Tag Archives: Vestey’s meatworks


Authors Note – May be confusion in Darwin timelines as a packing plant was built and a number of abattoirs.Some articles contradict in dates therefore timeline may be inaccurate.

Other names

  • Angliss abattoir
  • Berrimah Abattoir
  • Central abattoirs5
  • Darwin abattoir (Pg 189)
  • 10 mile abattoir (Pg 190)

Current Operation             

  • reopened 1960’s3
  • Closed 1970’s for a period
  • Was operating in to the 1980’s9
  • site is closed and has been redeveloped now, 2013


  • Ten Mile abattoirs reserve5
  • Is an Angliss Road, Berrimah, off the Stuart Highway, south of Robbie Robbins reserve.

Australia. Berrimah

Map - Berrimah


  • North Australian Meat Company1
  • Sir William Charles2
  • Vesty’s (1934)


  • Export and Domestic accredited11


  • Sir William Charles (1865-1957)– Migrated from England, Engaged in butcher trade in Kent when young. Migrated to Roackhampton (QLD) 1884. Moved to Melbourne and opened two butcher stores in 1886.He began to export meat. Over the next 30 years became a dominant figure in Australian meat export trade. Sent meat to WA goldfields, latter to forces in South Africa and Britain. Built his own freezer works in Footscray 1905. Exported to NZ, opened offices in London and Liverpool. Brought meatworks in Forbes 1914 and Riverstone, Sydney 1920, Brisbane 1924 and with a rival (F.J. Walker) in Rockhampton 1927. Leased and bought cattle stations in 3 eastern states with Sir Kidney Kidman. Purchased QLD properties owned by the government in 1929. QLD properties could support 80,000hd. 1930’s claims William Charles owned the largest personally controlled  meat enterprise in the British Empire. 1933 Vestey’s acquired his Vic and the whole Angliss meat business except the QLD properties.


  • Vestey’s purchased Angliss meat business for £1.5M2
  • Improvements in refrigeration now made it possible to send chilled rather than frozen product6


  • Government requested in early days of war that Bovril (VRD) supply 400 head to Darwin per month at £5 each. Few stockmen left due to labour shortage and Bovril had difficulty filling this order7


  • Improved to meet stringent USDA (USA Dept of agriculture) hygiene regulations4
  • Combined with Katherine – capacity of 60,000hd per year, first time NT had export killing capacity3


  • William Angliss and Co began building Central Abattoirs at Ten Mile abattoir reserve. This was to serve as a central killing works for Darwin with the aim of adding an export annex5


  • Angliss began to trial Buffalo, product shipped to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and some into the domestic market.(Pg 44)13
  • At this time feral buffalo could be shot in the field and the meat used for export as long as the carcase was at an abattoir within an hour(Pg 44)13


  • Prior to this abattoir (1963) and Katherine abattoir (1964) being built stock were walked along stockroutes to railheads in Alice Springs or across to Wyndham abattoir, QLD. Murranji stockroute last stock use was 1967 as cattle now went to Katherine and Darwin8
  • During this period road transport began to dominate and stock routes less used8
  • Vesteys opened4
  • Paid 6 shillings and half pence a pound, Hong Kong export market couldn’t afford to match paying 5 shillings and half pence a pound4


  • Robert Bright would capture wild baby pigs feed up and sell to Berrimah (then called Angliss abattoir) (Pg 241)12


  • Laurie Howard supplied Buffalo’s from Dorisvale station (then managed by Leo Whitely) (Pg 189)12
  • Manager at abattoir – George Welch, took over from Peter White (Pg 190)12


  • Buffalo were now required to be to delivered live to an abattoir for slaughter.(Pg 44)13


  • Berrimah abattoir not in operation (Pg 245)12


  • Couldn’t meet USDA standards – lost export licence, so did Broome,Derby, Wyndham and Katherine3


