Winter 2018, Rockhampton, Qld
Up early to race out to Gracemere to enjoy Rocky’s finest. The Gracemere Saleyards are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. There is an open Saleyards complex and an arena for the sale of blue blood stock to be paraded before potential buyers. An official in an Akubra hat explains that we can walk on all the raised catwalks except those marked for staff. Looking around we notice that all the men and most of the women here are wearing Akubra hats and the men certainly all have bowed legs. They must learn to ride before they can even walk around here. As we look down from the catwalk the auctions are conducted at great speed and with military precision. The cattle are brought in the night before and each pen is marked with owner, locality, number and gender of cattle. Sorry beasts. Eg. Smith, Collinsville, 3 cows. The auctioneer and his team of eight move swiftly from pen to pen calling the price per kilo and watching for the slightest of movement of a casual finger. A chap with a paint roller on a very long stick leans over and dabs each beast and then it’s off to the next pen to repeat the process. Each auction is done and dusted in a minute or so and as far as we’re concerned the auctioneer may as well be speaking Swahili but every so often a cheer will go up from the crowd. Obviously, a good price has been reached. The cattle are quickly herded by a horseman or woman down a race through a few gates to be weighed so that the final price can be recorded, then it’s off through more gates to holding yards to be collected for transport to the new owner. The atmosphere is warm and friendly with nods and waves to mates and acquaintances. There’s an all-pervading air of cow manure and most of the cattle are either docile or just confused. The odd bull is cranky and tired of being herded. Each of the mounted handlers has a different style. One controls the cattle with a shushing sound, another uses short sharp whistles and yet another cracks a rubber whip high above his head.
Watching the Saleyards in operation is a not to be missed opportunity when in the Rockhampton area and it’s free of charge.