ONE of the true legends of the Australian cattle buying industry passed away on Wednesday last week.
Grahame Flynn spent a lifetime buying livestock and putting deals together across the eastern states cattle industry. He was 89.
He rose through the ranks buying cattle across the length and breadth of the country since soon after World War 11 for Tancred Brothers, which owned abattoirs from Victoria all the way to North Queensland, and later, with Australia Meat Holdings, finishing his career as AMH’s general manager livestock in 1988.
“Grahame was a real legend in our business,” said friend and direct market competitor, Geoff Teys, from Teys Australia.
“When I started in the industry in 1970, he was the perfect model on which every cattle buyer wanted to style themselves. He was exceptionally good at what he did; everybody liked him, as a personality; knew cattle inside out; and he commanded great respect,” Mr Teys said. “He was a very likeable character, and mentored many younger cattle buyers through the industry – regardless of which company they worked for.”
Grahame had a formidable reputation for being able to sense a shift in the market, and be a sale-or-two ahead of his opposition in buying decisions.
“As a novice 17-year old cattle buyer, I can recollect being at a Blackall sale where Grahame was paying 10c above everybody else, without any apparent reason. Then a day or two later at Toowoomba, the market had shifted 30c,” Teys CEO Brad Teys said. “He just knew when to move, and when not to move.”
“I don’t think we will ever see the likes of Grahame Flynn again,” said one of his livestock buyer appointments and former AMH CEO, John Keir.
“He was the consummate deal-maker. For a bloke who left school after grade eight, to find his home in the Tancred family for a long time and achieve the success and respect he did with Tancreds and later, AMH, was a remarkable achievement.”
Beyond the day-to-day challenge of filling Tancreds’ and later AMH’s weekly kill roster, Grahame was also involved in myriad other industry activities.
He was the architect behind Tancred’s Australasian Grazing pastoral company business, buying a string of showcase cattle properties across northern and western Queensland to form one of the largest pastoral companies in the nation. Just some of the properties included Keeroongooloo and South Galwey in the Channel country; Riversleigh, Saxby Downs and Kynuna Station; Carandotta, Connemarra, Noondoo and Amby Downs; and Boomara and Gleeson near Julia Creek.
During the AMH era, Grahame was also responsible for the identification and selection of the greenfield Prime City feedlot site near Griffith in NSW.
He is also credited with being the forefather of modern-day grid pricing systems used widely today across the beef industry, well before the advent of Chiller Assessment. He was also well before his time in instigating record keeping for marbling, yield and other important carcase traits in the collection of performance data on suppliers’ cattle, on which to gauge likely future performance.
The following are some recollections written by friend and former Cannon Hill work colleague, Graham Daly:
Born in 1927, Grahame grew up in Highgate Hill with the Brisbane River as his playground. Grahame had never heard of Cannon Hill at this stage so, with his, he took a job with a large Brisbane wholesale hardware supplier, James Campbell.
Soon after attaining his scholarship certificate, he got a job as a jackaroo on a sheep station in south west Queensland, on a quid ($2) a week plus keep. About a year later in 1943 Grahame’s father passed away and he returned to Brisbane with the princely sum of fifty quid ($100) in his kit.
Determined to remain in the livestock industry, Grahame caught a tram into the city and started door knocking in Eagle St, where all the major stock and station agents were headquartered. Finally he cracked a job with Winchcombe Carson and worked under the manager, Cyril Burcher, a highly respected man in the saleyards in that era.
Grahame’s first panoramic view of Brisbane’s Cannon Hill saleyards was from high above the hustle and bustle in the pens, via the overhead pedestrian bridge that crossed the railway line. Everywhere he looked he saw men on horseback drafting cattle, well-trained kelpie dogs unloading train loads of sheep and cattle, the air was filled with a perfume only a true stockman could relish.
The bawling of cattle and barking of the dogs all sounded like a symphony to Grahame. For the first time in his life, he knew exactly where he was meant to be.
The Second World War was on and in 1945 Grahame heard the call and left his beloved Cannon Hill to join the Navy. Much to his disdain the war ended before he could “get a crack at ’em”, and he was discharged in 1946.
Grahame returned to Winchcombes and was posted to Tara, where he would spend the next few years in the agency game and eventually at age 21 gain his auctioneer’s license.
By now he had wide experience in the sheep industry and Queensland Meat Exports would offer him a buyer’s job in 1948. His wages: ten quid ($20) a week and a shilling (10c) a mile for his car.
Grahame’s destiny was being moulded and in 1949 Tancred Bros, the biggest name in the cattle processing business at the time, recognised his ability and asked him to join the company. He accepted with enthusiasm, seeing this as a chance to learn more of the art of cattle buying with the chance to study under the best.
In 1956 Tancred Bros opened a new abattoir at Beaudesert and Grahame was appointed livestock manager. It was a position he would hold until 1986 and one that would reunite him with the first love of his life, Cannon Hill Saleyards.
The year 1986 would herald the biggest amalgamation in the history of meat processing in Australia, merging four large processor companies including Tancreds. Australia Meat Holdings would be the giant of the industry and Grahame accepted the position of general manager livestock. He held the position until ‘retirement’ in 1988, but he remained closely associated with the cattle and meat industry for many years to follow. He continued to consult widely across the industry, including being closely associated with AMH’s early feedlot trials.
During Grahame’s four decades of buying he would only experience the relative ease of live weight buying for 13 years. Prior to that he had to do it the old fashioned way, put a weight on ’em, estimate their yield, calculate their value (in his head) and (up to 1966, at least) bid in pounds, shillings and pence per hundred.
All easy enough for a competent bloke in the yards, but just a little more demanding out in a paddock off the back of a horse, especially after a hair raising flight into far flung corners of the interior in an early model, cloth bound bi-plane.
Back then Grahame was inspecting big mobs of bullocks of Sidney Kidman’s, who for a time offered his cattle for sale by tender, a very cunning move by the “cattle king”. The only way to win ’em was to give’ em too much weight, something Grahame could never bring himself to do.
On any given sale day at Cannon Hill it was not uncommon for Grahame to buy between 1000-2000 head of all descriptions. Often he would have someone pencilling for him. If he didn’t, no matter, he would handle both tasks and manage to keep up.
Grahame Flynn’s funeral was held on April 1, 2016 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 121 Main St, Sunnybank, Brisbane.
Click this link to access an abridged version of the eulogy delivered at Grahame Flynn’s funeral service by friend and colleague, John Keir.