John M. Higgins born Rockhampton 23rd August 1938,
Work colleague and good friend, Richard Handley remembers John well!
A lot of this story has been edited and copied from his “Tome” of some 16 pages. I sincerely hope I have done Hig justice with this partial reproduction.
Hig, as he was popularly known by, apparently had led a rather checkered life in the workforce, before his father (a relative of Director Jack Wyland) arranged an interview in Primaries Head Office with the Chief, Mr Alan Campbell. In Hig’s own words, “he was a tender 26-year-old, and a failure.”
John Higgins – The Livestock Agent.
Richard continues “All went well, so in due course he was on the Westlander headed for Roma where he was met by stock-salesman Fergie Johnson. Fergie was a very understanding mentor as he was able to soon fill John in on what a heifer was – he admitted he had no knowledge of cattle and sheep, which he later learnt was the backbone of the livestock agency business”.
In Johns own words “The Primaries Office was situated in the main street, over the road from the School of Hearts Hotel. George Henderson was Branch Manager and auctioneer (he was married to Denise Spencer, a bronze medal winner from swimming at the 1956 Olympics). Stock Salesman was Fergie Johnson. Fergie was an old dealer origination from Beaudesert. He was a top salesman who was out and about paddock selling to dealers and producers. Stock Salesman 2 – Bill Cooper – an old school type who knew all the right people. Harry Siggs, a polio survivor was Merchandise Manager and could be heard all over the office when he was on the phone. Harry loved ICI products and had his clients so under control that they would always take ICI products under fear of death. Jim Walsh was the accountant. James could be relied on to balance the books each month without seeming to try. Patricia Lenihan, the senior female secretary who beside her other duties such as typing, potty trained God only knows how many (me included) so called stock salesmen. She was married to Snow and their children were a pair of champion Labradors which they showed and bred. Margaret Corey was the junior female who had a love of horses and mixed in exulted circles in the equestrian world. The red sheep dog who was higher in rank than me and who would never take my directions when trucking sheep. Bob Isles was a casual/ permanent drafter and cattle & sheep handler at the sale yards, spelling paddocks and rail yards. He was a most important part of the team as he looked after the saleyards and watering points as well as his other duties.
The Company supplied single Staff Quarters behind the Office.
The Motor vehicles were George’s, Fergie’s & Bill’s Holdens and Harries Ford Zephyr Ute.
At that time twice (Tuesdays) monthly cattle sales were conducted under the title of combined agents. Primaries and Australian Estates had their own yards, and the other Agencies had the Blue Yards. The cattle were drafted to suit the yards i.e., Fats in Primaries Yards, Steers in the Blue Yards and store females in Australian Estates Yards. A yard boss was appointed for each yard.
Fellow agents In Roma included –
Winchcombe Carson – Val Harms & Jim Brown; Dalgety NZL – John Roberts & Stan (Old Son) Wallace; Australian Estates – Artie Slaughter & Peter Flower; Elders Goldsborough Mort – John Maloney & Ross Allen
The work regime at Roma comprised several set weekly jobs. Firstly, at daylight on Mondays it was the trucking of clients’ sheep to the Cannon Hill (Brisbane) Saleyards for the Thursday sales. Sheep and I didn’t mix very well and to make matters worse dogs took no notice of me at all. Bob Isles could pick a stray dog in town and have it working for him in no time. Sheep are ignorant bastards of things to load, and the rail wagons could also carry the same description. George Henderson could count sheep when they were going by in 5’s. I somehow managed. Once I loaded my wallet in the wagon with the sheep. It was sent back from Brisbane after being lain on, and covered in all things sheep do. The leather was OK, but the aroma made it only fit for the dump. The reason that the wallet was in the truck was that I also had spent time insides making sure of the numbers in each compartment. The clients would most times include a sheep for the agent, so mutton was a regular on the menu. Killing sheep was a kind of square off for the trauma they caused in the rail yards.
The other regular job was the cattle sale. The path to the sales was taking in bookings, arranging permits to travel and then booking a transport to load and deliver off the property. The transporters in Roma were Fergie Williams (a pioneer of semi transporting of livestock), Roma Transport, managed by Kieth Johnson and Hans De Wilges (the Flying Dutchman) with his body truck. We would attend the saleyards on Mondays into the night and take delivery of the stock.
Before the actual sale started the stock had to be drafted into lines. This was done by Bob Isles with us stock salesmen opening the relevant gate for each selection.
