My 9 plus years with Primac included roles of varying time & capacity at Warwick, Millmerran, Cunnamulla, Charleville, Taroom, Quilpie, Surat, and Clermont Branches. After Jackarooing for a year I was fortunate to get a start with the company at Warwick Branch sometime in 1983 employed by local Branch Manager Douglas Bryce & General Manager Derek Andersen.
1983 – 1986
After a period of time at Warwick Branch, I was sent down to Brisbane for three weeks for further training & development with six other likely lads. Well-known Roma agent Cyril Close was there as well and we were all put up at the Canberra Hotel which was a dry camp but very handy to all the Brisbane CBD had to offer. Our guide and tour leader was John Higgins, who we all gained instant rapport. We got a quick overview of all departments with department heads Don Swan, John Gibson, Tom O’Brien, Ken Johnson, Stan Cook, Arthur Walmsley & Ross Keiler. We visited Cannon Hill with Eric Bassingthwaighte & Tony Dunn, Wool Stores, where we even had a defensive driving school day at Lakeside raceway which was a bit of FUN! Our time went all too quick and we couldn’t have asked for a better chaperone than Higg & his trusty Red V8 Commodore Wagon.
From this short eventful time in the big smoke, we were sent back to our branches to recover and get on with it.I was sent to Millmerran with Smith & Jones (Bill Smith & Bill Jones) for a month or two to help out staying at the Sundowner Hotel all expenses paid. After coming up from another night at the bar playing pool & darts (age 17), I used to pinch myself at my good fortune to land a gig with such a generous company. The two Bills & Jodie McCulloch certainly had a terrific business that’s for sure and it was really a one-stop shop, simply if it could be sourced they sold it! They offered all the functions of a mainstream agency plus hardware, (equivalent to a Mitre10 today) grain trading and had a large silo distributorship. With their own hydraulic trailer, we delivered silos all over the place in the poor old rodeo Ute that nearly came to a standstill loaded with a strong headwind or take off with a tail. They were definitely visionaries the two Bills and ahead of their time.
Returning to Warwick where we conducted weekly cattle & sheep sales plus a run of stud Angora goat (not my favourite animal…a bit like cats) sales with Glen Dunn who was a thorough professional and bloody lovely bloke. Some other staff at this branch were Jim Tulloch, Graham Hawes & Anne Livingston. To gain further experience I was sent west where I spent a little time relieving at Cunnamulla and a short period at Charleville Branch before heading to Taroom sometime in 1984 to gain further agency development under Manager Jamie Long. We were all encouraged to be flexible and have a go at everything including the banking & batching.
At Taroom Branch, manager Jamie Long ran a tight ship and it was instilled in us from day one to abide strictly to the core traditional ways & ethics as a stock & station agent. Jamie was tough but fair and you knew exactly where you stood with him at all times. Kerry Lynch was the very capable main stocky who had a strong following in the area and I was his number 2 & everyone else’s for that matter. Robyn Chambers held the branch together like most office girls do and she handled everything from accounts, merchandise, drafting cattle to livestock sales etc. On Monday afternoons I went down to Wandoan to help draft for the cattle sale with a pair of legends Lee Gould & Geoff Baker who were both very accomplished auctioneers & cattlemen & then back down early the next morning with clients for the sale. Also like many new trainee auctioneers before & after me this is also where I had my first crack at auctioneering selling the Bulls & faulty’s O.R (very nerve racking). Other staff that come to mind at Wandoan were Kim proud, Leanne Ryals, John Barry. Although not as gifted as some other past staff recruits, I had a couple of seasons with the Taroom Wandoan Battlers (Rugby League), a prerequisite of Jamie’s and a great club to be part of. I left Taroom & Primac at the end of 1986 to take up another opportunity, but was to return to the fold in two years.
“Quilpie Branch 1992”
Quilpie Branch 1988 – 1992
In 1988 aged 22 I was rehired by Norm Jenner & sent to Quilpie Branch to work for Branch Manager Neil Croft. Leaving Toowoomba I caught a McCaffertys bus west (there was a vehicle out there) which was having engine trouble about every 50-60 km. This wasn’t a drama really because it seemed to uncannily make it into the next town and proceeded to break down out the front of a Hotel. On this great bus PUB crawl west were some lovely ladies who were sitting nearby and a very funny bugger who looked like Bob Marley. They were heading north to work at the Darwin Casino (or something like that) and by the time we poured into Charleville, rock box blaring (Slim Dusty) some 5 or 6 hours late we had been partying for a considerable time. I was a bit DEVO to be the only one deported at this stop, however to my good fortune the flying doctor ball was on that night. After bidding my short lived friend’s goodbye, wishing them well and promising to catch up another day I checked into the Commercial Hotel and as luck would have it teamed up with another gang who were heading out to the ball. The next day Crofty arrived to pick me up; he reckons he had been banging on the hotel door for a while before his new bruised employee with a chronic hangover made a showing & hopped into his car, sleeping most of the way out. Nothing like making a good first impression with your boss and I can just imagine what he was thinking at the time. I found Neil to be an unassuming, easy going man, with a great sense of humour (thank goodness) but let me tell you he did not miss a trick and he would have to be up there with Primac’s all-time top Managers and operators. If you took a poll with the clients and other agents I guarantee they would be inclined to agree. Anyway we developed a good working relationship and we had a credible team all round. Even though generally enjoyable my four years at Quilpie can best be described with two words… Boom & Bust. The pastoral company trucking for which Quilpie office was renowned had dried up considerably as most had their own reps in town. Cattle prices were good but like everyone we always needed more and being an important wool branch for the company, things were about to get a whole lot tougher…for everyone!
