ONE of northern Australia’s true pastoral legends has re-entered the grazing property market after a ten-year absence, with a purchase confirmed this week of a substantial grazing property on the eastern side of the Northern Territory.
Cattle baron Peter Sherwin, now believed to be well into his 90’s, has bought 259,000ha pastoral lease Broadmere, 250 km east of Daly Waters on the edge of the Barkly Tableland.
Settlement was reached last week, for a price around $7 million bare of stock. Broadmere is far from a ‘top-shelf’ territory cattle holding, advertised earlier with a carrying capacity of around 6500 adult equivalents. It was sold by a Canberra-based private investor who has run the holding for the past ten years or so.
Mr Sherwin’s re-emergence this week as a serious cattle station buyer has taken even long-standing colleagues and business associates by surprise.
At one point in the 1980s, he was regarded as Australia’s biggest private landholder. Only a couple of corporates like Stanbroke and AA Co were larger.
Starting in 1960 with Birrindudu on the edge of the Tanami Desert, Mr Sherwin, pictured right, gradually built up a pastoral empire. By the mid 1980s he controlled 78,000sq km of country across the Northern Territory, Northwest Queensland and northeastern WA.
The holdings included many of the most highly-regarded grazing assets in northern Australia, including Victoria River Downs, which he bought for $12 million from Hooker Corp in 1984, Alroy Downs and Walhallow, which served as his headquarters for many years.
During his peak in the 1980s he ran somewhere between 280,000 and 340,000 head of cattle. At one point he made an unsuccessful takeover offer for the Australian Agricultural Co.
Behind the scenes, a time-bomb was ticking away, however. Throughout his rapid expansion, he had borrowed heavily through pastoral financier, Elders. Insiders believe he owed $40 million to the banks. One way out was to attract public money and float the property portfolio and herd on the stock exchange.
Actual herd numbers came under challenge when the Sherwin Pastoral business was floated on the ASX in December 1987, with institutional investors like Elders, Bankers Trust and Heytesbury later questioning herd-size claims. The prospectus at the time was viewed as optimistic, projecting profits of more than $12 million. Mr Sherwin ultimately lost the pastoral empire to an institutional investor takeover, walking away with two or three properties.
He sold his last remaining substantial northern cattle asset, 400,000ha Alroy Downs on the Barkly, at the height of the property market bubble in 2008. The $70 million pricetag made the sale of Alroy to Sterling Buntine one of, if not the largest single property purchases in Australia’s history. The only larger figures since then have been for aggregations.
Since the Alroy sale, the reclusive Mr Sherwin has kept an extremely low profile. Legend has it that he lived permanently for many years in a presidential suite in Brisbane’s Sheraton Hotel.
Exactly what the elderly cattleman’s plans are for Broadmere remains a mystery, but his past history of astute and timely property purchases means the industry will look on with some fascination.
CBRE’s Geoff Warriner was marketing agent on the Broadmere Station sale, offered through expressions of interest closing in late August. Good local grazier and investor interest was reported in the pre-sale process.
Beef Central reported in this article last week that Broadmere was under contract, but at that point the buyer was not known.
The 259,000ha pastoral lease, 250km east of Daly Waters and 250km west of Borroloola, comprises a balance of open black soil plains, lightly timbered country to several escarpments typical of the NT gulf region. It has highly secure water resources, including Limmen Bight River and October and Lansen Creeks.
Current carrying capacity of 6500 adult equivalents could be expanded by a further with improvements to fencing, water and the currently unimproved northern section of the property.
- Beef Central is planning to run a series of articles at the end of the year about past ‘giants’ of the northern cattle industry, from our extensive database of historical records and photos. While now long-gone, companies like Queensland and Northern Territory Pastoral Co (QNTP), King Ranch, Queensland Stations, Coutts Brothers, Shipfield Pty Ltd and Australiasian Grazing will be familiar to many older readers from the 1960s-80s period. Keep a look-out for reports closer to Christmas.