Article – Cattleman Sid Parker honoured with state funeral

15 January 2014
ABC Rural

PHOTO The funeral procession begins for Sid Parker at the Darwin Cathedral.

Cattleman Sid Parker, a much loved and respected figure in the Northern Territory live export industry, has been honoured in Darwin today with a state funeral.
He died in early January, aged 88.
Mr Parker operated the cattle export business South East Asian Livestock Services (SEALS), was a ringer, a cattle agent and exporter and a race horse trainer who worked throughout Australia.
He lived his later years in Darwin with his second wife, Elvie.
Several friends and former associates of Mr Parker spoke at today’s funeral at the Darwin Cathedral.
The service was led by Father Brian Ahearn, Mr Parker’s stepson from his previous marriage.
Former Northern Territory Minister for Agriculture Mick Palmer spoke of the contribution he made to northern Australia.
“The live export trade transformed the pastoral industry from what can best be described as virtual bullock harvesting operations to highly developed, professional outfits turning off quality young cattle and employing the best of animal husbandry practices,” he said.
“It provided a livelihood for everybody from feed growers and processors through to truck drivers and wharfies.
“From any of them, you never heard a bad word for Uncle Sid,” he said.
“My old friend, my dear old mate, you were much loved and will be sadly missed by us all.”
As an avid horse racing enthusiast, Sid Parker even managed to win the Darwin Cup with his horse ‘On The Beam’.
Former Darwin Turf Club chief executive Paul Cattermole spoke at the funeral of Mr Parker’s love for the track.
“Sid’s face would light up when he spoke of one particular horse…On The Beam.
“Racing played an important role in who Sid Parker was. Racing was undoutedly Sid Parker’s passion outside his professional life,” he said.
“Sid Parker will be remembered as one of racing’s giants.”
LiveCorp director Angus Adnam, who was a founding member of the NT Livestock Exporters Association alongside Sid Parker, says he will be greatly missed.
“Many people in the Territory, both in the pastoral world and those associated with the trade, will miss him.
“He, of course, was not only about exporting livestock in the cattle industry, but he was very much involved in the Darwin Turf Club and he resurrected racing in Darwin,” he said.
“He purchased 50 horses from Wave Hill Station. They became the horses which were balloted and that was race meeting number one after the cyclone, in 1976.”
Sid Parker is be considered one of the founding fathers of a live cattle export trade. But he didn’t always export cattle.

Sid Parker’s story

This story about Mr Parker’s life was produced in 2002, as part of the ABC Rural Legends series.

