News

Vale John Armstrong

Jon Condon, 16/06/2022

PIONEER northern cattle industry veterinarian John Armstrong passed away on the weekend, aged 85.

Over more than 50 years, John showed a deep love of the northern cattle industry, particularly the iconic ‘big runs’ and the people who operated them.

His influence and contribution extended well beyond animal health issues and other veterinary matters to a much broader palate covering genetics, workplace health and safety, new technologies and general productivity improvement.

Shortly after graduating in veterinary science at the University of Queensland, after completing boarding school in Melbourne (Melbourne U did not offer a vet science degree at the time), John joined King Ranch Australia in 1967. King Ranch ran a network of properties across Queensland and the Northern Territory at the time.

His primary role with King Ranch (and later, with another larger norther pastoral company, Queensland Stations) was in the companies’ Bovine Tuberculosis eradication programs, prior to the commencement of National TB Eradication campaign which began in 1970 and ran until 1997.

Testing programs were implemented across the King Ranch portfolio including the notable Brunette Downs and Tully River Stations.

Blood Screening tests carried out by a legion of (mostly young) vets across northern Australian involved weeks living rough in swags in remote stock camps, and long distances between mobs which John traversed in his trusty Cessna 182. The work was relentless, and carried out on a military exercise scale.

Australia’s National TB Eradication program ranks among the world’s great animal disease control projects. It fundamentally changed the northern cattle industry due to the level of herd control achieved by the management and infrastructure development that was necessitated by the TB control programs, and assured market access to key international markets at the time like the US.

The subsequent economic bounty enjoyed by the northern industry is measured in billions of dollars and continues to this day.

John’s King Ranch program was recognised as the gold standard for TB testing, and as such was expanded on a contract basis to Queensland Stations, which saw John responsible for the TB testing programs across its vast gulf stations and North Queensland properties including Rutland Plains, Van Rook, Miranda Downs and Strathmore, as well as North Queensland properties Bluff Downs and Dotswood.

Interspersed with this work, John played integral roles in development of husbandry programs in King Ranch’s Philippine cattle production program, based on live export Santa heifers out of Australia, as well as ship-board veterinary activities on sheep ships to Iran in the early 1970s.

In 1979 he joined Stanbroke Pastoral Co as senior veterinary officer, taking over from the late Bob Chester. Stanbroke was then the largest beef producer in the world. John was charged, among other things, with eradication of TB from the Stanbroke herds.

This was not an easy ask given the scale of the Stanbroke portfolio as a whole, not to mention the geographic challenges of the some of the properties. He had to contend not only with tough unforgiving environments, but also resistance from tough, unforgiving station managers who were placed under significant stress resulting from the immense workloads required under BTEC.

TB eradication was the agent that effectively tamed the north via effective boundary and internal fencing to segregate cattle. This ‘apparently’ simple control development was the catalyst which allowed substantial herd improvement via fertility, genetic and productivity advances.

These measures were integral in the growth of Stanbroke to its pre ‘break-up’ (2003) scale of 530,000 cattle run across 27 properties.

Over time as the industry won the battle over TB, John’s responsibilities and influence within the Stanbroke ranks widened beyond animal health.

He was heavily involved in the company’s own live export programs into Indonesia with Suntory; early electronic herd recording trials in extensive herds; genetic and genomic testing with geneticist Dr Jay Hetzel; and overall herd performance.

His fingerprints were all over the genetic development of Stanbroke’s massive northern breeding herds, and perhaps more surprisingly, its stock horse breeding programs. At its peak, Stanbroke ran more than 6000 horses for stock work, using a disciplined breeding program. Every horse, whether it was a brood mare or destined for the stock camp, was assessed for soundness, temperament and safety, before being handed over.

This later extended into a broader focus on workplace health and safety, that John drove through the company.  He often travelled to distant company locations talking with teams of jackaroos and jillaroos, head stockmen and managers training on WH&S matters.

John maintained a lifelong passion for horses, which extended into his retirement when he bred Thoroughbreds on his property near Bowenville on Queensland’s Darling Downs. One of his products, a gelding called Taxing, was a metropolitan winner in Brisbane. He was also an active race horse syndicator amongst his mates, whose most successful horse Zabuan ran in the 1990 Melbourne Cup.

Fellow Stanbroke employee Roger Halliwell remembers John as a highly intelligent individual who maintained a practical down-to-earth approach, sizing-up the challenges and solutions of northern beef operations particularly well.