“Richard Street – Quilpie1990,
a roadside catch up with a client,
“Richard Street – Quilpie Office 1991”
A quick summary of events in 1990:
The Chinese & Russians had stopped buying and instead of biting the bullet earlier and reverting to a free market or reducing the floor price the powers to be at the Wool Council (late 80’s) & AWC (grower funded) kept it at 870c/kg clean or around a $1000 bucks a bale. The floor price was first introduced early 1970’s to iron out the market bumps and basically when the mills weren’t buying the AWC would and resell at a later date. It had been increased considerably over time mainly when the Wool Council came into the mix. (Some 70%) As wool wasn’t selling the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC) & Wool Council were all passing the buck and blaming each other as stockpile had grown too close to 5 million bales and costing over 3 million dollars a day to pay interest and storage costs alone. A lot of it was broader, inferior fibre as like most happening things, there were lot of newcomers to the industry who had jumped onto the sheep’s back to take advantage of these lucrative returns. With that quality somewhat went south and bale contamination was high. The AWC organisation had done stuff all with marketing and promotion resting on their laurels and long lunches while mills around the world moved to blends and other synthetics as they couldn’t make money with the current situation and world demand had shifted. Just before Xmas 1990 after enjoying many years of record sale numbers & prices a reluctant government stepped in to an objecting AWC, (basically in denial) and the music stopped. Wool sale offerings were to be limited & the Flock Reduction Scheme (FRS) implemented to drastically reduce Australia’s sheep numbers by 15 – 20 Million by way of a cull, as everything came to a standstill.
Flock Reduction Scheme (FRS)
The FRS scheme offered growers .20c for older sheep and $6 special contract for the young. Consequently with no available markets a lot of wool producers out of necessity shot their younger sheep to get some sort of cash flow. As agents we were appointed to sign off on this FRS scheme and we had to certify the sheep as being destroyed so the payment could be issued. Like most government schemes the terms were unrealistic wanting growers to dig big holes for the destroyed sheep to go in, not an option for far flung western operations dealing with 1000’s of sheep, big distances and bloody hard ground. Eventually it was accepted that portable sheep yards would be set up, stock mustered in, destroyed and yards pulled down for nature to do the rest. We certified 10’s of thousands at our branch alone and in most cases had to assist in the destruction to get it done and onto the next job. When wool sales resumed in February 1991 after the suspension the floor was reset to 700c/kg. With still no activity at that level, it moved to a free market and wool prices basically gained traction at around 400 c/kg clean. (I won’t go past this point with the wool industry changes & struggles). Around this time I had been promoted to branch manager as Neil and his family had transferred to run Primac’s Biloela office. I know the wool market is not alone and all other industries have had their dark periods, just thought it was important to include this and share a little bit of this history as we lived it with our clients. It was also tough to see the flow-on effect to town businesses, shearing contractors, and the wider community as a whole. A lot of growers were very distressed and couldn’t see a way forward with reduced valuations and cash flow, especially for those whose country only really leant itself to sheep or goats. In recent times it has been good to see prices up there again and prosperity returning to the industry.
“You never drove past this one without stopping for a cold one and a catchup
with Fred & Joan & Harry & Christine Houghton & others, The Great Toompine Pub
as it was back in 1990, about 80kms south of Quilpie on the Thargomindah Rd”
Anyway Quilpie like most country towns was very social and we had plenty of great times with the Wool & Flower Show, B&S, St Finbarr’s Fete, Rodeos, Quilpie Diggers Races and all the western race meetings for that matter not to be missed. Basically the area we covered from this office was huge and you could drive all day some days and not see anyone else on the road (Tracks). In this period a lot of clients were only contactable by HF Radio (RAD phone), Fax machines were the new arrival (and not all branches had one) and the inter branch communication was still the old computerphone. Our company cars were worn out about every 2 years and we also spent a lot of time in light planes as a lot of clients had one. I flew with a lot of top bush aviators who were also great characters and occasionally would give you a bit of acrobatics on a hot day, just in case you thought you might settle back for a sleep. At times it was very hard to hang onto your lunch in these conditions, but I will leave some of these stories for another day. The people in these western areas are true Australians, friendly hospitable and a handshake is your word and it was my absolute pleasure to work at Quilpie. Other staff in my time out there were Mark Freund, Grant McLauchlan, Richard Brosnan, Ann Marie Hamlyn, Louise Mitchell-Hill & Miffy Waugh.
