Ross River

Built in 1882, QLD meat export agency formed supplied contracts for supply of product to England. Plagued by industrial action its whole operating life most notably in 19919 when a violent clash between the unions and police occurred. Been through ownership receiver, beef price crash, strikes, droughts and market changes. Smorgons meat processors, last owner collapsed in 1994, facility closed in 1995. Site now developed as a residential site with only the chimney still remaining as a historic site.

Other names

  • Ross River meatworks

Current Operation

  • Closed 19951


   Australia. Ross River         



  • Built by QLD meat export and Agency (QME) – Principal Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, QLD Premier2
    • QME was a government operated organisation
  • Vesteys purchased 19556
  • Smorgons6


  • Export
  • Nominal Capacity 120,000hd per 50 weeks1

Other abattoirs in the region

Pentland (QLD)

Townsville – Stuart (QLD



History of Ross River abattoir               

  • Initially was a major exporter for Townsville region
  • Meatworks chimney still stands today, restored


  • Boiling works began operation 1 kilometre downstream from latter site of Ross River meatworks5
    • Boiled down tallow was selling in Sydney 46 shillings cwt, hides 16 shillings5
    • Gold discoveries forced works to close due to lack of stock supply5
    • closed 18705
  • Initial workforce of 7006


  • Built and cost to build £75,0004
  • June. Started operation.5
  • Processing 80 head cattle day
  • used gravitational system, animal killed on one floor and then meat processed in others4
  • Wharf couldn’t handle the ships to transport frozen meat and a coastal steamer had to be modified to convey meat from wharf to ship.5
  • Operating company of meatworks imposed strict conditions on delivery of cattle, requiring animals to be delivered on particular days or suffer5


  • QLD meat export and Agency co formed(Pg 47)8
    • Sir Thomas Milwraith & John Cooke, floated company with 1M pound8
    • Agents in London – Messrs. W Weddel and Co8
    • 5 year freight contract with Houlder Bros & co, for conveyance of 1200t meat per month8
    • Company formed to give graziers markets in the Old World (England) for their suplus cattle8
  • Plans submitted to build meatworks in Brisbane & Townsville.5


  • Construction began – 6 acres freehold5
  • Was considered one of the best factories of the time with freezers and used electricity for lighting (Townsvilled didn’t have household electricity until 1923)5
  • When designed used a system of dry air compression, this was replaced with ammonia compression and air circulating batteries a few years latter (Pg 49)8
  • First industrial dispute before even began work5
    • Contractor (McCallum Park) v’s carpenters  – McCallums only wanted to pay 10 shillings a day, 2 shillings below going rate5
  • Industrial disputes would mark next 100 years of operation5


  • Was receiving complaints about the effluent being pumped into the river after relocation of manure shed, rudimentary digestors installed that produced fertiliser and sold to locals5


  • Mr Charles Harford – In charge at the time over a period of 13 years – Ross River abattoir was the most up to date abattoir he had seen4.
  • In reference to Ross River “In order to combat the exorbitant demands of labour it was necessary to use as much labour-saving machinery as possible”4
  • Costs – Total cost for yarding, killing and other handling as well as dealing with offal and by products was £1/3p per head for cattle and £18 per 100 sheep. Quoted in 1914 “..but the work could not be done at that price now”4
  • “One man knocked down 520 cattle in a day of eight hours”4
  • Difficulties arose in meat marketing – with competition form

site _edited-1Source – ‘A history of the frozen meat trade’. Critchell & Raymond. 1912.
Photo is undated Titled. QLD meat export and Agency company Limited. Ross River works Townsville.


  • Cyclone Leonta hit Townsville on 9th March 1903. Causing widespread devastation. Many buildings at the Ross River meatworks were unroofed or demilished15


  • Half of Freezing capacity was fitted with direct expansion piping, so effective the remaining freezing block was outfitted the following season as large expenditure (Pg 49)8

Prior to 1912 report

  • Manager Robert Stewart (Pg 48)8
  • A controlling holding in the company was purchased by G.S Yuill & co (London based)8
  • Ross River (then known as Ross Creek works) had recent upgrades and refitting.(Pg 48)8
    • Made the works the most up-to-date freezing works in the existance in either hemisphere (pg 48)8
    • Original freezing machinery plant ( air circulating batteries) and other equipment discarded.(Pg 48)8
    • New freezing and electric plant being erected with new steam engines, both for electric and freezing services – supply 220 lbs pressure through triple expansion, supplied by mechanically fired boilers and coal supply .(Pg 48)8
  • Ross River works, coal was expensive, water supply limited and drainage difficult – improvements now made the render at the works second to none for economy and convenience in working (pg 49)8


  • Companies who operated meatworks asked Arbitration court to regulate wages and conditions in the industry to replace direct bargaining with the unions7


