Kingaroy very comfortable, and even more determined that this was the firm I wanted to be with. Well, the “ducks lined up” and I was subsequently employed as trainee in the Despatch Department (aka Mail Room) in head office, at 43 Creek Street, commencing in 1973 at age eighteen.
Initially I boarded with my aunt and uncle at Coorparoo for a short while, then progressed to a unit at Camp Hill, then Windsor, and finally at 10 Baradine Street at Newmarket, sharing a house with some great Mactaggarts Gurus, including Marg Barton, Ken McCaffery, & Trevor Francis to name a few. Mind you though, it was always a revolving door, and at times the house was full with stay over visitors. The Newmarket home was often referred to as the Newmarket Branch of Mactaggarts. Happy days!!
My first pay packet was a gross of $44.00 per week, and I remember comparing pay packets, at the time, with my sister. She was a nursing sister, at the Kingaroy Hospital, and she boasted that her tax was more than my gross wage. Funny, I was still able to pay for food and lodging, petrol for the car, and drive home to Kingaroy every fortnight. All the time having a great social life. I do remember, a group of us were engaged to do some weekend work for a city-based client, who had a property at Maleny. We would, clear lantana off the mountains on Saturday and Sunday. For our effort, we were able to get cash in hand, more than our weekly wage back at Mactaggarts. Mind you I think our client may have had a stake in the Maleny pub, because most of it went back across the bar on some very long sessions on the Saturday nights.
Like all trainees of that era, were we introduced to all departments, particularly the livestock department with Cannon Hill sales on Tuesday’s Pig and Calf sale, with Bill Webb, and Vic Barwick of Fitzsimmons (subsidiary of Mactaggarts). Both gentlemen were great operators and excellent mentors. Thursday was cattle sale day, and again, full on days, but once the books were balanced, the Colmslie Hotel was the go-to venue after the sale.
I had a great time also in the Merchandise Department headed up by Bob Nicholson and Hugh Kelly. I was able to gain a lot of experience with them, and really enjoyed my time. Like most trainees, daily visits to the Wool stores were always a highlight. I was the real live facsimile machine, transferring paperwork backwards and forward to HO.
Lunch time highlight at 43 Creek Street, was playing “pontoon” in the staff room. Some of the regulars were, Col McAlpine, Kevin Ryan, Charlie James, Jim Gibbs and occasionally even Garth Hughes would step up for a game. It was high stakes at five cents a hand.
Allora wasn’t the transfer I was expecting!
My first transfer was in mid 1975, to the southern Downs community of Allora Branch This was just after the merger with Primaries. I boarded at the Railway Hotel across the street from our office. The branch actually traded as Donovan and Son, which once again was a subsidiary, and unlike the Primac branches, still ran their own set of books at the branch. Here I was thinking I was being tasked to become a stock salesman, when in reality, I replaced the retiring office lady, and quickly had to learn the old Kalamazoo accounting system, maintain the monthly accounts, do the cattle sales books, and maintain the creditors. I felt let down at the time, but in hindsight this was some of the best training I was exposed to, and with out a doubt set me up to be a much better manager, years later.
Allora was a vibrant community, and I enjoyed my time there, except for the bitter cold winter days. Roy Smith was our manager, but he too retired during my time, and was replaced by Barry Geitz who transferred in from Mitchell. Barry was an Allora local, and he and his family enjoyed being back home. Errol Mahony was our livestock auctioneer. Errol later went on to act as a buyer for Warwick Bacon.
One fond memory of Allora is meeting Charlie Fraser of C.M Fraser & Sons Livestock Carriers of Warwick. Every week, Charlie would drive his old body truck out to Allora, and I would help him load our farmers pigs and calves consigned to the sale at Warwick. Charlie was a modest man with a modest truck, but their business went on to flourish with their sincere and honest business ethic.
