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Remembering Grahame Flynn

Beef Central, 05/04/2016

As reported earlier on Beef Central, revered cattle buyer and industry identity Grahame Flynn passed away recently, with a service held in Brisbane on Friday. This is an abridged version of the eulogy delivered at the service by friend and colleague, John Keir.

 

GRAHAME Flynn was a man whose path crossed many people in his almost 89 years of life but above all else, he was a family man and loving husband to his wife of nearly 60 years, Jill.

He and Jill had a wonderful marriage and were partners in the true sense of the word. Grahame was a devoted father to his children Michael, Damien and Susan regularly making time in his frenetic schedule to support them in all ways including coaching school football teams and other activities.

The late Grahame Flynn, right, pictured during a JBS function with former livestock general manager Ross Keane, and cattle producer Stan Henwood

The late Grahame Flynn, right, pictured during a JBS function with former livestock general manager Ross Keane, and prominent cattle producer Stan Henwood

Grahame was proud of all his family but his love for his grandchildren Jessi, Carla, Nikki, Ed and Jonny and great grandson Flynn knew no bounds and he had close relationships with all of them.

Grahame was born 5 July 1927, the second son of Stephen and Elsie Flynn.  He grew up in Highgate Hill, Brisbane with his brothers, Rodney and Athol. As a child he attended West End State School during the depression years and enjoyed farm-stay holidays with his family in the Brisbane Valley. It was here that he discovered his love of bush life.

He later attended Brisbane Grammar School leaving with his Scholarship Certificate. Times were no doubt tough in the the post depression/early war years and Grahame took a job in the glass-blowing division of the old established Brisbane glass company, James Campbell.

History would later show that Grahame had the ability “to hold his own” with the sharpest minds about, and he could have excelled at any profession he turned to, but he had a love of the bush and he soon applied for a jackaroo/general hand position he had seen advertised at Nellybri Station at Surat.

After 12 months at Nellybri, Grahame’s father passed away suddenly, and still only 15 years of age, he returned to Brisbane to support his mother, whom he adored. His older brother, Rodney was about to be posted overseas with the RAAF, and Grahame was to become the man of the household.

This was 1943 and the war was already in progress for four years.

Manpower was short. Grahame was determined to remain in a rural type industry, whilst living in Brisbane.

As luck would have it, he landed a job as a livestock clerk with the wool broking firm, Winchcombe Carson. The duties would entail attendance at Cannon Hill saleyards, three days a week, drafting, penning, booking up, deliveries and book work.

To quote from Grahame’s memoirs…….” after a year’s solitude in the bush, on my first day at Cannon Hill, I remember being absolutely fascinated as I stood on the overhead railway bridge, and looked down on the action below: K-wagon doors thumping into the unloading bank, dogs working the sheep out of N vans; so much noise and movement; the lanes crowded with sheep and cattle on their way to the drafting yards.”

“It was a case of love at first sight.”

It was during his early days at Cannon Hill where later in life, Grahame used to say he learnt a strong work ethic, a dedication to the job at hand and above all, the ability to think and move quickly.

Grahame’s enchantment with Cannon Hill was to last 45 years, till his retirement in 1988. It was a big part of his life and it was where he gained his grounding.

With the war continuing, and Grahame reaching an age when he could enlist, he joined the Navy in 1945, no doubt influenced to join that service because of his boyhood experiences with his brothers in their home made canoes on the Brisbane River. At the cessation of hostilities, Grahame was discharged and rejoined Winchcombe Carson at Cannon Hill.

When he turned 21 he gained his auctioneer’s license and commenced selling sheep at Cannon Hill. During this time, he was based briefly at the Tara branch as the stock salesman. He was gaining a good deal of experience in the sheep industry.

Queensland Meat Exporters in Brisbane, (not to be confused with the firm of a similar named owned by Vesteys, and operating out of Townsville) offered Grahame a job buying sheep for them in 1948, and so began his livestock buying career which was to span forty years.

A year later in 1949, the privately owned family meat company, Tancred Bros, offered Grahame a job as livestock buyer, which he accepted. This was to become his ‘second home’ for the next 37 years.

After time as the resident buyer based in Roma, Dalby, and Goondiwindi, Grahame’s ability, people skills, and work ethic were noticed by the older members of the Tancred families, and promotions followed. In 1956, Tancred Bros opened a new abattoir at Beaudesert, and he was appointed livestock manager.