  • Berrimah closes.10



  1. ‘100 years of Northern Beef production’ Nth QLD Register 22.11.12
  2. Angliss, Sir Willam Charles – Australian Dictionary  of Bigraphy.
  3. ‘Sailing ahead’ Annabelle Coppin 2009
  4. ‘The Australian Livestock export trade’ Nigel  Austin 2011
  5. ‘Wild Cattle, Wild Country’ Ann Marie Ingham 2007.
  6. ‘The Rise and fall of the house of Vestey’ Phillip Knight 1993.
  7. ‘The Big Run – The story of VRD station’ Jock Makin 1970.
  8. ‘The Murranji track – Ghost road of the drovers’ Darrell Lewis. 2007
  9. Personal communication of person who supplied abattoir. 04.11.13.
  10. ‘New abattoir for $500,000’ Top Paddock newsletter #1 Sept 1993
  11. NT DPI Annual records dated 2000.
  12. ‘The Privileged Few’ Jeff Hill. 2008
  13. ‘World on a plate – A history of meat processing in Australia’ Stephen Martyn 2013

Bullocky Point.

Other Name                                                                                                  

  • Vestey’s Freezer works

Current Operation

  • Closed – Historic.


  • Darwin (NT) Wharf, Bullocky Point, Fannie Bay area.
    Darwin High School7
  • A large cement tank still exists that is used as a pavilion for expos that are held at the site4
    • authors note – in more recent photographs it looks like these large square tanks are used for water storage.
  • Bullocky Point is north of Mindil beach adjoining it and  the Darwin ski club.

Australia. Bullocky Point

Map - Bullocky Point

  • Holding paddock of old abattoir was Burrells Creek (Pg 141)11


  • Vestey’s, Owned Wave Hill (then 6000 sq miles)7


  • Closed 19201



  • Captain James Bremer of HMS Tamar takes possession of Melville and Bathurst Island, in response to concerns over the security of northern Australia (Pg 1)14


  • Buffalo, cattle, goats, sheep and pigs are imported to the Islands for food supply (Pg 1)14


  • Settlement was established, Port Wellington at Raffles bay on the mainland14 (Pg 1)
    • Animals brought across from the islands14


  • Port Wellington was abandoned (Pg 1)14
    • Some animals were shipped to WA, those that remained were abandoned14


  • 3rd attempt to establish permanent presence in the North of Australia (Pg 1)14
    • Settlement of Victoria at Port Essington on Coburg Peninsula14
    • Some livestock were came with the settlers and others augmented from shipments from Java and neighbouring islands (Pg 1)14


  • Settlement of Victoria – abandoned and the majority of stock left to run free (Pg 2)14


  • British authorities influenced by earlier problems of colonising the north, they viewed pastoral settlement as dubious (Pg 2)14
    • disease was prevalent14
    • mortality commonplace14
    • little knowledge of the topography or vegetation, particularly poisoness plants14
    • controlling stock was extremely difficult14
      • would require horses, expertise and intensive capital investment in fencing, water supplies and yards.14
    • Distances and risks of shipping goods was extremely expensive14
  • No attempt was made to establish pastoral industry until this time. (Pg 2)14


  • What is now known as the Northern Territory is temporarily annexed to South Australia and is known as the Northern Territory of South Australia (Pg 7)14
    • Created the Northern Territory Act – Limited pastoral leases to between 25 and 300 square miles, with only a 14 year tenure (Pg 8)14
    • stocking had to be done before the lease was processed (Pg 8)14


  • NT Act – stocking arrangements were eased (Pg 8)14
    • Encouraged more uptake of land14
  • SA came under increasing pressure to construct a railway system (Pg 23)14
    • Most favoured a south-north line14
      • Studies indicated that even with the country fully stocked with cattle there would be insufficent stock for the venture14
    • Legislation  was introduced to induce British entrepeneurs to construct a land-grant line, in return for freehold title of up to 50,000 acres per track mile14
      • Proposal had significant public support but was rejected as it would have meant transfer of one-quarter of the territory to overseas interests (pg 23)14