The radio station 4WK radio towers were being built at the time just out of Allora on the north western side. The team of riggers, like me, were boarding at the Railway Hotel, and we became pretty good mates. One day they asked me if I wanted to climb the towers with them. Up to the challenge, I couldn’t see why not, so we fronted out to the site. In a “half baked” safety harness, I was sent up the tower, only to get up to what seemed to be a breathtakingly long way up, I found that my future was not as a rigger, preferring to stick to what I knew. Those guys used to amaze me though, swinging off those towers for hours at a time, securing and tensioning the guy ropes, with nothing but a crude safety harness. I am not sure it would pass muster with current day work place health and safety rules.
Beaudesert and the Cattle Slump of the 1970’s!
After three enjoyable months at Allora, I accepted a transfer to Beaudesert Branch office. Once again, Beaudesert was a vibrant community and a really sound base of loyal clients. We had a very modern and well-equipped office on the main street, with great exposure, and from memory, little in the way of opposition.
The branch was managed by Lester Atkinson, I was his 2IC, mainly concentrating on the merchandise side, but also heavily involved in the livestock department when the need arose. As usual of the communities, we conducted a regular pig and calf sale, and a monthly cattle sale. Naturally because of the proximity to Brisbane, regular consignments of fat cattle left the district for sale at Cannon Hill. We had two full time office staff, they were Carolyn Buckley and Leonie Plunkett. Both were young local ladies, very competent and a pleasure to work with. Paddy Dean was our commission property salesman.
Socially I struggled in Beaudesert. I found it hard to mix with the locals. The Tancred’s meatworks was the main employer, and not being a meatworker, I found it rather difficult to find my niche in the town. In saying that I had lots of mates just up the road, still based in Brisbane and life was pretty darn good.
In 1975 and 1976 saw the worst of the cattle depression. Cattle values plummeted literally overnight, and there was certainly no short term fix for those involved in the industry. I remember a cattle buying trip to Eidsvold and store sale. I was sent there with clients and given the instructions from Lester, that the “rule of thumb” was to price the store steers at a dollar a month. (meaning average 12 month steers should sell for around $12.00 each and 18 month steers at $18.00) I can’t remember the outcome, but definitely didn’t come home empty handed, with a train arriving with our purchases a few days later.
Primac, like most pastoral houses, embarked on reducing their operating costs, and unfortunately that meant reducing staff numbers. Every week, at that time, many of my work colleagues from around the state, were given their notice. It was a tough time, for those involved. I thought it was only a matter of time before my name would be next on the list, so I started to look at other options.
Transfer to PNG as Merchandise Manager NGPS!
It was a chance phone call with Dennis Cotter, that set me on my next life’s chapter. Dennis was, at the time, subsconded from Primac to head up a pastoral agency in Papua New Guinea, called New Guinea Pastoral Supplies. NGPS was partly owned by Primac, and it’s managerial staff were contracted for usually three years and recruited from within the Primac network.
Dennis was holidaying in Brisbane at the time of our phone call, and he mentioned that they were looking for a Merchandise Manager for the NGPS operation. I decided there and then, that I had to apply for the job, mainly thinking, that if I was successful, I would not have to concern myself with ever present retrenchments happening around me in the Primac network. I immediately contacted Derek Anderson, in Brisbane to express my interest. Derek was upfront, and said that they were really seeking somebody with more experience, but thanked me for my interest. Resigned to the fact that at least I tried, I was pleasantly surprised some days later when I took a call from Derek to offer me the job.
I often wonder how that came about, did the management really have a rethink on my potential, was I a last resort, or was it a simple solution to that by me going to PNG it meant one less that had to be dealt with later on. Whatever, I don’t really care how it came about, what I do know it was one of the best opportunities that came my way over my working life.
I didn’t have the greatest of introductions to life in PNG. I remember Dennis picking me up off the plane in Lae, and giving me a run down on the local traffic rules. He said it was completely different driving in PNG, as the pedestrians had no regard for motor vehicles. One of the things he said to me, if I was unlucky enough to hit a local with my car, do not stop, go straight to the Police Station, as pay back could get very nasty. I am not sure I really listened at the time, thinking it would never happen, but sure enough within the week, I did just that.