Grahame forged his career during a time when there was no fax, no emails or no mobile phones.  There were no livestock grids, and no slaughter feedback information other than carcase weights. There was not much evidence of the three favourites of Grahame’s in later life, Brahman cattle, buffel grass or bitumen roads.

Cattle and sheep were purchased at auction and in the paddock, in pounds, shillings and pence on a per head basis, and in later years on a dollar per head basis.   Liveweight selling was not introduced till the mid-1970s and Grahame adapted to this with ease.

In the 1980s, well before the advent of AusMeat or chiller assessment, he also devised and implemented the first buying grids seen in the beef industry, in a quest to send price signals back to suppliers about the relative value of eight-year-old bullocks versus three year olds. He also investigated values in cattle through commissioning early boning room yields for analysis.

Much of the success was due to Grahame’s ability to source an ever-increasing supply of livestock, and at a competitive price. He always seemed to know where and when livestock were “under the odds”, and sent his buyers to those areas.

Computers and the internet were tools for the future and while Grahame did try to master them in his retirement, he never did get the hang of them.

Most people on the larger grazing properties had telephone connection by manual exchange, via a party line. More than a few had no telephone connection at all, and relied on the RFDS outback radio network.

In this environment the small family-owned processing business expanded significantly against much larger, and long-established foreign owned competitors, including Vesteys, Borthwicks, and Swift.

This expansion was no doubt a team effort – Geoff Tancred ran the operations, Harry Tancred sold the meat, and Grahame bought the livestock.

Much of the success was due to Grahame’s ability to source an ever-increasing supply of livestock, and at a competitive price. He always seemed to know where and when livestock were “under the odds”, and sent his buyers to those areas.

Grahame was a ‘Tancred man’ to his bootstraps.

In the early 1970s I was a young stock salesman with Dalgety’s based in Cloncurry. I first met Grahame, early on the morning of the last Saturday in June 1973 at the Mt Isa airport. He had flown to Mt Isa in Primaries’ Longreach-based plane after inspection cattle on the day before at Alroy and Avon Downs Stations in the Northern Territory.

We flew in the Dalgety plane to Calton Hills Station, north of Mt. Isa, then owned by the late John Banning, where Grahame purchased quite a large mob of cattle.

My impressions of Grahame on that first meeting were to stay with me to this day.

He was no arm chair general. He spent an enormous amount of time travelling; often in light, single-engine aircraft. He carried a huge work load. No day was too long but he managed to provide encouragement, and advice, when it was sought by those who worked for him, as well as their wives.

He was equally at home in the cattle yards branding calves, inspecting Kidman bullocks walking to rail, on a western Queensland stock route, with his long-time friend, the late Gordon Reid, or as a company director in the board room developing future strategies.

And he just loved the challenge of the weekly Cannon Hill cattle sale, where he would pit his expertise against all comers, and often had a takeout of over a thousand head.

As the livestock boss with Tancred Bros, Grahame was responsible for the purchase of the various species, encompassing cattle and calves, pigs, sheep, lambs and goats, and horses.

He had an in depth knowledge of all of them: their availability, their anatomy, their likely cost to purchase, the markets in the world where the product could be sold, and the price, often in a foreign currency, which the product was likely to return

The various livestock were directed by Grahame to either company-owned abattoirs, or to third party owned plants, where the company had a service kill/bone operation. The spread of these plants was extensive: Beaudesert, Cape River, Huttons, The Bohle and Mt Isa in Queensland; Bourke, Casino, Gunnedah, Goulburn and Harden in NSW; Dandenong and Brooklyn in Melbourne and Ararat, Bendigo and Shepparton in country Victoria.

In addition, there was the Tancred feedlot operated at Beaudesert, which catered for the emerging grainfed markets.

It was quite common practice for Grahame to direct cattle, once purchased from the Barkly Tableland, or the Alice Springs district, to rail to Beaudesert in South East Queensland in September and then when cattle shortened in Queensland; to have bullocks purchased in Gippsland to be railed from Wodonga to Beaudesert later the same year.

Grahame was also involved in the live export trade, sending multiple shipments overseas, slaughter bullocks out of Wyndham to Malaysia and breeding heifers purchased out of Central Queensland to Indonesia.

In fact, Grahame understood globalisation and the opportunities it presented before most people had heard of the word.

