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New Guinea Pastoral Supplies

Gurus who have contributed to this history so far are: Greg Jacobsen

History of New Guinea Pastoral Supplies, Circa 1970 to 1984.

I recently published my Bio / History and it included a section of my time working in Papua New Guinea, where I, and quite a few other Mactaggarts employees were “seconded” to an associate company in PNG named New Guinea Pastoral Supplies. Many of the Primac Gurus group were not familiar with this operation, or at best, quite vague about the association with Mactaggarts and later Primac.

I have been asked by some, to post an article about its origins, its operations, and the people that worked there. I can best talk about my time, but I did recently catch up with Doug Haigh, who was the original Mactaggarts staff member to embark on this exciting time in our lives.

Doug has given me permission to relay some of his experiences to the Primac Gurus site. I know there are other members of our group, namely Bruce Vidgen, Dennis Cotter, Col Jacques, Graham Webb, and Neil Donaldson who also spent time in PNG, and I am sure they would each have further information to share.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies NGPS Formation

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies (NGPS), was formed around the late 1960’s in Lae. The origins of the business stemmed from a joint partnership between three resident partners, namely Tom Leahy ( a plantation owner and cattle rancher in the Markham Valley), John Hamilton ( a vet contracted with the DPI in Lae, and long term resident ), and Jim Jacobsen (a plantation owner and businessman based in Lae, Jim was no relation to my good self). Principally the company dabbled in some rural merchandise and was Mactaggarts receiving agency, to handle the live export of cattle from Queensland to PNG.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies in Lae serviced the Markham Valley

“Water Ice Crossroad Signpost Markham Valley”

Photo – Doug Haigh

1970 – Doug Haigh – first Expat Manager of New Guinea Pastoral Supplies

As this market grew around 1970, Mactaggarts was asked to advertise for an expatriate manager to head up the role of manager of NGPS. An ad was put in the Queensland Country Life advertising the position, with replies to be sent to a listed GPO box number. At this stage it was not planned to recruit from within the Mactaggarts network, however, Doug Haigh saw the ad and applied, not knowing that his application was being sent to and vetted by Trevor Maguire at Mactaggarts (Trevor was Doug’s boss at the time).

Doug had already had eight years with Mactaggarts, and like many agents did their initial training in all head office departments, but mostly his time spent was spent in the Stock Department at Cannon Hill. Whilst his application did set the “cat amongst the pigeons”, Doug Mactaggart and others warmed to the idea of “loaning” his staff to NGPS for a contracted period.

Mactaggarts buys a share in NGPS business

This basically was the model that went forward for managerial staff from then on. Mactaggarts took a financial stake in NGPS on an equal quarter share with the other existing partners. Subsequently, after PNG gained it’s independence in 1975, it was a requirement for all non-national organisations, to have some national content in its corporate structure. At this time a local provincial group took on a 20% shareholding thus reducing the four partners down to a fifth share each.

Doug commenced in Lae in early 1970. Their initial office was out of a room situated at the back of a trade store, located at the 12 mile, on the Highlands Highway on a section of Jim Jacobsen’s plantation. As mentioned, at that time Mactaggarts were exporting live shipments of breeding cattle to PNG, mostly always on the “Ida Clausen” a ship, used exclusively for transporting livestock. Most shipments arrived in Lae, but certainly, there were arrivals at Madang and Port Moresby as well.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies loading cattle in Lae

“Loading cattle at Voco Point on MV Koris”

Photos – Greg Jacobsen
New Guinea Pastoral Supplies Loaded Cattle on the MV Koris

“Cattle loading completed MV Koris”

“Cattle loaded on the MV Koris at Lae”

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies importing stud cattle from Rockhampton

“Unloading bulls direct from Rockhampton at DPI yards 3 mile Lae. circa 1977”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

The commercial cattle industry dated back to the early 1950’s, but it wasn’t till the 1970’s that it really kicked into gear. Doug relays a story, of a shipment of some 300 predominately Droughtmaster heifers arriving in Madang. They were then flown in DC3’s to a client, Danny Ottley in the Baiyer River region of the highlands, out from Mt Hagen. Doug had to ride shot gun (literally) with each flight.