  • Forerunner roadway of the Stuart Highway extends 135 miles southward of Darwin14
  • Cattle located in NT – 17,720 head (pg 12)14


  • Cattle located in the NT – 146,562 head (Pg 12)14
  • Cattle overlanded from the Territory to various markets 4,970 head (Pg 25)14


  • Editor of the Times newspaper had considered the question of frozen beef was potentionally a more lucrative export market than live cattle (Pg 28)14


  • Construction began on the railway from each end (pg 23)14
    • Darwin to Pine Creek14
    • Adelaide to Oodnadatta14
  • At this time cattle were mainly walked overland (Pg 24)14
    • long waterless sections of stock routes – no wells or man made facilities14
    • Localised droughts could cause deprivation of markets for up to 2 years14
    • Rendering works located at this time in Normanton and Burketown14
    • Other markets were goldfields in mainly WA14



  • SA authorities aware that Territory meat markets were deeply depressed and mindful of a much needed export trade (Pg 26)14
    • realised to establish export trade would need significant government assistance14
  • Tender was called to supply, provision and operate a vessel to carry 200 fat bullocks to export (Pg 26)14
    • 10 trips per year
    • subsidy of £5,000, plus a charge to stock forwarders for each animal payable to the carrier.14
    • Had to ship from Port of Darwin, Victoria, Adelaide, McArthur, Roper and Limmen Bight rivers and Glyde Inlet14
  • Only one tenderer – Stevens, acted on behalf of stock agency Goldsbrough Mort (pg 26)14
    • failed to attract further interest or establish to a co-operative14
    • contract was for 5 years, starting 1st April, steamer Darwin.14


  • Stevens had gained entry to Javanese market (Pg 27)14
    • secured a contract to supply 750,000 pounds of beef annually for 3 years14
    • Prices £8 a beast, this was regarded as satisfactory14
  • Criticism as to quotas not filled but full subsidy received, profit in backloading and no Macarthur and Tableland cattle were being exported, market was mainly for Goldsbrough and Mort properties (Pg 28)14



  • Shipping trade developed between Whydham and Fremantle (Pg 25)14
    • Cattle loaded at Whydham receiving £16 to £17 per head14
    • Territory producers were recieving £2 10s on property14
    • 4,000 head shipped from Whydham, numbers were expected to increase in following years.14
  • 13,896 head had been overlanded from the territory to various markets (pg 25)14


  • Cattle located in the NT – 280,957 head (Pg 12)14
  • Territory authorities extended Goldsbrough Mort contract for 2 more years (Pg 27)14
    • conditional on the construction of a £30,000 meatworks in Darwin14
  • Freezing works were not viable alternative in the Territory at the time – due to wide dispersion of stock facilities would need to be built at Victoria River, Port of Darwin and the Gulf (Pg 29)14
    • Producers not prepared to invest capital14
  • Returns to producers for live cattle on property £2 10s, animals delivered to Rockhampton £2 15s14
  • Frozen meat wasn’t an option for wider Asian market (Pg 29)14
    • lacked refrigeration capacity14
    • poor distribution facitilities and retail outlets14
    • specific religious rites had to be performed14
    • government health inspectors requirements14
    • Asians did not like the texture of frozen meat.14
  • Canning was another possibility, there were proposals for more rendering works (Pg 29)14
    • could have absorbed poor quality stock14
    • High costs prevented an proposals being established in the Territory14


  • Goldsbrough and Mort is restructured and properties are sold (Pg 43)14
    • Victoria Downs, costs are slashed by 25%14
    • Newcastle waters is wound up for there is “not market for cattle within payable distance” , Stock are sold for less than £1 per head14
    • Wave Hill station is auctioned on a per head basis with all improvements14
      • Cattle fetch 15s each14