“Few, if any Stanbroke staff spent as much time in the company aircraft away on the properties as John. He knew the business inside out, for 20-odd years,” he said.

Mr Halliwell said there was a cohort of younger Australian veterinarians who had worked under, and been mentored by John, as Stanbroke’s senior vet. Many of these, including people like Ian Braithwaite, Sandy Jephcott and Lee Fitzpatrick, went on to become prominent industry identities in their own right.

John continued his close involvement with the northern cattle industry after his retirement from Stanbroke in 1999, with consultancy roles for many of the big industry players in their breeding programs.

Despite being kept  busy developing and operating his own cattle and irrigated farming operation on the Darling Downs, he was always ready to ‘down tools’ for the greater industry good as he did by playing key roles in the control of the equine influenza outbreak, as well as a localised TB breakdown on his old stomping-ground of Van Rook, and again at Van Rook with a Johnes Disease outbreak.

He later played advisory roles in the Northern Pastoral Group and was involved more broadly in contributing to industry affairs. He maintained a broad contact base with fellow cattle vets and animal scientists overseas, especially in the United States, tapping into their knowledge base as local issues arose.

John was overwhelmingly a people person who felt a special responsibility to younger people in the industry and was active in implementation of training and development programs for all levels of industry with a particular focus on opening pathways for women in the industry.

He believed in, and strived for inclusiveness long before it was fashionable.

John had only retired to Brisbane in recent years where he kept himself busy on the golf course and spending time with family and old friends.

He is survived by his wife Jill, daughters Liza and Rebecca and son Adam.

 

A funeral service will be held at 10.30am on 23 June at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, 89 Fairly Street, Indooroopilly, Brisbane, and afterwards the Indooroopilly Golf Club, Meiers Road.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Beverley Liddy, 03/08/2022

    Hi Jill Liza Bec and Adam, thinking of you all over this time, remembering the kindness John showed to the neighbourly families, lovely memories to behold….stay strong and keep in touch….love the Liddy family…….

  2. Andrew Dunn, 22/06/2022

    I worked as a veterinarian for Stanbroke Pastoral Company in the early 1980’s, living on cattle stations in the Mt Isa region and principally being involved with the tuberculosis eradication program. Despite my inexperience with almost everything that was involved in that task, John treated me with respect, encouragement and care.
    I am forever grateful for the guidance and kindness he extended to me and really enjoyed catching up with him at veterinary conferences many years later, where his pride in the contribution to the pastoral cattle industry he guided was always very evident. My thoughts are with his family.

  3. Roy Casey, 21/06/2022

    I meet John at St Johnes College St Lucia when we were completing our Veterinary Science degree in 1961. In the last year we worked on semen in rams and I carried John and two other students in my Austs A30 to lectures. John and I spent lots of time playing sport for St Johnes. John went north and I went west to spend 38 years in veterinary science. My deepest sympathy to Jill and family.

  4. John Roberts, 18/06/2022

    As a (Junior) Vet Colleague I salute the work of John Armstrong, he indeed had a hard row to hoe and tenaciously he sought to support his companies and co-workers interests. From my side, that of the QDPI during the BTEC/TFAP days we did not exactly always see eye to eye on what was happening on certain properties, but there is no question that without the cattle industry support and cooperation of big players, and innovators such as John, this world class program would never have come to completion. In addition to his work ethic, John was just a great bloke to know, and we are all lessened by him no longer being with us.

    VALE indeed!

  5. Mary Alderman, 18/06/2022

    RIP John Armstrong.
    I remember well your many trips to Tully River Station during the 70’s. You were a well respected member of the King Ranch family.
    My condolences to Jill and family.

  6. John Armstrong, 17/06/2022

    Although of the same name we don’t profess close relationship. I fisrt met John in the Stanbroke Brisbane office. The late John Cox introduced us. In those times I was very busy organising John Weymouth’s helicopter fleet that was based at VRD and John of course very busy with Stanbroke cattle. We had often spoken by telephone relaying messages about aggravated clients either ringing me looking to find out where he was as they had “2,000 head ready to START needling at daylight?!!!,” Or he fielding complaints about helicopters that had been booked and not turned up to START daylight.” To gentleman Coxie’s delight, we shared a few such anecdotes over a cup of Stanbroke smoko. I am sorry that i never got to know him better, but we were – always busy. May I pass my condolences on to his family and close friends and quietly compliment recognition of his past great efforts for the Northern Cattle Industry
    Regards John Armstroing (ex Helimuster VRD)

  7. Richard Clark, 17/06/2022

    I was greatly privileged to have this wonderful man as a close personal friend. I am greatly impoverished at his passing. For me he is irreplaceable

  8. Joyce Mc Connell, 17/06/2022

    Well said ! Such a highly respected person in life & in the cattle industry . Amazing knowledge of the northern country & the eradication of Brucollis etc . He was a dear friend to many & will be missed !