Regular Buyers included Peter Knauer, Dalby – Bill Garvey, Elders Miles – Bill Lawton, Elders Dulacca. Special mention needs to be made of James Howard Houston, “Bugs Bunny”. Roma cattle were generally Herefords and respected for the great quality. Southern weaner buyers included W. W. Dixon, Claude Sylvester and Mr Richardson from Wodonga in Victoria. These buyers put together lines of weaners and walk them south.
One of the other jobs was to take clients, on an annual basis, to James Sparks, Hereford stud at “Lyndley,” Jandowae. This would cause some stress due to the need to have bookings verified beforehand in writing so that Mr Sparkes could not say there was no booking. He was an autocratic person, and his bulls were in great demand and were used by most of the top herds in the district. During my first year I set off with clients in Georges Holden with Fergie in another to make the trip. Getting to Lyndley was uneventful. My clients were John Curry Tom and his son Peter from down the Southern Road and Tom Murphy from Dulacca. The selection of bulls involved the clients being shown pens of polls and horned bulls with a few extras to allow for rejections. Herefords had an eye cancer weakness, and the Lyndley cattle were not immune. Some clients would ask about the breeding record and eye pigmentation of the dams. They’d even try to sidle up the Ian Sparks for information which wasn’t really of any good. Eventually the bulls would be selected, and delivery arranged. Getting home was another experience. First stop was at the Top Pub in Jandowae for lunch. Unfortunately, lunch went on and on. Second stop was at Chinchilla, third at Dulacca and by then I was off with the fairies. I was told that by the time we went through Wallumbilla we were a menace on the road. Luckily, we made it back to Roma where Fergie gave George a bad report of my drink driving.
Sale days saw the team on the selling rail -George doing the selling and the rest of us either booking up or calling bids. The prices were in pounds shilling and pence with George a master at calling close to the market. After the sale was balanced and deliveries attended to it was off to The School of arts or Dalton’s Royal Hotel where all agents and buyers mixed, it was “2 bob in” which would give you a couple of beers. As time went on it was suggested that I should learn to be an auctioneer. The learning process was conducting mock auctions and practicing in private. My first pen – I remember prancing around, hitting the cattle and trying to add up.
At Roma, Robert (Silly) Spencer, George Henderson’s Brother-in-Law, and I used to spread rumours that Geo had been transferred to Brisbane – this was to see how long it would take to return to us. We were eventually caught out when unbeknown to us he was! George’s transfer followed Ferg Johnsons leaving to join Andersons Meatworks as the livestock buyer and Bill Cooper leaving to join the Australian Estates and I was by default the Stock salesman.
I took over the Management of QPPL Jandowae from a Mr Eddie Clark who was an original owner of the Agency, trading as Farmer & Clark. Eddies wife Clarice was employed as well as Jim (Sleepy Jim) Hoskins (bookkeeper) – (there was a Butcher Jim Hoskin) and Harold (Roo ) Kennedy. I asked Mrs Clark to type something, and she informed me she did not type.
After attending my first Jandowae sale I could see that the clients were not being properly treated. Roo’s brother Jack would pen up and draft and bring the cattle to the Sale Ring. This was badly organised as there always seemed to be good cattle left to last. I left Roo to sell and tried to arrange better supply – a very difficult task as Jack didn’t see too much wrong. I was told by Mr James Sparkes – our major vendor and a Director of Primaries – that Mrs Clark had rung him to tell him I would not last as she said ‘Look at him, he’s working in the yards.
Sir James Sparkes, as he was later titled, was the owner of “Lyndley” and was the father of R L Sparkes of National Party fame, and Ian. Sir James was also the controller of “Hornet Bank” at Taroom through his marriage to Lady Sparkes who was a Scott and owners of “Hornet Bank”.
Sir James’s cattle were magnificent and would be drafts of fat bullocks. He seemed to fatten by planting sugar drip and leaving the cattle on this until oats were ready. He arranged annual sales of Hornet Bank steers at Jandowae and then would compete for them against buyers such as Stewart Redman “Lanark”, Durong and Dave Staines Darr Creek. Dave and Stewart were also major buyers at Eidsvold.
The Jandowae Saleyards were compact but well maintained by such people as Jack Kennedy and Patrick McNamara a local small holder.
We would commence selling bullocks in two lanes and then transfer to sell through the ring. It seemed to me to be an ideal scheme as small lines would be displayed as individual lots and seen as well as the pen lots.
Sale days were Fridays twice monthly.
Post sale it seemed that all the districts would meet in any of the three pubs – The Bottom Pub, Middle Pub or the Top Pub and it was ritual that a drink was enjoyed by everyone, and I mean everyone! God only knows how everyone got home.
