THERE’S a mini property boom happening in Central Australia, where overseas fund-backed Hewitt Cattle Australia is the latest to invest in a region considered somewhat ‘undiscovered’ by larger private and institutional investors.
Hewitt Cattle has confirmed this week it has spent about $50 million buying adjoining Ambalindum and Numery stations, more or less due east of Alice Springs on the edge of the Simpson Desert. The properties were owned by Tim and Emily Edmunds, Hale River Pastoral Co. Numery was listed for sale around February last year.
The aggregation provides about 6400sq km of light-carrying desert country, and the deal included about 15,000 Hereford cross cattle. It’s estimated the two properties have a carrying capacity of around 20,000 head.
With little natural water, stock water is supplied by 15 bores on Numery, and a similar layout on Ambalindum. Both properties make extensive use of poly pipe to push stock water out to outlying areas.
Hewitt Cattle chief executive Mick Hewitt earlier told Beef Central that having previously not been all that familiar with the Central Australia region, he had been surprised at the quality of the country and extent of buffel grass established on the properties. He said the country perhaps had not been given due recognition by the industry.
The purchase represents a significant expansion for Hewitt Cattle, backed by large Canadian pension fund, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board.
Mr Hewitt described the purchase as a ‘transformational’ transaction for the business, adding a great deal of strategic value for HCA in breeding capacity.
With the Central Australia grazing region well-recognised for its geographic location, providing cattle marketing opportunities to the north through live export, east through Queensland, NSW or Victoria processors, or south into South Australia, the deal provides Hewitt Cattle with broader multiple markets throughout Australia including both live export and processing.
Mr Hewitt referenced the emerging live export trade into China out of southern Australia as a prospect.
He said the properties will supply high-quality stock back to the company’s grazing assets in Queensland. The Ambalindum and Numery purchases take Hewitt Cattle’s landholdings beyond one million hectares, representing about 75,000 cattle.
After joining forces with PSP, Hewitt Cattle bought Sir Graham McCamley’s Oakleigh and Stoodleigh properties north of Rockhampton in 2015 for about $13 million.
It then purchased the Pegunny, Anglestone and Roundstone aggregation – 31,000ha of buffel grass country in the Moura district of Central Queensland, from the family of the late Gordon Reid.
It later bought a major aggregation of cattle stations from gas company Australia Pacific LNG, including Strathblane, Wybara and Scotts Creek north-east of Roma, to add to its existing Pony Hills holding in Queensland.
The Canadian PSP fund financing the deals manages $115 billion in assets and seeks investment returns for the pension plans of the Canadian Public Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force.
Growing interest in Central Australia
With few large-scale cattle properties currently being listed across eastern Australia, large areas in Central Australia have turned over in increasing numbers in the past two years.
Cattleman Tony Davis has steadily compiled a large grazing operation in the region over the past two years.
Rainfall wise, while drier than the NT’s Top End, Mr Davis says Central Australia is a more attractive proposition in his view, due to its better market access and lower costs of production.
“It is a far safer commercial proposition, the desert,” he said, in an earlier article on Beef Central.
“In Central Australia you’re very central, you have a southern market, an eastern market and a northern market, and it just breeds superb cattle. We’re just continually trucking bullocks 650kg and over, that is what we sell, which you could not do up here in the Top End.”
Mr Davis said the emergence of a strong export market for slaughter weight cattle to Vietnam in particular had made a huge difference to Central Australian cattle producers in recent years.
Other properties sold in the region around Alice Springs in the past two years include:
- McDonald Downs (207,000ha) sold for $8.6m to Scott Cattle Co
- Aileron (408,000ha) bought for $10m by Melbourne-based Caason Group
- Derwent and Glen Helen (308,000ha) sold for $11,5m
- Narwietooma (259,000ha) sold for $8.75m
- Delny and Delmore Downs (121,000ha) sold for $4m
- Murray Downs and Epenarra (825,000ha) sold for more than $20m.