Any reflection of Grahame’s life and achievements would not be complete without mention of the grazing properties, which he was instrumental in buying and selling on behalf of the Tancred company. Very few people could claim to have signed the contracts to purchase and sell a more substantial group when you think of Avon Downs, Elgin and Disney in the Central Highlands (purchased from King Ranch Australia); Beaudesert, Cammeray, Kameruka, and Rutchillo at Julia Creek; Boomarra and Gleeson (from the Chaplains); the Australian Pastoral Co properties Carrandotta, Connemarra, Keeroongooloo, Galway Downs, Noondoo, Redford and Amby Downs;

Gulf Properties Planet Downs, Gregory Downs, and Glenore; Riversleigh, Saxby Downs and Kynuna Station from the Naughton family; May Downs at Mt Isa from the Strettons; Rockwood at Hughenden, Green Hills at Bourke and Wainui Farm and Feedlot at Bowenville.

That’s a pastoral empire of scale, and there will be others I have overlooked, millions of hectares and hundreds of thousands of cattle and all put together by a lad who left school with a Scholarship Certificate to go jackerooing.

Grahame was a man of the highest integrity and principal, firm in his convictions, decisive in his decision making, unwaivering in his follow-up yet always ready to cooperate and seek consensus.

He was mentor to many, he had faith in his staff, and trusted them to do the best they could in whatever circumstances they found themselves in. He consulted with his staff about the job to be done, he issued his instructions on what he required of them and awaited advice of the outcome.

He was not a boss who over-managed his staff, he was always modest and humble, very inclusive and treated us all as equals.  He was a role model for a generation of cattle buyers, who aspired to reach his heights, but none ever did. He inspired loyalty and respect in all who worked for him, or with him and he returned these qualities in spades.

He had a large circle of friends and business associates, from graziers, station managers, agents, drovers, carriers and company directors. He was on first-name terms with most of them, as well as their wives and children. He seemed to be friends with everyone involved in the industry, from the Commissioner of Rail to the spelling agent at Sellheim.

It is hard for me to say whether he was a better judge of livestock or people, but what one can say, is that he was a top judge of both.

He gave generously of his time to all he came in contact with even though they occupied a small place in the industry scene. His demeanor remained the same whether he was talking with a ringer who he just met on a western Queensland property about the season or the managing director of a large pastoral company while he was negotiating the purchase of a thousand bullocks.  He was indeed a humble man who never sought to grandstand, nor abuse his authority or position of power.

It is hard for me to say whether he was a better judge of livestock or people, but what one can say, is that he was a top judge of both.

Grahame always had a cheerful disposition and was very positive in his attitude to life. It was not hard to warm to Grahame’s personality and be enthralled by his endless stories about the industry, its characters and events.  He was a great raconteur and his stories were often self-deprecating.

I have heard Grahame tell the story of the time, whilst based at Beaudesert as the livestock director, receiving a call from a well respected Primaries agent based in Rockhampton, quoting him a line of spayed cows with suckling 10 month old calves at foot, which were available for sale in the Springsure district.

Queensland was having a so-so type of season at the time, but the Springsure district and the vendor’s property in particular, were enjoying a top season.

In the absence of any restocker interest in the cows and calves it was suggested by the agent  that the best financial outcome might be to offer the units to Tancred Bros  who would take them to the Beaudesert plant  where they had a grown cattle chain and a parallel calf chain, as Tancreds were big in veal at that time. The vendor concurred.

Grahame flew from Brisbane to Rockhampton, overnighted, and with the agent drove to the vendor’s property the next morning. The cattle presented magnificently: the cows were as” fat as seals” and the calves prime.

Grahame offered what the agent considered a huge price but the offer was rejected by the vendor as being inadequate. After some discussion, he concluded that the vendor did not wish to see the calves go to slaughter so Grahame and the agent bade farewell and drove away without making a deal.

A few nights later, the vendor received a telephone call from a grazier friend in Central Queensland, from whom Grahame had previously purchased cattle.

In the course of the discussion, the vendor advised he had not sold his cows and calves. He thought the buyer was a fair bit “under the odds”, with his offer probably because he had had no experience of how heavy cattle weighed off good country, and anyway he was only the pig and calf buyer from Beaudesert.

Little did he know he was actually dealing with the Boss.

In the limited industry circles we have all mixed in this story didn’t take long to get back to Flynnie, who told it for thirty years.

 

AMH era begins

In the early 1980s times were very difficult in the Australian meat processing industry and this coupled with a currency reversal for Tancred Bros in late 1984 and early 1985  precipitated the formation of AMH in July 1986.

This brought together four Australian meat processing firms, all as equal shareholders, as one company, under one management  with management and the livestock buyers  being selected from within the ranks of the four companies.