As the business grew, and PNG became more self-sufficient in beef, particularly in the Markham Valley, NGPS started wholesaling beef through the Lae public abattoir.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies with cattle Killed at Lae Abattoir

Lae Abattoir circa 1977″

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

This quickly became the core business model for the company, but supported by traditional private sales of livestock, and of course rural merchandise sales were really picking up as well. A new retail office was established in the Lae town centre, supported by the bulk store facilities back at the 12 mile.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies first office in Lae PNG

“NGPS Head Office Lae CBD circa 1977”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

Two new company homes, for the expatriate staff were built in a compound at the 12 mile. In around 1973 Peter Deaville was recruited from Mactaggarts in Queensland to head up the merchandise department.

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies built this managers residence for the Expat managers.

“NGPS Managers residence 12 Mile, Lae. circa 1977”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

During the early 70’s the importation of cattle from Queensland all but ceased, apart from the odd shipment of stud bulls and stud females, principally to improve bloodlines. As the cattle industry matured, and numbers built up on the mainland, a new market developed exporting cattle across PNG, using open shipping barges. Cattle regularly were shipped from Voco Point at Lae, to the islands and around the coast to Port Moresby and other Papuan ports.

Doug Haigh, Stockmans and Mike Quinn

After four years, Doug Haigh, was offered Tom Leahy’s shares in the business, to become a partner, however, the other shareholders rejected this as a bad idea. Doug decided to resign his position, staying in PNG, and eventually forming his own opposition company called Stockmans. Doug, in 1975, engaged the services of another Mactaggarts man, Mike Quinn.

As a side story, Mike eventually bought Doug out, stayed and raised a family in Lae, and continues today in real estate, trading as The Professionals PNG. He remains a friend, and for the last decade I have made many regular trips returning to PNG assisting Mike with large plant and machinery disposal auctions.

More recently I have been back as visiting judge for the livestock exhibits at the annual Morobe Agricultural Show. Whilst the local beef projects are certainly in decline from the 1970’s, the larger company-owned and managed cattle, can be best described as “exceptional”, with improved pastures, intense feedlotting practices, and improved genetics, having come a long way. It has been an amazing experience to return after 30 odd years, and participate in the PNG beef industry once again.

Back to NGPS, Bruce Vidgen, a well-known Mactaggarts agent, replaced Doug as manager and remained in that role for some years. Peter Deaville, did not extend his contract and was subsequently replaced by Dennis Cotter, also having been recruited from the Primac network. Dennis initially looked after the merchandise but took on the role of manager when Bruce returned to Queensland.

“A couple of Primac Gurus in Dennis Cotter and Trevor Francis (visiting from Qld) pose on the Kassam Pass en route to Mt Hagen circa 1977″

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

My NGPS Story

In early 1976, I was based in Beaudesert office, and at the age of 20, Australia was in the midst of the worst cattle depression. Primac, along with many other companies within the industry were retrenching big numbers of loyal staff out of their networks. I was feeling rather insecure that my name would eventually come up, and I would be next off.

With that, firmly at the fore, a chance phone call with Dennis Cotter on one of his visits to Australia, provided an intro to apply as his 2IC. I contacted Derek Anderson, expressing an interest in the position, but was told that they really were searching for somebody with more managerial experience. At least I had a go, I thought, but by the end of that week, received the phone call from Mr Anderson, saying the job was mine, and I was needed in a fortnight. I remember my parents not being too impressed about my sudden move, but the alternative looked far worse in my eyes.

Thus was the beginning of the next phase, and most exciting period of my life within the Primac network. By the time I arrived in PNG the NGPS business had grown sufficiently to have offices in Mt Hagen and Popondetta, and during my time the establishment of another outlet in Goroka.

Another Primac merchandise agent, in Col Jacques from Clermont office was recruited, and with his young family settled into the Goroka office. I recall always loving the branch visits to Goroka, as Col’s wife Kathy is the best cook, and being single at the time, I could never miss an opportunity for a superb home-cooked meal.

Me (Greg Jacobsen) with a Company Car circa 1977

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

Whilst we worked hard, we certainly played hard as well. I have no idea, how I navigated my Mazda ute home to the 12 mile after long sessions at the Waratahs Club or the Lae Club. Richard Handley mentioned in a recent post about how Rugby League was the “glue” that held many western Queensland communities together, well in New Guinea, our “glue” was polocrosse.