A fellow walked straight out in front of me, impossible for me to stop in time, he was knocked over and rolled down into the table drain. I stopped, put the car in first gear, and checked that he was okay. Fortunately, he was, but his mates eyed me off and started to come at the car. I remembered Dennis’s words from the week before, and hightailed it straight to the cop shop. It was some 24 hours later that I had to report again to the police station, after a complaint was made. Subsequently I appeared in court and charged K90.00 for negligent driving. A small price to pay, but a big lesson learned.
I have previously written about life in PNG, working as an agent. The story can be found on this website by visiting New Guinea Pastoral Supplies, to be found in the branch list. Suffice to say, it was an amazing time, with plenty of memorable experiences both work related and socially.
I had my 21st birthday party, not long after arriving in the country. Henry Leonard, another Primac Guru, now based in Goondiwindi, hosted my party at their plantation “Awilunga”. It was one of a continuance of social parties for the next three years. One did not need an excuse to have a party. Life was great.
Work was great to. We were involved in a fledgling beef industry, spread across the country, and our interaction with beef clients took us to some rather remote locations, under extreme and difficult circumstances.
I met my future wife, Rosemaree Boyce, along the way. Rosemaree was born and raised on a sheep and cattle property in the Charleville district. She found her way to PNG, as a seventeen-year-old, employed on Dumpu Station in the Ramu Valley, as a governess, to the managers young family.
Newly married and a new job, what could go wrong?
1979 proved to be an eventful year. Rosemaree and I were married in Charleville in January, and after a honeymoon in Australia, we returned to PNG. I had resigned my position with New Guinea Pastoral Supplies, hence Primac, and accepted an offer as Livestock Manager of a herd of 2200 head of cattle, at a property at Mamba Estate Kokoda in the Oro Province. We ran a herd of 1000 breeders plus fattening progeny. We had an on property abattoir and butcher shop, and had a regular contract for 10 steer bodies a week to the Burns Philp supermarket in Port Moresby. Our steers were slaughtered and hung for two days, then flown to Port Moresby on a charter flight, as there was simply no road access to the market.
The property was in the throws of being sold when we arrived, to the PNG Development Bank who became our employers for the next three years of our contract. The property was 10,000 acres of which some 4,000 acres was an established rubber plantation. We had a labour force of 250, mostly involved in the rubber production.
The lifestyle at Kokoda was remote to say the least. We were very much reliant on reliable air services, and the weather could easily close in for days. Our rainfall was around 300 inches per annum, and this could take a toll on any successful beef operation. Our herd at Kokoda, was in fact the first commercial herd of cattle in PNG having flown the first of the herd in DC3’s in 1952.
Return to Australia as a cotton farmer but not for long!
Rosemaree and I were both of the opinion that we could not start a family in such a remote location, so in 1982 we returned to Australia. We had a holiday, and then travelled between our families for about 10 weeks, but quickly becoming sick of living out of a suitcase we started to look for employment. I was not ready to go back to become an agent again, but quickly found work at a large, at the time, irrigated cotton farm “Rothie Norman” on the north branch of the Condamine River at Cecil Plains.
It was great to work through a season on the cotton, and I really enjoyed the changed farming practices that occurred in the six years spent overseas. In saying that though, I was not content to be a farm labourer forever, and it was never going to be a long term option.
Cracow – an amazing experience!
After twelve months, and completing the cotton season, I advertised in the Work Wanted section of the Queensland Country Life. I quickly had contact from Burnett & Louise Joyce at Gyranda Santa stud at Cracow. We arranged to meet, and Rosemaree and I accepted an Overseers position with them.
We spent almost three years at Gyranda, and loved every minute of it. Our work was varied, Burnett (RIP) was a great mentor, and with Louise they nurtured a very loyal team that were treated like family. Rosemaree became an integral part of the livestock team, whilst I became involved in further property development as well as grain and fodder farming on the property. It was an introduction to the stud cattle operation for us as well, doing the show circuits and bull sales.
The return to Primac was an easy choice – Miles bound!