  • January 15 – Government of SA appoint a 7 member Royal commission (Pg 43)14
    • To determine the causes of the Territory’s ills and hopefully right them14
    • Over 6 months and 2 days the commissioners visit Melbourne, Brisbane and 4 other major QLD centres.14
    • Speak to cane-growers and visit meatworks14
    • Hold 35 meetings, take evidence from 69 witnesses14
    • Genuineness of the commission comes into question when they failed to visit the Territory, relying on questionaires sent to a number of settlers and prominent businessmen14
  • Commissioners report lists a number of factors that they believe are responsible for the Territory parlous state.(Pg 43)14
    • Emphasis the necessity for amendments to the Pastoral Act14
    • a thorough investigation into redwater disease14
    • government subsidise water-boring in dry country14
    • provision of adequately watered stock routes14
    • Subsidies for freezer and canning works14
    • Completion of trans-continental railway – on a land grant system14
    • re-opening of WA border to Territory cattle.14
  • Report was not well received, proposed nothing that had not already been canvassed (Pg 43)14
  • Authorities had not intended to accept findings unless ready money was available or well backed by private enterprise (Pg 43)14
  • SA Government offered £5,000 loan on a pound for pound basis to be repaid from profits to investors willing to construct and operate meat preserving and canning works (Pg 50)14


  • Live exports – Hong Kong market alone capable of absorbing 12,000 head is sent a trial shipment to Batavia from Marrakai and Daly River (Pg 25)14


  • Nieuman and Niemann establish a series of meat extract and canning works (pg 50)14
    • First is located on Daly River14
      • Was operational within 3 months14
      • Tins were made at the works14
      • Product was satisfactory14
      • Venture failed14
      • Producers were selling to Wydham for better livestock prices14


  • Successive – residents (administrators of the Territory) called for freezing work options – a number of schemes advanced.(Pg 51)14
    • Victoria River Meat Freezing and Preserving Co was promised under specific conditions to construct works (Pg 51)14
      • £10,000 to assist in construction14
      • Capacity of 1,000 head per week14
      • Work force of 3-400 people14
      • proposed to be built at Rugged Ridge on the south bank of the Victoria River14
    • Concerns there weren’t enough cattle to support (Pg 51)14
      • 50 to 60 thousand cattle or previously unsaleable animals could be processed.14
    • Victoria river  was too shallow to accomodate ocean going vessels (Pg 51)14
    • Factory was never built. (Pg 51)14
  • Establishment of profitable meat-processing enterprises in the NT wasn’t easy (Pg 51)14
    • suffer from diseconomies of small scale14
    • distance factor meant no single abattoir could attract all Territory cattle.14


  • Bovril Australian Estate announce its intention to open a preserving, packing and extract plant capable of processing 300 head a day over 6 month season in Wyndham (Pg 50)14
    • Bovril had acquired Victoria River downs and 2 other properties14
    • Bovril had expected turnoff of 20,000 head annually14
    • Darwin wasn’t preferred as the immediate land surrounding was less suitable for agisted stock14
    • Territory public and authorities reacted vigourously to assist via incentives to have facility build in Darwin14
    • Bovril response – proposal to build a floating abattoir and freezing works, located in the VRD district (Pg 51)14
    • SA authorities insisted that plant be constructed in Darwin14
      • Bovril choose not to build anywhere in north Australia14


  • Labour government planned to build a state sponsored packing plant at Darwin to process the cattle raised on properties3                                          


  • Commonwealth Government now assumed resposibility for the NT, effective 1st January 1911 (pg 56)14
    • SA Premier had tried to sell NT to the infant commonwealth for £2,585,57314
      • didn’t succeed in sale14
        • region had a very poor economic record14
        • Large Asian population lived in the NT14
  • Vestey family capital had grown to £1M in the NT.(Pg 51)14
    • Part of its buisiness was production, processing and distribution meat empire14
    • had acquired cold storage plants in China, Argentina, Russia and France14
    • Vestey’s looking to acquire NT land and run 250,000 head of cattle14


  • Parliament readings – Katherine railway line estimated to cost of survey £5,000 and construction £500,000, announce proposed freezer works to cater for all the needs of all northern Australia7Pg 24.