Grahame was appointed to the role of General Manager Livestock, a role critical to the success of the new company.  He picked the livestock buying team he wanted. The fact that senior management and livestock buyers from diverse company backgrounds and cultures went on to respect Grahame and become lifelong friends and be here today thirty years later is testimony to his standing among competitors and peers alike.

In July 1988, Grahame retired from his daily involvement as an executive in the corporate world, he retained his interest in the pastoral and meat industries, principally through his ownership with Michael of the grazing property “Valera Vale” at Charleville where they ran a herd of stud Droughtmaster cattle, and the land they owned at Harrisville.

Grahame never withdrew from the industry which had been his life.

In retirement he was regularly sought-out for advice by various players.  He was a deal maker with great people skills who knew how to get a deal across the line.

In the early 1990s he was engaged by the late Keith Lawson who was the then Executive chairman of AMH to find a suitable site in southern NSW on which to build a feedlot.  This he did and Prime City came to be.

Grahame found a suitable area, comprising four individual adjoining farms. He was able to negotiate an acceptable price with each of the owners, as well as securing the 20,000 megalitres of irrigation water which was attached to the farms, and which could have been sold separately.

As part of the EIS Licence application, Grahame cold-canvassed all the adjoining landholders and explained to them in detail the workings of a large feedlot. The company chartered a bus and Grahame met the future near-neighbours in Griffith and accompanied them to Caroona and Beef City feedlots, all the time explaining the process and allaying any fears which may have existed.

Such was Grahame’s knowledge of the business and his communication skills, the company would rather have had Grahame handle this than appoint a big city based PR firm.

Grahame’s people skills were further put to good use when in 1994/1995, AMH conducted a series of feedlot trials at its Beef City Feedlot and abattoir.

This involved cattle producers from Mareeba to Mt Gambier submitting a deck-load of their own breed steers for assessment as to their suitability for the Japanese grain fed market 32,000 cattle from 600 producers participated over an 18-month period.

Grahame was heavily involved, meeting producers, showing them their finished animals prior to slaughter, inspecting the carcases next day in the chillers, and the subsequent boning; all the time explaining the process, the market requirements, the destination for the various meat cuts, and their relative value.

Grahame derived great pleasure from the opportunity to reconnect with families from whom he had purchased cattle years earlier and his willingness to share his knowledge and experiences were most beneficial to the then younger staff involved.

Grahame knew personal tragedy in life, when in June, 1985, his son Damien was killed in a car accident; this loss was deeply felt by Grahame and Jill, Michael and Susan.

Grahame would not have achieved what he did in life without the support of people. Being the humble man that he was he frequently acknowledged this fact. His greatest supporter throughout his life has been his wife, Jill, and I know he loved her dearly.

When life comes to an end there is the natural grief for the loved ones and friends.  In Grahame’s case this is so and we all feel for Jill, Michael, Susan and their families.

It has been a privilege to have known Grahame and our own lives have been enhanced by so doing.

 

John Keir

 

 

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Comments

  1. Kelly Sims, 07/11/2019

    This was beautiful to read, Thomas Tancred is my great great grandfather. The sons had a sister named Agnes too who is my grandfathers mother. I used to accompany my grandfather to the cattle stations down here in Tasmania… And are now a vegetarian, horse re-houser ha ha hmmmm how life goes!

  2. Jeff Brown, 26/09/2017

    Sorry! Six Tancred boys . Also George.

  3. Jeff Brown, 26/09/2017

    I was reading Grahame Flyn’s Eulogy and it brought back memories of my father Frank and my brother David Tancred Brown who were both Engineers at the Beaudesert Works in those early years. I was allowed to prod the cattle to get them up the Shute, as a young boy. Grahame’a name was often mentioned and of course Maurice Tancred. My Mother was a Tancred, Agnes or Aggie as she was known. I think there were four girls and five boys, Harry,Arnold, Jim, Owen, Bill, Winifred,Agnes , Gill, Anna. Lots of memories. Vale Grahame. Jeff Brown.

    • Kelly Sims, 07/11/2019

      Hi Jeff

      I’m David’s granddaughter (Paulines daughter). I spent a lot of time with him as a child and was only thinking of him today hence here online. Hi and sending the biggest of love from Tassie – We miss him so much!

  4. Dick Wilson, 06/04/2016

    One of the few true gentlemen of the beef industry. RIP Grahame.

  5. Rob Grummitt, 05/04/2016

    He was a great man and an inspiration to a lot of people.

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