Surat 1992 – 1994
Due a personal issue I requested & accepted (John Houghton took over as Manager) a transfer into Surat as branch manager at the end of 1992 and teamed up with the very capable Carol Smith / Jarick who like all Primac’s top notch office lady’s ran the place. Carol was a Jill of all trades and looked after our clients like part of her family. We ran the odd sheep sale, clearance sales and had a bit of property on the move at the time. Also Surat was a strong wool growing area with many clients running quality sheep on established bloodlines. I also assisted up at Roma Saleyards when time permitted.
“Surat Branch 1993”
“Surat office internal”
“Surat office showroom”
After a couple of good years at Surat I had a rush of blood one day and throwing caution to the wind ended up at Clermont for approx. 8 months. I worked with more great people here namely the late Ray Donnellan, Julie Kingsford- Smith (Allen),Jamie Skerman, & Major Merchandise???
John “Wilko” Wilkinson dropped in regularly for smoko as he was the boss for Shipfield Pastoral Co at that time, a true Clermont & agency icon. Our branch was very grateful to be included in the sale of Shipfield’s Moray Downs & Doongmabulla Stations, which I very much enjoyed driving around many times showing prospective buyers before crashing at the Moray Downs Homestead for a feed and a few beers overnight. We had regular fat cattle sales at Clermont, a lot of paddock work and taking clients down the road to Emerald most sale days where it was good to catch up with long-term local agent & manager Andrew Lewis. Missing that familiar southwestern line I left the company before the merger with Elders and returned to work on the land.
I have many fond memories of my time with Primac, other staff, clients, buyers and basically the day to day job we did back then was unique. Unfortunately not too many companies can say the same but I reckon we enjoyed great leadership and first class senior management, sadly missing even more so in today’s organisations.
I found I was always treated like a contributing member of the team and Primac’s culture definitely stood out, offering service second to none and a genuine focus on putting people first above all.
Some other fantastic staff names I had contact with over my time not mentioned earlier (sorry some were) or in any particular order and only named at one branch as lot served at many and would be even more repetitive.
Dalby: Richard Handley, Vic Perkins & Mick Cuskelly. Toowoomba: Geoff Duggan, Rob Caton, Noel Grant, John Erbacher, Peter Winfield, Norm Jenner & Zelda Black (RM & Secretary). Oakey: Bill Edwards & Bill Burton. Charleville: Lloyd Russell, Garry Baker, Ken Telford, John James, Peter Bosanko, Peter McDonald, Brendan Twidale, Chris Hamilton, Tim Nearos & Robyn Clayton. Wool Reps, Greg Kniepp & John Harris. The travelling book keeper “The Black Pom” Taylor would appear here there and everywhere. Longreach: George Vinson & Richard Simpson. Surat: Harvey Coe, Alan Greer, Bill Young. Roma: Jock McPherson, David Friend, Olly Gray, Adrian Dick, Mick Barron, Steve Goodhew, Ross Keiler, Alayne Hacker, Goondiwindi: Ross “Colt” Stewart, Mark Droney, Bob Jakins, Steve Gaff. Insurance: Paul Lynch (Kerry’s Brother) & Kevin Jarick. Dirranbandi: Ronny Stewart. Meandarra: Terry Lanskey, Cameron Elmes & Jennifer Kelly. Miles: Lionel Arthur, Greg Jacobsen, Charlie Mort, Ross Brimblecombe. St George: Daryl Labrador Beasley, Ken Richters & Sandra “Stayer” Gillespie. Cunnamulla: Hugh Johnson, Danny Duff, Noela Copewell, Bob “Snort” McLaren, John Houghton, Andrew O’Brien, Steve Truman, Rodney Geppert, Tom Sinclair, Adrian Post. Mitchell: Fred Morgan, Danny Duff, Gavin Harris, Campbell Cooney. Blackall: Ross Keane, Scott Sheehan. Mackay: Tony Dwyer Primac Chairman Alec Nason. CEO Bruce Sneddon General Manager Les Dunstan. Head Office Staff: Judith Walls, Margaret Neill, Margy Barton, Jennifer Hazard. Special Projects, Teleauction & Stud Stock: John Higgins Stud Stock: Glen Dunn, Keith McRobert, Bill Till, Kent Ward. Commercial Livestock: Mike Wheeler. Finance: Ian Coman, Stan Cook. Insurance: Alan Williams, Cedric Sallows. Property: Arthur Walmsley, Bruce Vidgen Distribution Centre: Ross Pumpa. Wool: Ken Johnson, Warren Zernike, Bill Anderson & Julie ?? Deshon.
“Sorry to the people I have missed out not intentional just a long time ago. Also please don’t hold it against me for grammar, spelling and the reluctance to use full stops etc…I have done my best to put a rough story together but must confess a lot is a blur, but heh it was the 80’s & 90’s not only the best music but the greatest time to be around as a young Primac Agent!“
“”final edit & republished Richard Street 02/05/2021″
* Last updated 03/08/2021 RSS