Life took a different direction in 1985, our first daughter was born, and I think we both were looking to the future for something more stable. Was I ready to go back as an agent? I made contact with Derek Anderson back at Primac Head Office, he immediately offered me a position as Merchandise Manager at Blackall. I guess it didn’t take us too much time to turn this down, thinking it wasn’t really where we wanted to be. Thinking that may have been the end of it, Derek, came back with an offer of Manager at Miles, to replace Lionel Arthur, who had recently resigned to purchase a business.
We took up the new position with some trepidation, thinking I may have been out of my depth, but “no pain no gain” I had to give it a go. I remember my first day on the job was a Sunday, in fact, receiving and drafting cattle for Monday’s cattle sale. I positioned myself at the ramp to receive the cattle, and left the drafting to those that knew what they were up to. The first load I met that afternoon, was local Shorthorn bull breeder Gordon Mundell from Redmarley. I unloaded the cattle, introduced myself to Gordon, and received the paperwork. Gordon, always a man of few words, said to me “I was always told never to trust a man in a black hat!” No doubt a reference to my black hat. I brushed the comment off, but it stuck for the next 24 hours, and as soon as the sale was over on Monday, I went straight over to town to Gundry’s Menswear and purchased a new fawn Akubra. Gordon and I went on to be great friends for many years, until his untimely passing.
Miles, was a great community, and Primac’s share of the business in the district grew steadily over the years. Our main competitor was Elders under the management of Brian Taaffe, who ran a good branch and also had a great following.
During our time in Miles our family grew, with a son, and two more daughters. The schools, health facilities, and general shopping were first class in Miles, topped off by the easy access to Toowoomba, where a lot of our family were based. In 1990 we left the company home, having purchased 1,200 acres, near Drillham to the west of Miles.. .
Primac and Elders merged their businesses in 1996, and I was lucky enough to become the new branch manager of the merged entity. It was generally a seamless transition, and in the main most clients accepted the move. The retention of our combined business was solid in the first instance. There was some shrinkage but nothing like expected.
I always said to Rosemaree, there were only three branches that would tempt me in making a transfer from Miles. They were Mackay, Goondiwindi, and Dalby. All were a similar mix to our current position with broadacre and irrigated farming and livestock, only on a bigger scale. So it was in 1997, that Goondiwindi was offered and we didn’t hesitate in making the move. We sold the house section of our property quite quickly, and retained the balance.
Flying the Primac flag. The Primac team, including Ian Jackson and Jason Rose, moved up the street in Miles, to the much larger premises vacated by Elders 11th September 1993 Jason Rose looks very satisfied the day we occupied the Elders building. Ironically Elders moved to the much smaller office occupied by Primac for decades. Chinchilla News Primac Feature circa November 1993 In my 12 years as Primac manager at Miles, I was blessed to be able to work with such a team of great agents. Many a Primac Guru spent some time at Miles. Modern Primac Elders Goondiwindi office circa 1987
Goondiwindi was a tough “gig” in the early days of the Elders transition!
I was blown away with the scale of operations in Goondiwindi. What a vibrant and rich community? The Primac and Elders merger didn’t go near as well in Goondiwindi, In truth, as manager, I walked into a minefield, with low staff morale and some very disturbed clients. The merchandise operation was in a bad way, there were massive stock loses, with stocktakes revealing some huge write offs. The first year at Goondiwindi, was a disaster taking up those losses, and there was no opportunity for a branch profit. Any body that went through that transition, will remember the tumultuous computer system that was thrust upon us, it wasn’t until management bit the bullet and went back to the Elders proven system that things settled down.
It did change though, and I was proud of the fact that in my third year there, we were the third most profitable branch in the state, behind Longreach and Dalby.
In 1999, my brother who had recently retired to Burrum Heads, was doing some part time real estate sales work with the local First National office. I remember ringing him for his birthday, and in the conversation, he asked if I wanted to buy a Real Estate business in town. I immediately came back to him that, no, I have four children and a great job, why would I do that? It got the better of me, and the more I thought about it the more it started to appeal.
A big step a new business venture, a new community and a big mortgage!
Needless to say, in December 2000, once again we resigned for the second time from Primac ( or at least Primac Elders) and made the move to Burrum Heads with a young family, no home, and a new real estate business..