  • Agreement signed contract between Vestey’s and Commonwealth for company to construct and operate a meatworks in Darwin and Government would extend existing rail line from Pine creek to Emungalan (Katherine)6

                                                “The agreement was with regard to the lease of the land and to conform to this, the company had to kill, store and ship for private owners under the terms and conditions which required the approval of the Administrator6

  • December. Construction began

…steel and reinforced concrete, with galvanised iron roofing. The total ground area under roof is about 5 acres, the total floor space being 10 acres. The refrigeration space comprises of 1,000,000 cubic feet. The staff quarters can accomodate 35 men, and the men’s quarters 320. For senior members of the staff 14 dwelling-houses are erected or in course of erection. The works accommodation provides for killing and chilling 500 cattle, while 400 carcases can be frozen and 200 canned per day (Pg 51)

  • Construction began – delays due to war, supply of goods and materials and costs esculated8.
  • Planned to commence operations in April 1916 (Pg 51)14
    • delayed due to labour disputes and wartime shortages of material14
  • Vestey’s had significant contracts with British military establishments to ensure progress on the facility continued (Pg 51)14
  • Construction employed 500 or more men at a time with unprecendented rates of pay (Pg 51)14


  • Michael Durack visits Bullocky point in the process of being built.10

” The works here well advanced – about 149 men on the job and quarters for 300 men under construction. Four bores pumping into a 40,000 gallon tank, 700 gallons every 24 hours. The water supply does not seem to me to be too assured but a general feeling of optimism prevails and all are looking forward to the works being ready for action mid 1916. It is believed that 250 head will be treated per day” MP Durack. 16.07.1915.pg 42810

1915 construction - Copy_edited-1Source NT Library – NT Library – Construction of Vestey’s meatworks 1915
Dated 1915 – During construction. The Slaughter area is the sawtooth building at the rear, Freezer area is lower buildings to the right foreground. The buidings to the far left I think was the preserving/canning



  • Michael Durack visits Bullocky point.10

“One of the buildings- a two storey place has a floor space of 350′ x 65′. The entire works has a floor space of ten acres. The water supply still seems to present a problem though at present they are drawing 15,000 gallons a day from 3 or 4 wells. For washing down, cooling etc.. they will draw water from the sea.. They expect soon to be killing 500 head a day” MP Durack 01.01.1916. Pg 44010

Aerial _edited-1Source NT Library, Aerial view Vestey’s meatworks 1944

Facility was actually abandoned at this point, Far left is Vesteys beach.

DArwin _edited-1Source NT Library. Darwin meat works (no date)

Double story building, unknown use. There is a railway line located on the left, think this buiding may have where animals housed waiting for slaughter.

mens quarters_edited-1Source NT Library. Mens Quarters UnDated

Men’s quarters able to house up to 300

  • NT administrator – Dr Gilruth speaks with Durack.10

” He sees the labour problems looming with the encouragement of irresponsible unionists. Sly grog selling is rife and the polic can’t cope with it. He thinks as before that WA made a great mistake in starting the works at Wyndham – says we should have waited and profited by the mistakes that Darwin is soon to make” MP Durack 01.01.1916. Pg 44110



  • Constructed1
  • Eventual cost £1M9
    • Cost of construction escalated from £300,000 to estimated £700,00015
      • Equivalent of $200M today (2018)15
  • Vesteys built 3
  • Construction costs substantially higher than expected6
  • Was intended that killing was done on land and a specially fitted out ship was moored alongside the Darwin wharf, war prevented the wharfs use7
  • Was a large employer when Darwin only had population of 20004. pg 67
  • Meatworks had a capacity to process 55 head a day, freezer capacity of 6000t, the largest in Australia at the time5
  • Facility intended to target a kill of 50,000 bullocks every dry season15
  • Government completed 88km rail extension to Pine Creek6
  • April. Killing commenced – 14 week season.(Pg 52)14
  • Season of 1917 processed nearly 19,000 cattle, majority from Vestey’s properties5
    • Processed 18,911 head in 191714
  • Used all parts of the animal (Pg 52)14