  • company had won an court order in previous year to delete ‘union preference clause’ from the award wages system6
    • Clause had been in effect since 19117
  • February – More than 700 meatworkders resolved to declare works black6
    • AMIEU membership was 2442,largest branch at Ross River of 756 members7
    • 500 cattle released from stockyard and water posioned6
      • Cattle deliberatly released by protestors, ring leaders arrested. Supporters after speeches and drinking broke into a gunshop before marching on the watch house9
      • Violent clash between police and unionists. Trouble stemmed from long standing industrial unrest  between meat companies and AMIEU19.
        • Area was besiged by unemployment and economic depression19
        • Unrest degenerated into a riot with shots fired – 9 people injured, seven as a result of police bullets19
        • Townsville remained in a state of siege for weeks19
  • June – strike declared “Only meatworkers responded; all other unions voted to stay on the job. When the strike began about 80 ‘scabs’ were employed. By mid-August more than 300 were working, including AMIEU members who had dribbled back to work”7


  • Export beef trade collapsed6


  • Kenneth Woodhead Moore became manager of the Ross River meatworks14
    • Moore was manager until 1956.14


  • QME – disclosed an overdraft of $2,392,954, at the time estimated cost of replacement of the works was $800,0006
  • November – offer from Vestey’s (British) accepted $1,575,000
    • Subsidiary company W.Weddel & Co – purchased Angliss meat interests in 1934.6
    • 1961 QME had entered into partnership with 11 other companies – Angliss Group6

old photo_edited-1Source – Wikipedia. Photo public property. Undated

holding yards_edited-1Source – This is Australia Oswald L Ziegler, Dated 1956.
Looking over holding yards of Ross River meatworks outside city of Townsville


  • Extensive upgrades including a kill chain6
  • Women allowed to work on the killing floor6
  • Chilled beef shipments had resumed from Townsville for the first time since WWI6
  • QLD government resumed land for realignment of major raods Townsville to Ayr6


  • QME submitted application to sub divide holding paddocks for residential blocks6
  • Australia was in a severe economic crisis.17
    • Most severe since the Great Depression.17
    • Profits slumped and mass sackings followed with general manufacturing factory closure occurring.17
      • Unemployment in Australia reached 5%.17
    • Whitlam Labour government at the time, economic policy swung from expansion to reining in the ballooning deficit.17
      • government felt key to recovery was ‘healthy profits’.17
        • attacked dole bludgers, wage rises and militant unions.17
      • large scale protests occurred across Australia.17
      • Townsville 3 meatworks stopped work for the day October 24.17


  • Smorgon Consolidated industries purchased6


  • Type 1 road trains – truck with dog trailer allowed access directly to meatworks3.


  • Smorgon meat processing company suffer huge company collapse in early 1994


  • American markets opened for poorer quality meats and resulted in death knell of canning operations.6
  • February. closed5
    • closure announced by Smorgons on 27th Feb, 199510
  • A seasonlly operated plant that worked 9 months of the year, employed about 380 people, many long term employed at the facility10
  • previous year facility had processed 86,000 head of cattle10
    • projections that Live export would reach 390,000 in 1995 concerned union10
    • Australia’s total live cattle export for 1994/95 402,120 head and 1995/96 649,715 head11
  • Union and animal welfare group met and formed a group CALE (Committee Against Live Export)10
    • Tony Clunies-Ross as secretary10
    • CALE spearheads struggle to protect jobs and ease the suffering of animals10
    • Initive spread with CALE groups in Victoria and Western Australia10
  • 400 people lost jobs5


  • Land purchased by a developer of Fairfield Waters12
  • Developer had originally planned to keep the chimney and three gable buildings near it to turn into a public monument and a brewery12
    • Never allowed as reports showed all structures structurally damaged and should be demolished12
    • Buildings were demolished12


  • Buildings demolished leaving only brick chimney12

Chimney_edited-1Source –, Tim Dickson, Not dated.
Remaining chimney of the Ross River meatworks


  • Developer Lancicn planned to demolish chimney to build a resort.12
    • Engineering report commissioned by Lancini found chimney was too unstable and old to preserve12
    • Residents complained and ordered a professional report into stacks structural integrity12
      • report said chimney could stay12
  • Government then fought over who should pay for repairs12
  • Chimney was heritage listed12
    • repairs cost $200,000
  • Chimney is now surrounded by Lancini’s Springbank urban village.12
    • Claims of ghostly figures appearing by the chimney as dark outlines, thought to be the ghost of a man named Crawford who died at the works in 1901 after he fell into a vat of boiling fat.13


  1. Competition & Exit in Meat Processing. Agribusiness review Vol 7 1999
  2. ‘100 years of northern beef production’Nth QLD Register 22.11.12
  3. ‘Trucking Industry moves ahead’ Nth QLD Register 11.04.13
  4. ‘The abattoirs – Evidence before the commission’ The Adelaide Advertiser. 30.01.1914.
  5. ‘Ross River Meatworks, Part I’ Nth QLD Register 18.07.13
  6. ‘Ross River meatworks, Part 2’ Nth QLD Register 25.07.13
  7. ‘100 years of struggle and change’ AMIEU History. Claude Jones
  8. ‘A history of the frozen meat trade’ Troubridge & Raymond. 1912
  10. ‘Meatworkers and animal libbers form alliance’ Green Left Weekly. 30.08.95
  11. ‘The Australian livestock export trade’ Nigel Austin. 2011
  14. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Moore (1917-1990) Vol 18, 2012
  16. ‘Barricades & Batons: An historical perspective of the policing of major industrial disorder in Australia’ D. Baker. 1999
  17. sacking 1975

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