Our business was a great mix. We naturally had the real estate sales department, we also had a property management department, and a fairly intense holiday letting business. Initially life was tough, there were plenty of times I questioned myself for leaving a job I loved, that provided a regular income for our family. It took 18 months, I guess, to fully establish ourselves, and by that time we were able to purchase the business of our only opposition in town.
We took on the Elders Real Estate franchise for the Burrum district, and now the merged businesses thrived with an increased market share, and improved scale of economies with reduced overheads. I guess having been through two mergers in my previous employment with Mactaggarts and then Primac, the same could be said for their mergers as well.
Our business was certainly a family business, with all three of our daughters learning the ropes and becoming proficient Real Estate Agents. At one stage we were top heavy with Real Estate Principals, having four Jacobsen’s with full licences, and another with a salesperson’s registration. Our son however, perhaps saw the light, he did not follow in our footsteps.
Return to PNG – a place close to my heart!
In May of 2011, an opportunity presented itself, to return to Papua New Guinea, to walk the Kokoda Trail. It had always been in the back of my mind, since living there some 40 years earlier, and having flown over the trail countless times. So, at age of 56, I embarked on a trip down memory lane. Our group was privileged to have access to many sites of wartime significance, that were, at the time, unavailable to the usual Kokoda trekkers.
Whilst in the country, I paid a visit to Lae and renewed my acquaintance, with Guru, Mike Quinn. This eventually led to an invitation, from Mike to return to the country on a regular basis over the next four years, assisting him with some very large machinery and disposal auctions.
Our group at Templetons Crossing along the Kokoda Trail, May 2011 With my porter and guide Francis, celebrating the end of our 10 day trek across the Kokoda Trail, May 2011 With fellow Guru, ex Mactaggarts colleague Mike Quinn, selling at the olad Lae Airport in 2014. From memory this sale realized K7,500,000 ($3,500,00AUD) A sample of the machinery offered for auction on the old Lae Airport 2014. Most of the equipment was shipped to Lae by barge from the gold mine on Lihir Island.
An opportunity to step back from a day job presents itself!
Meanwhile back at Burrum heads, having moved to the idyllic beachside location in 2000, I had this warped idea, that this would be a semi-retirement plan, with lots of time for fishing and leisure. How wrong I was, the next eighteen years was at the “coal face” working most weekends, as it was a seven day a week business. We got through, and I have to say, the business has certainly been good to us. By 2018, three of our four children were now making lives for themselves away from the Fraser Coast, so we decided the time was right to pursue an early retirement.
We were able to sell the business as a going concern during that year. With my wife Rosemaree, we were able to transition to the next phase of our lives. I have enjoyed spending time on our forty-acre property, just out of town. I got an owner builders permit, moved a second dwelling onto the property, and established it into a wonderful little cottage. I am currently building a shed, incorporating a family museum, and of course have rebuilt several heritage tractors.
Life is rather hectic, I still find time to regularly go blue water reef fishing with friends, and have just been elected President of the Hervey Bay Heritage Village and Museum. We have a caravan, and have had some fantastic trips around the country, and always arrange our schedule to jump in the van as often as we can. As secretary of Primac Gurus Association Inc, I am now conversing with so many of my former workmates, and really enjoy the social interaction and contact.
Rosemaree and I love the freedom our acreage property offers. A works in progress, I keep adding to the family museum I was satisfied with my restoration of the SuperAM Farmall, I have growing collection! At Richmond racetrack in March 2018, volunteering for Blazeaid after severe flooding devastated much of north west Queensland As the President on the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum, I recently made a book presentation to Councillors of the Fraser Coast Regional Council.
An early foundation and job ethic was formed in the early years of Mactaggarts and Primac!
I have no doubt that my past employment with such a family focused organization such as Mactaggarts, and of course Primac, has been integral, in steering my future in a direction that has been both satisfying and rewarding. The recent reconnection, through this great group, the Primac Gurus, with many old workmates and associates, has also been most fulfilling, and I wish the group a long future.
Last updated 27th May 2022.