“I remember ordering 20 buffaloes weighing 800lb to send to Hong Kong, but there was a mistake and the station sent 20 beasts with 800lb of meat on them. They weighed 1400lbs and had massive horns, but we loaded them onto the plane. Next day I got a telex saying ‘No more buffalo, please. Still on plane.’ They had to be tranquillised to take them off.”
It’s a rare occurrence for Sid to get a customer’s specifications mixed up. He’s spent a lifetime getting to know the key live cattle markets of southeast Asia, and at 76, there’s not much he doesn’t know about their requirements.
Sid has spent most of his life working with livestock, as a ringer, cattle buyer, station manager, meatworks developer and livestock exporter.
He learned to handle stock as a youngster, in prime central Queensland cattle country around the little town of Comet, where his parents owned the hotel. At the age of 17, Sid joined the Royal Australian Navy, where he served until 1946.
Ten years later, he turned up at Oban Station in north Queensland, which had just been bought by one of the most recognised names in the cattle business at the time, the English-owned Vesteys.
Vesteys owned a string of stations and businesses across the north, including the giant Helen Springs and Wave Hill stations, and the nation’s largest meatworks, Lakes Creek abattoir in Rockhampton.
Sid’s work on Oban came to an abrupt halt when he contracted hepatitis and had to spend four months in quarantine at the Mt Isa Hospital. “I didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” he remembers.
After he recovered, Sid was asked by Vesteys to go to the Northern Territory as overseer on Helen Springs. He arrived in 1958, and began a lifelong affiliation with the Territory.
It was on Helen Springs that Sid experienced one of the industry’s most significant advances – road trains. Prior to 1958, like most cattle enterprises, Vesteys had to rely on droving or rail to move stock from the Northern Territory to Queensland.
The company’s first imported road trains had three trailers, the capacity to cart 100 head of stock, and could only travel on bitumen roads.
Despite the innovations, Sid did not get along with the Helen Springs manager. He applied for selection of Bullo River Station, near the Western Australian border, and travelled to Darwin to go before the Land Board. It was the first time he had seen Darwin since the War, and he liked what he saw.
He decided to set up in Darwin, and began working with the American entrepreneurs, Charlie Henderson (eventually the owner of Bullo River Station) and Gus Trippe, who were exporting cattle to Hong Kong.
Sid’s role was as a cattle buyer and general ‘jack of all trades’ for the American’s other business interests, including cement.
Live cattle had first been exported out of the Northern Territory in 1892, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that southeast Asia emerged as a key market.
Gus Trippe had come to Australia in 1957 and started exporting cattle from Townsville and Darwin to Manila in the Philippines. Trippe was also instrumental in re-opening the Hong Kong trade which imported the bulk of live exports out of northern Australia in the late 1950s and 60s.
“As far as live cattle goes,” Sid says, “their (Henderson and Trippe’s) contribution was huge.”
After two years with Henderson and Trippe, Sid travelled on holiday to Hong Kong where he was approached by Eddy Wong, owner of a local abattoir.
Eddy Wong was working with another entrepreneur in Australia, Sir William Gunn. Gunn, through his company Tarwinnebah, was organising the export of cattle for the abattoir.
Back in Darwin, Sid took on the role of Territory manager for Tarwinnebah, and for most of the 1960s, he worked alongside Sir William, who had great plans to develop the Top End. They were heady days. “He (Gunn) could make millions, but he would spend it just as quick,” says Sid.
Gunn was responsible for opening up the famous Tipperary Station, southwest of Darwin. He listed publicly on the New York Stock Exchange under the Tipperary Land Corporation.
Sid managed Tipperary, overseeing a herd of 40,000 cattle and the clearing of 12,000 acres for farming, as well as putting up hundreds of miles of fencing and introducing some of the first Brahman bulls into the Northern Territory, in 1963.
The Brahmans with their distinctive humps and long ears had the ability to travel long distances to forage for feed and find water, a necessity in the tougher seasonal conditions of the north.
“At the time people were waking up that the Brahmans were going to make the north,” Sid says. They (Brahmans) eventually replaced the Shorthorns as the dominant breed.
While Sid had learnt and achieved a lot during his time with Sir William Gunn, he decided to leave.
Over-zealous plans, crop failure and cash flow problems led to the Tipperary operation being sold in 1973. He turned his attention to the live export trade.
From 1964 there had been little activity. Hong Kong couldn’t afford to pay the prices offered by the local meatworks in Darwin and Katherine.
But around the time of Cyclone Tracy in 1974, Asian markets started to seek live cattle again.
Cargo planes were flying into Darwin with manufactured products, and since the town at that stage had the cheapest fuel in Australia, back loading was an obvious option.
The trade eventually reverted from planes to ships, which could carry more stock. Sid spent the 1970’s exporting buffalo, and had irons in ‘a couple of fires’, including a share in Bonrook Station in the Top End, two Darwin butcher shops and a meatworks at Batchelor, south of Darwin.
He helped co-ordinate shipments of 15,000 breeder buffaloes into Indonesia for the country’s transmigration program, where people were resettled onto various Indonesian islands with stock, and he was also involved with two buffalo shipments into Cuba.
In the early 1980s markets were taking mostly slaughter cattle. In 1987, Sid, working for Carabao Exports, helped organise a trial shipment of 500 feeder cattle for Monterey Farms in the Philippines.
These cattle were to be fattened on feed which included waste pineapple from Dole, still the biggest importers in the region.
The shipments sparked the trade of smaller cattle being sent overseas to be grown out in local feedlots which, amongst other things, provided jobs for local people.
By the late 1980s, Carabao had built up to be the largest livestock exporter out of the Northern Territory, sending cattle and buffalo to many countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia.
In 1989 the company was sold to the Brunei Government. Part of the deal was that Sid was to stay on for three years. He ended up staying for two years and within twelve months the livestock export arm was scaled down.
By 1990, Sid’s contacts and reputation as a cattleman were instrumental in his move to set up a new business, “just when I was thinking I was about to retire,” he says. He established South East Asian Livestock Services, known commonly in the industry as SEALS, with a former Carabao colleague, John Kaus
The company had time to establish a solid reputation before the economic crash in southeast Asia in the late 1990s. Live cattle markets fell away overnight as the value of the peso and rupiah plummeted.
Sid and SEALS continued to ship cattle to the Philippines and Indonesia, the result, Sid says, of careful trading of currencies and the selection of what he describes as ‘excellent clients’. “Despite the economic problems we haven’t had a bad debt in the past five years,” he says.
In 1989, Sid, Gus Trippe and Alan Woods formed the Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association, developing health protocols and industry standards. 2001 was SEALS biggest year yet, with the company exporting more than 47,000 cattle.
Despite competition from pork and chicken overseas, Sid Parker remains confident in the future for live cattle exports. And he has a simple philosophy which has stood him in good stead in the business.
“I think understanding cattle, that’s the big thing, and getting a bit of knowledge about how well cattle will do. And with live cattle, it’s sending the right product to the customer.”
Courtesy of ABC Rural