  9. Margaret Stewart, 17/06/2022

    Another outstanding gentleman of the Cattle Industry – too many have left us. My sincere thoughts for all.
    Margaret Stewart

  10. Michael+Vail, 17/06/2022

    A giant … RIP

  11. Roger Hill, 17/06/2022

    Very sad news indeed.

    One of John’s outstanding virtues was his regard for family.

    On a professional note, we can all attest to the incredible work ethic and high standards that John maintained, yet as a man, he loved his family and always made room for extended family.

    As a child, I can recall John Armstrong TB testing at Minnie’s with my father, John Hill (also a flying Vet at the time and also John’s cousin). Long days, lots of dust and a great stock camp, a place where strong bonds are formed,

    These two cousins were fond of each other. They had grown up knowing who each other were, yet, it was in the cattle yards during the TB days where they really grew to become mates.

    John Armstrong encouraged our families to maintain such a bond forever.

    John Armstrong would often include my family with his family Christmas for holidays at Noosa.

    John showed me the strength of his family values when John attended and spoke at my father’s funeral. At Dad’s funeral, John Armstrong spoke of mates helping out mates to get the job done during the TB scheme. John Armstrong was there at my father’s funeral when I needed his support.

    In recent times, John and Jill kept contact and visited us in Townsville.

    May John’s legacy of family values and mate-ship continue through the next generations.

  12. David Smart, 16/06/2022

    A great tribute for someone who made a valuable contribution to the industry that he loved

  13. Sandi Jephcott, 16/06/2022

    John was an outstanding mentor and friend. He is also well noted for his ‘intellectual’ sense of humour…… you always had to think about the message he was trying to convey through humour!! As with many, particularly his family, I will really miss John as a friend and as the ‘go to person’ if there were any major industry developments that need further explanation

  14. Geoffry Fordyce, 16/06/2022

    Thanks for publishing such a nice tribute Jon.
    I was fortunate enough to get a few pearls of professional wisdom from John over the years.
    Passion. John had heaps of it. Combine with his impressive skills and knowledge, there was no way this bloke was not gunna do great things for our industry.
    As many will attest, John was also always ready with a good yarn, scariest of which involved flying ‘VFR’ by the seat of his duds back in the dreamtime.
    Vale mate, ya dun real good.
    Geoffry Fordyce

  15. Martin Gomez, 16/06/2022

    My sincerest condolences to the family of John. I met him in the early seventies when the king Ranch partnership was in its infancy on the Philippines. He was soft spoken but always eager to get on with the job. Farewell my friend.

  16. Tony Fitzgerald, 16/06/2022

    Very sad news of the passing of a wonderful vet I was fortunate enough to work with John on the Waverley Brahman herd pregnancy testing etc John always took the time to explain to the younger staff how, why and what needed to be done.
    Deepest condolences.
    Tony Fitzgerald

  17. Greg Campbell, 16/06/2022

    A very nicely written tribute Jon, to a man so well known and respected across the northern cattle industry.

  18. Will Abel Smith, 16/06/2022

    Sad news, John was an outstanding cattleman and a hell of a good bloke!

    • Alan Guilfoyle, 21/06/2022

      A icon of the veterinary profession has passed on but his legacy will remain for others. Coming to Clermont in 1976, I first encountered John at Elgin Downs, then a King Ranch show place..
      We crossed paths many times during the BTEC era and particularly during many educational events promoted by the Post Grad School of Veterinay Science at James Cook University. John was a major contributor at these gathering. Following BTEC, I worked closely with John on Beresford Station, Clermont setting up the highly successful dry cow project. John was eager always to involve private vets outside the Stanbroke company and my practice certainly gained from this.
      Above all, as quoted in previous comments, John was a true gentleman. RIP mate. Guillie

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