We also conducted weekly pig and calf sales which slowly ceased due to the district switching to meat cattle. I knew bugger all about pigs, but Roo had been brought up selling and trucking pigs. On one occasion I went into Dalby to help with the pig sale. I received a truck load of huge, large whites which I tried to direct into the washing pens – I gave them a tickle up with my cattle flogger to help them on their way. When I eventually got them to the wash and turned the hose on them, I vow and declare every welt showed up in red on their backs – I literally shat myself. Luckily the welts disappeared before the sale. I snuck over to the car and threw the flogger to buggery.
I conducted the first Stud Auction in the Jandowae yards.
Pictured: Doug Trezise General Manager of Primaries, Ray Barrett, Self, Peter Lloyd, Auctioneer, Dudley Flemming and Jim Hoskins at the back.
I went to Jandowae as a raw new manager of Primaries, taking over from an old and respected gentleman in Mr Eddie Clark. Somehow, I ran smack bang into the Bassingthwaite families, and I guess have remained smack bang in their grasps ever since.
Firstly, there was big Geoffery – my competitor with a great personality. Big Geoff and I somehow formed a friendly relationship, and he even came to name a racehorse “Mr Higgins“. It won at Warra and after racing somewhat unsuccessfully in Brisbane seemed to disappear.
This is an extract from a “report” one of Higgins friends wrote about him –
We all went to the local Balls, and hardly missed one. They were great fun, and I we all danced lots, and drank lots. And we all seemed to smoke in those days. It is much healthier now. The towns do not seem to have many Balls anymore. They were such a great social occasion. John as usual always enjoyed himself, and told such good jokes, or sometimes not so good.
I am sure many people do not know that John is such a good poetry writer. He put an excellent entry into the Bronze Swagman Awards at Winton. It was about a Bush Ranger, very well written. He did not get published, however the Swagman Awards are of a high standard, and so many good poets would have missed out on recognition owing to limited space in the publication. Always loved Val – did she mean the poem was no bloody good?
John and Pat fitted very well into the Jandowae… Dalby district and contributed in many ways in the community. John was a popular agent with Primac and seemed to know most people in the area, and I am sure he spent hours on the phone every night phoning farmers and graziers drumming up business. He was a very good Auctioneer, and was in demand.
John or Higgs as we called him, and lots of other names! Was a great mix of personalities. Life of the party, or he could be quiet and not saying much if he felt like it. However, we think they “broke the mould, when they made John”.
And I think he will be remembered by most people with affection.
They’re saying I’m a moody sod.
There must be a separate chapter on Round Hill as I discovered it when on an Easter, boys own, fishing trip with several Jandowaeites. We travelled up from Jandowae and set up camp on Round Hill complete with a fridge on its back full of ice and beer.
Anyway, I fell completely in love with Round Hill – it had everything, Creek to the Sea, Ocean Bay, Mud flats, sandy sheltered inlet, Mud Crabs and Mackerel. Eventually after another visit, I found a cliff face house block available for $6500.
I started building at RH by myself. I’m not a very good builder I discovered. I purchased a cement mixer and with James Bassingthwaite, who had a bobcat, levelled a house base complete with foundations ditches. I had a plan of a house drawn up which was a bit too ambitious. I found a group who were builders and handymen who eventually completed a magnificent beach house.
We caught numerous mackerel and some monster other varieties and loved it. We never failed to feed on Muddies whenever we visited. In other words, had a great time. We caught some great fish.
Our Dalby Office was run by Dudley (Duddles) Flemming. Duddles was a feisty, active agent who had opened the Dalby Office after transferring down from Biloela. Duddles hated the idea of Jandowae being in such close vicinity, because firstly we sold at 3 ½% against Dalby’s 4 ½% (the others in Dalby sold for 5% commission) and that we would get 1% rebate for bookings. His favourite saying was being in ‘the invidious position regarding commission differences.
Mick Thornton was Dudleys Auctioneer/ Stock salesman.
During the slump Mick was offered a position with Teys Brothers, Biloela and went. What with the pressure of the slump and this the result was that Dudley had a breakdown when selling in the Dalby yards. I was in assisting when it happened.
The upshot was that I left Jandowae to replace Dudley as Manager of Dalby right in the middle of the cattle slump.
Once again, a house was purchased in Dalby for our tribe which had now reached 4.
Dudley had built a merchandise shed at the Saleyards and the Office was established there. The shed was a great place as it was designed to be a drive in with offices attached. There was also a set of staff quarters at the back.
