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The Saleyards

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

The saleyards.

Dad sold most of our cattle at the saleyards. There were a number of different saleyards around Chinchilla, the earliest I have heard of, was in Middle Street, on the western side of the junction with Heeney Street. The earliest one I remember was on the Wondai road, right at the eastern edge of the built-up area. But the one I remember most clearly was built by Elders south east of the town, in what was then almost bush-land. I have tried to recall it’s address, possibly it was on Zeller Street

Most cattle arrived there on foot, driven by drovers, and were rested overnight in paddocks nearby. Others were delivered on the morning of the sale on the back of trucks. All were checked by the Stock-Inspector for their general health, and I assume for ticks, as some came from infected areas. We certainly didn’t want ticks in our ‘clean’ areas. Buyers had to get clearance from the Inspector before they took the cattle home.

Mum and her fellow-members of our local CWA were on site early, and soon had the tea-room operational. The onsite stockmen, who moved the cattle into appropriate pens before the auctioneer arrived, were the first to ask for tea and sandwiches. They were followed by truck-drivers, later came the earliest of the buyers, many of them local farmers. I helped there sometimes, and can vouch for the fact that the tea-room was very busy for the entire day, until the sale ended.

Even from our position, 50 or more metres from the yards, we could see and hear the day’s main activities. The auctioneer and his assistants [the ‘spotters’] stood on planks on top of the fences between the yards holding the cattle. From there, they had an excellent view of the men crowding around the rails, or perched on top of the fences. It was the spotters’ job to look for bids from buyers, and make sure the auctioneer recognised them all.

The auctioneer kept up a rapid-fire of words, delivered in a sing-song voice, extolling the values of the cattle before him, announcing the bids as they were made, and if there was a lull in bids, encouraging the men he knew to keep the prices rising. Only a very few women were farmers in their own right, and I don’t remember any of them bidding at the auction. Probably they made their bids through a male friend.

Abattoirs closer to the city bought fat cattle at the sales. The buyers were usually men employed by the Company to purchase on their behalf, often retired cattlemen who could be relied on to recognise the sort of cattle the abattoir required. As a rule the local farmers and graziers were not interested in those animals, they bought leaner cheaper cattle, to be resold when they were fatter and more valuable. Farmers usually bought dairy cows, like Jerseys, to be used for milking, while graziers usually looked for different breeds, like Herefords, which were more suitable for raising calves destined to be sold to the abattoirs.

After a few noisy hours, the sale was over. The buyers began to arrange to have their purchases delivered. Cattle for the abattoirs were usually taken to yards near the railway, and were soon loaded on to rail trucks and on their way. Local buyers negotiated with truck drivers to have stock delivered quickly, others found drovers who would walk their new animals home. But almost all of them found time to call at the tea-rooms for another cup of tea, with a piece of home-made cake. This was when they took the chance to yarn with mates they had not seen since the last sale. For my Dad, at least, this was often the most important part of his day. Soon cars were streaming away from the saleyards. The women counted their takings for the day, packed up what little food remained unsold, washed all the cups and plates, and joined the exodus.

There were other regular sales held closer to the centre of Chinchilla. Every few weeks, there was a ‘pig and calf’ sale. Here Dad bought young pigs, which we raised until they were well grown and fattened. Later he took them back to the sales, where they too were bought by the abattoirs. He sold our ‘poddy’ calves from the dairy there as well, when they were 2 or 3 weeks old. The abattoirs bought most of them, though some were bought by local farmers to be raised on their farms.

But a highlight of every sale day, was the presence of various oddments folk brought in to be sold. There might be furniture, bikes, chooks and ducks, fruit or vegetables from the farms around. Almost anything would go under the auctioneer’s hammer at those sales. Very often Dad was one of the buyers, and we never knew what he would come home with – crockery, cutlery or boxes of books. It was always fun to explore his purchases.

Neither Mum nor I thought of taking a photo on sale day, but I have discovered my brother Cliff did. I’m so glad he did. His photo show some of the pens were roofed. None like that in my day!

Barbara Randell

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