A history of the beef cattle industry in the Fitzroy region of Central Queensland, 1850s-1970s

McDonald, Lorna (1985). A history of the beef cattle industry in the Fitzroy region of Central Queensland, 1850s-1970s PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author McDonald, Lorna
Thesis Title A history of the beef cattle industry in the Fitzroy region of Central Queensland, 1850s-1970s
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1985
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 424
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
630501 Livestock
2103 Historical Studies
0701 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management
Formatted abstract
Beef cattle reached the Fitzroy River inauspiciously in 1856 as the second choice of pastoralists; sheep and the wool trade were the favoured enterprise. Yet, as early as 1858 during the Canoona gold rush Colin Archer's good trade in beef 'dead and alive' caused his change of attitude to the ‘despised stock’. Within fifteen years beef cattle had almost replaced sheep in coastal districts. The region's pioneer cattle, predominantly Shorthorn, were gradually improved or replaced by Herefords through bloodlines from Archers' two Gracemere stud herds, or by other well bred bulls imported from the south. By the 1890s a keen controversy had erupted over the respective merits of Shorthorn and Hereford breeds, leading eventually to the predominance of Herefords. A similar controversy in the 1930s regarding horned and Poll Herefords produced more heat than rational argument. By the end of the period, 1850s-1930s, the dictates of half a dozen breed societies encouraged emphasis on the appearance of cattle rather than their commercial qualities, although some producers achieved excellence both on the hoof and the hook.

The most outstanding development in cattle breeding during this 120 year history has been the introduction of humped cattle (Bos indicus) to the British pioneer stock (Bos taurus). These environmentally adapted cattle, first imported from the United States of America in 1933 by the CSIR (later, CSIRO) caused a vociferous outcry from the United Graziers Association. This opposition was so politically powerful that plans to establish an experiment station near Emerald had to be abandoned. Despite this, in the period 19 30s to 19 70s, scientists and a nucleus of resourceful graziers, largely independent of one another, developed several fixed crossbreeds between British and humped cattle. Known as Taurindicus, these cattle are tick resistant and able to withstand Central Queensland's long dry seasons. By the end of the 1970s more than 80 per cent of regional producers were breeding Taurindicus cattle. This dramatic change has been described as the greatest livestock revolution in the history of the industry.

While much effort was expended in improving the quality of beef cattle throughout the entire chronological period, producers in each generation struggled against recurring problems, both seasonal and economic. Those of the colonial period are, in effect, put under the microscope through a survey of station records. These show how the majority of producers adapted to problems ranging from floods and droughts, cattle diseases and the introduction-of the cattle tick, to diminishing cattle markets and low financial returns. The severest blow was the great drought, 1900-1903, which completely wiped out some herds and an estimated 80 per cent on a regional basis.

The relentless search for viable cattle and beef markets is the most consistent theme, 1870s-1970s. Droving or transporting cattle to district saleyards, the most usual market place, was of little avail without markets for beef. Because the Fitzroy Region traditionally has been export oriented, this problem was compounded first by distance from British markets and later through exclusion by more economically produced Argentinian beef. When Empire preference (1934) provided a small but assured English market, the multinational meat processors took over the two surviving regional meatworks. The Lakes Creek Works then became the largest export works in the southern hemisphere. Periods of profitability prior to this had been rare, except briefly in the 1890s and before the First World War. Whenever cattle prices are low, profitability for processors is correspondingly high. While the 1920s were the most devastating period for both sectors of the industry, with Lakes Creek closed for several years, the most complex period for exporters commenced in the mid 19 70s. The partial collapse of post-war markets in the United States and Japan, largely on political grounds, forced them to search the world for a multiplicity of small, new markets.

The most important (and successful) land settlement scheme ever undertaken in Australia was the Fitzroy Basin (Brigalow) Land Development Scheme instigated in 1962. The clearing of more than half the four million hectares of brigalow scrub within the three designated areas by 19 78 and the settling of 247 new families in the region has tripled cattle numbers, improved pastures and water storage, and allowed broadacre grain production to be carried out successfully. New roads, schools and an end to social isolation in most districts benefitted old established families as well as new settlers. For the 170 landless young men who obtained blocks by ballot, the scheme provided adequate living areas and low interest loans Its greatest deficiency was the exclusion of housing loans, a factor which forced most families to live in tin sheds for some years. The greatest majority of new settlers revealed the same attachment to their way of life, and to the land itself, as the pioneers and their descendants.

The Brigalow Scheme and the establishment of Taurindicus cattle have been the two most significant developments in the history of the industry in the Fitzroy Region. Both have contributed to its pre-eminence in the national industry, but have not solved the basic problem affecting it since colonial times: the search for stable beef markets.
Keyword Beef industry -- Queensland -- Fitzroy Region -- History
Beef cattle industry: Central Queensland 1850s-1970s
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Thu, 03 Dec 2009, 12:44:42 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service