The staff comprised of Livestock people Geoff (Wriggles) Bloomfield, Peter (Pedro) Brazier, Bob Summerfield, Bernie (Barnyard) Marrinan & Tom Hockings, with a casual drafter Terry Hartman. Sales were on Mondays (Sheep & Lambs) and Wednesdays (Cattle, Pigs & Calves). The competition was Elders, AML& F, Dalgety, Winchcombes, Tom Knox & Co, Kieth Hall and Graham Henderson & Co. The Yards were owned and operated by the Wambo Shire Council. Later, Herberger & Wyllie
We worked in the Dalby yards on Sunday afternoons receiving sheep, Mondays at the Sheep & Lamb sales from Daylight, Tuesday nights, drafting and receiving cattle until finished, Wednesdays from daylight selling and settling. Outside cattle could arrive at any time as Dalby was a Selling Centre accepting livestock from anywhere in the State.
Dalby wasn’t as welcoming as Jandowae, probably because we spent so much time at the yards and weren’t involved in so much town activities. I stayed in Rotary but wasn’t so involved. I rejoined Rotary but couldn’t continue due to a clash of meetings vs the telephone.
I became the Agents representative on the Wambo Saleyards Board which meant that I was at the mercy of all the other agents in town. Gravelly (Graham Henderson) was the worst. He would often threaten to sue about any matter which didn’t suit him. Grav eventually offered me a job which would mean that I would inherit the business of Graham Henderson & Co. when he retired. I would never have happened, and I would have probably killed Grav before it was all over. I regret the way that I handled the rejection of his offer as all I did (or didn’t do) was never give him an answer.
Through the Saleyard Board it was decided to introduce Liveweight Selling just after the end of the slump. I was involved in the selection of the scales/computer equipment. This was an excellent learning period as we went to Brisbane looking at systems and asked questions about what programs were available and what we could expect. Because we didn’t say “do it”, we missed quiet a few benefits at start up. Lesson learnt. It amazed me that many of the oldest established agencies in Dalby were against change – I feel that they were comfortable and set in their ways.
Live weight selling was finally introduced and I was able to obtain the first 100 cents per Kg live at Auction on the Downs.
The first year of scales was also a very wet year and we spent most Tuesday nights up to the hocks in mud when drafting.
The year before I was posted to Brisbane, I was lucky enough to lead an agricultural tour to California and Canada. This was my first trip overseas and we managed to include Patricia in the trip. Ever since I have felt that seeing how the other half live gives a greater appreciation of what Australia has and offers. It was also my first Disneyland visit and I’ve loved it ever since i.e., the biggest kid in Disneyland.
Richard Handley continues with John’s story in Brisbane. “John Higgins transferred from Dalby to Branch Department in Head Office in March 1982. I am hazy recalling his activities in Head Office, but he certainly left his mark wherever he was seconded. John was then transferred to the Stock Department and later he was Manager Stud Stock.
I believe the biggest impression he left on Primac was when he was manager of Special Projects. He was always prepared to try any new initiatives. One of the first was acquiring a handheld tool to measure fat depth on feedlot cattle at the P8 site. Primac Feedlot Services was introduced around 1983/84 and this gave staff an advantage on meeting specific markets with client’s cattle.
John Higgins time spent in Head Office included many varied roles. Here are two of Johns Business Cards.
Perhaps the greatest change in marketing was Hig’s development of Teleauction. We can certainly visualise his great commitment- him carrying a giant television camera, and dragging a bag trolley with a 12-volt car battery on it, as his power supply. Such was his dedication to innovation. Initially developed for store cattle and later used for marketing stud cattle.
Enjoying a drink at Head Office are L to R: Barry Katterns, John Higgins and Glenn Dunn.
Another memory – John Higgins and his “seven dwarfs” – a group of specially selected young trainees taken to Head Office for interaction in the various Departments all keenly following Hig’s red Commodore wagon around various locations in Brisbane.
Highlights included the accommodation at the Dry Hotel Canberra, Lakeside defensive driving courses and auctioneers training schools.
Several Departmental managers names were mentioned but so too were the great memories of supporting ladies recalled – Margie Barton, Jennie Hazzard and Judith Walls“.
LIFE AFTER PRIMAC
I remember Hig always being focused on what his family were up to, and that family was very important. He enjoyed travel (and taking lots and lots) of photos -a computer disc of his travels supporting his Christmas message was the proof of this activity. He continued being an active Rotarian and was a member of Brisbane Planetarium. John regularly welcomed patients to Brisbane Private Hospital as a volunteer. Finally, he followed his great love closely – the Stock Exchange.
John passed away in Brisbane 31st July 2017.
Contributed by Richard Handley October 2023