“It wasn’t all work. Polocrosse action shot circa 1977”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

In a word it was big, and carnivals were held during the season at Lae, Goroka or alternatively at cattle properties up and down the Markham Valley. Sometimes our weekends away started on Thursday and finished the following Wednesday, but there was always “legitimate” canvassing of clients to be done, as was reflected in our regular reports to management.

Graham Webb & Greg Jacobsen going to great lengths canvassing our clients circa 1978″

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

Horse racing was also very popular, with racetracks at Nadzab, near Lae, Mt Hagen and Goroka, as well as bush tracks up and down the Markham and Ramu valleys.

As mentioned the business grew on the back of beef wholesaling, but by now rural merchandise sales played a very important part in the company’s future. Importation of most products usually came out of Queensland, including stockfeed, fencing, plantation chemicals and cattle supplies. I remember, there was a real shift, however, when the New Zealanders became very aggressive in the Pacific region, promoting export opportunities, and with favourable exchange rates, at the time, much of our product was sourced from NZ from then on.

In November 1978 Dennis Cotter “went pinis” or came home to Queensland and was replaced by Graham Webb as manager. Dennis started as branch manager of Primac Mitchell Branch on January 1st 1979.

“That’s Graham Webb, hesitating about shooting the rapids. I was already committed and survived circa 1978″

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

About that same time in late 1978, I was planning my wedding to Rosemaree, who I had met in PNG, she was employed on a large cattle property called “Dumpu” about 120 kilometres from Lae. We were to be married in Charleville in January of 1979 and scheduled to return to PNG then.

PNG Development Bank 1978 – 1982

About that same time, I was offered a position with the PNG Development Bank, managing the livestock section of a cattle and rubber property located at Kokoda in the Oro Province. This property was the first commercial herd of cattle in PNG, having the very first cattle arrive in a DC3 aircraft way back in 1952.

“Newpaper Article Mela Omad grazier Markham Valley circa 1984”

Photo – Doug Haigh

The property was 10,000 acres, and by the late 70’s was running 2200 head of cattle, plus 4,000 acres of rubber plantation, and processing facility.

“Brahman Breeders at Mamba Estate Kokoda circa 1980”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

It had an on property abattoir, and we contracted to Burns Philp supermarkets in Port Moresby, to supply 10 trade chilled carcasses a week. Our manufacturing beef was processed on property and flown out in frozen box beef.

“Mamba Estate Kokoda Slaughter Floor circa 1980”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

There was a logistics problem with no road access and the Owen Stanley Ranges and the Kokoda Trail were between us and our market. We chartered a Twin Otter or alternatively a Nomad aircraft every Wednesday flying trade store items into Kokoda and backloading our quartered beef to the market.

“Loading complete of 10 bodies of beef at Kokoda Airstrip circa 1980”

Photo – Greg Jacobsen

Rosemaree and I continued in that role at Kokoda until 1982, when we returned to Australia, eventually taking up with Primac in Miles for my second round.

The end of Primac’s involvement with NGPS – 1984

Back at New Guinea Pastoral Supplies in Lae, Neil Donaldson was the latest replacement, working with Graham Webb. Whilst both of these guys will be in a much better position to share their experiences, at some point around 1984, with an ever-evolving market, NGPS was eventually sold down, to another national rural merchandise outlet by the name of Farmset, the shareholding dispersed, and thus the connection with Primac had come to an end.

“Drafting cattle at Sasieng Markham Valley circa 1984”

Photo – Doug Haigh

The 1980 year book contains many interesting memories.New Guinea Pastoral Supplies was a fascinating exercise for Primac staff who ventured there – a couple of Primac Gurus who served there, feature in this story. Article supplied by Richard Handley

New Guinea Pastoral Supplies certainly had an important history with it’s connection with Mactaggarts and Primac, but more importantly, I am sure I can speak on behalf of all the other great agents that were employed in PNG, it certainly has to be the most memorable part of our Primac careers.

Whilst the agency business was usually done quite differently in PNG, compared to the traditions back here in Queensland, the same loyal business ethics that were drummed into us, with our Primac training still applied, when dealing with our clients, suppliers, and competitors. I certainly believe my time in PNG provided opportunities, and honed my skills to be a much better agent on my return to Queensland.

* Last updated 04/02/2021 – RSS

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Posted in : Primac Branches