1981 – Derby Industries story
For more than a year, the French had been pushing for the name change. It was a marketing ploy that, if successful, would give northern hemisphere lobsters an advantage over their southern hemisphere cousins. As it turned out, while the American astronauts were getting moondust on their boots, Harrison was successfully fighting a lone battle on behalf of his industry. On his return to Australia, the Australian Fishing Industry Council’s federal president, Alwyn Ellem, wrote appreciatively not only to him but also to RL:
Mr Harrison’s visit to Halifax, therefore, is a hallmark in the history of this industry and has only been possible by the generous action of your Company.
Mr Harrison has represented the Australian Fishing Industry in a distinguished manner and has, on his return, presented this Council with a most satisfactory report on the proceedings of the Conference.
One of several long-standing and important trading relationships that arose in CM’s early years in the West was in the tallow trade. It came about purely by chance. Always on the lookout for new sources of supply; Harrison and Burt Lawson were taking a scenic drive through the bush on a back road near Riverton (a Perth suburb), on the Canning River, when some drums outside a shed some way off the road in Rossmoyne caught their eye. Lawson asked Harrison what he thought the building was.
“Looks like a piggery without pigs,” Harrison replied.
Curious, they drove down to the shed and Lawson began to inspect the drums, opening them, smelling the contents and even having a taste. He confirmed that it was tallow but reckoned it could do with some work to improve the quality. They were discussing this when a man came out of the shed. It was Allan Ferguson, managing director of Ferguson (By-products) Pty Ltd, which owned the property. The piggery had ceased to operate in 1952, leaving the company in debt to the big South Australian stock and station agents Elder Smith Ltd.
The men got chatting, and it soon emerged that up until only a few weeks before, Ferguson had been rendering the pigs, and the drums contained the residue. This immediately aroused the CM men’s interest and they quickly talked Ferguson into rendering tallow for them in return for a loan to his company to meet the Elders debt.
The Ferguson family and the Master Butchers Co-op Ltd were major shareholders in Ferguson (By-products) Pty Ltd, each having equal voting power (there were two other individuals with some non-voting shares). A dispute had arisen between the two major shareholders, and although the Master Butchers Co-op wanted out, it was reluctant to let Allan Ferguson get his hands on its shares. Not knowing of CM’s newly clinched deal with Ferguson, it offered its shares to CM for £35,000. Harrison tried with great difficulty to convince head office that the investment was too good an opportunity to miss. Ferguson, Burt Lawson and Harrison thrashed the issue out one day over lunch in the Perth Commercial Travelers’ Club. Because CM Head Office appeared to be dragging its feet, Ferguson proposed that Harrison and Lawson personally put up the money, but neither was keen. Not long afterwards the matter was resolved when Harrison brought RL round to his viewpoint and the shares were bought for £30,000.
From then on Ferguson’s business took off. Tolerating no competition, he avidly bought out potential rivals, including a one-man operation at Bushmead, on Perth’s outskirts, that consisted of a couple of sheds and a few 44-gallon drums on 20 acres. By the early 1960s, the Ferguson group controlled the largest tallow rendering plant in the State and had the first operational bulking facilities for export shipments. Its offices were in Perth’s business district and the factory was at Bushmead, not far from the Midland Abattoirs, then owned by the State Government. The Rossmoyne land on which the piggery used to stand was sold for residential development, the Riverton Shire Council having provided infrastructure on it for the Ferguson group. Head office pushed for an early sale, on the grounds that CM was not in the real estate business. Two hundred blocks were sold for an average of £1,000 each. Two years later the price doubled.
The relationship with Ferguson and his group helped CM’s Western Australian branch to buy its way into the State’s meat processing industry. Much of CM’s success in building its meat business can be credited to its manager Jim Webster, whom Harrison hired on 18 February 1957.
During the war and for a number of years after it, Australia was contracted to supply a large part of its surplus fresh meat to Britain. Between 1949 and 1955, cattle from Glenroy and Mount House, two adjoining stations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and surrounding properties were slaughtered and chilled in an abattoir at Glenroy and the carcasses flown in a DC-3 and later a Bristol Freighter to Wyndham for further processing and export. The scheme aimed to eliminate the need to drove the cattle long distances, causing severe loss of condition.
It was run by Airbeef Pty Ltd, a company set up in 1948 by Gordon Blythe (whose family owned the leases on Mount House and Glenroy) in partnership with Australian National Airways (ANA) and MacRobertson Miller Airlines. In 1956 Airbeef formed Derby Meat Processing Company, which then built a meatworks in Derby. The works began receiving beef airfreighted from Glenroy in 1959. Airfreighting continued until 1963, when a new road enabled freezer trucks and later road trains to take over from aircraft.
When the meat export contract with Britain expired in the 1960s, the US market immediately beckoned. The Americans were looking for manufacturing meat (for hamburgers, sausages and so on), for which the low-fat Kimberley cattle were particularly suit able, especially the older bulls. Derby Meat wanted to cash in on this market but needed to expand its boning room into a full-scale abattoir. For this it needed money.
At about the time the subdivided Rossmoyne piggery land was being sold off, Ferguson decided his group should buy Anna Plains, a 1-million-acre property with a romantic history and more than 20,000 head of cattle some 200 km south-west of Broome. He persuaded a reluctant Harrison to go along with the plan, cobbling together a company called Yokine Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd. The new company’s shareholders comprised the Ferguson group (25 per cent), a Sydney developer (SO per cent), a dozen members of the Mt Yokine Golf Club, a director of Wilbur-Ellis, and R.J. (Ron) McBurney, who was then a director of MacDonald Hamilton (P&O) and an important contact for CM in the shipping world (and who, on retiring later, joined CM). Sometime after the purchase, Ferguson, his wife Dorothy, Harrison and Marie were spending a week at the station homestead. The two men decided to drive up to Derby to have a look around. It happened that Derby Meat’s directors were having a board meeting there at the time. The upshot was that Harrison met the directors and within a week a deal had been made whereby CM would lend Derby money and handle its meat for export.
Meat (together with meat and bonemeal for Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan) remained one of CM’s major lines in Western Australia until well into the 1990s. By then the CM group had moved from merely supporting Derby Meat financially to owning most of it. The meatworks at Derby had been closed, replaced in 1980 by works taken over in Broome.
As for tallow, CM continued to buy this for export from a number of sources other than Ferguson (By-products) Pty Ltd until the company was sold to Mascot Industries of Sydney. Under the terms of the sale, the majority of the payment was in Mascot Industries shares and the balance in cash. Harrison accepted an invitation to join the Mascot Industries board of directors.
In 1981 Mascot in turn sold out to a Melbourne company controlled by the Fayman family, who sold some of the Mascot divisions and kept others. The Western Australian elements were bought by Protean Ltd of Victoria, which went into liquidation not long afterwards. CM urged Derby Meat to acquire these elements through the liquidator, and as a result a new company, Derby Industries Pty Ltd, was formed and successfully bid for the assets previously known as Bunbury Beef Exports, Globe Meats Pty Ltd and Talloman Holdings Ltd. These became divisions within the Derby group. Talloman went on to become the jewel in CM’s crown in WA, being the major renderer of tallow and meat and bonemeal in that State through to the 1990s.