“The blood and bone go to make manure, the horns and hoofs are carefully saved, the fat melted down into tallow, the very membranes of the stomach go to make sausage skins” (Pg 52)14

  • Vesteys Manager – CWD Conacher – Plant was having problems due to wartime shipping restrictions, high costs and labour disputes. Pg 45210
    • Believed problems would be easily resolved once war finished. Pg 45210

    picture_edited-2Source http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au ID 41113/1
    The writing on the photograph –
    far left Concrete feed water tank – 2 straight walled square concrete tanks
    Centre – ?? Steam room – the two tall pipes are chimneys and this is where the boilers were located

  • Variable costs of operation that included wages, materials and administration(Pg 65)14
    • greatly in excess of those current elsewhere14
    • £8 16s 8d per head14

          cold Storage building – assume where meat was chilled. Actually refers to building that wall can   be seen of. The saw tooth building in the rear right back is the slaughter area.

2 - Copy_edited-1Source – http://www.trove.nla.gov.au. Looking west towards Darwin.
Railway tracks entering the facility.
employee preserving section_edited-1Source NT library. Meat preserving crew Dated 191?

1920.'s #2 - Copy_edited-1Source NT Library – Buildings Dated 1920’s
Looking at other photos the saw tooth building is the slaughter floor at the top level and and assume animal housing at the lower.

  • about 460 men were employed and 1,680 cattle were being processed each week (Pg 52)14
  • Effect on the local community was substantial14

“During the killing season the monthly average payment for railway freight on cattle was over £1,000. The highest fortnightly pay to employees was in July, when butchers and construction men received £10,754, and the highest amount drawn by any one worker for a fortnights labour was £40 1s 1d” (Pg 52)

Source ABC Rural 08.06.2018

Source ABC Rural 08.06.2018


  • Season of 1918 processed 29,000 cattle, majority from Vestey’s properties5
    • Processed 29,011 head in 191815
  • 500 beasts could be killed and chilled, 500 carcases frozen and 200 canned a day7

1920's - Copy_edited-1Source NT Library Buildings 1920’s Looking to Darwin, Mindil beach in background

Looking into the cement water storage tanks with residences and assume offices in the mid ground, mens quarters to the far right. Darwin city in the far back ground.

  • Community unrest was extremely high. 1,000 demonstrators marched on Darwin parliament house(Pg 40)13
    • Conspiracy had been uncovered between the government and Vesteys regarding illegal take over of large pastoral properties involving bribes.(Pg 40)13
  • Vestey’s seeking further Government assistance, including a reduction in rail and wharf charges (Pg 66)14
    • and a £2 head killing subsidy14
    • Authorities were already losing £70,000 a year in concessional rail freight14
  • Wartime contracts were what kept the facility in operation (Pg 66)14


  • Short operating seasons and union disputes caused problems8
  • Stop work meeting at works in protest at an increase in the price of bottled beer. Pg 47510
  • Vestey’s requested government assistance due to higher costs of construction, exceptionally high labour costs and therefore higher treatment costs. They also requested long-term rail freight agreements, adjusted wharfage rates and bores on their properties. Government refused8
  • Scandal – pastoralists stopped sending cattle to £1M abattoir. A letter had been published outlining among other things a plot to derive another large pastoral company of its stations.2pg.21
  • John Carey, Director of Agriculture and Acting Administrator of NT when Dr J.A Gilruth not present. Carey also took on job as chief clerk in Vestey packing plant. Carey wrote to Vestey’s “..that the lease of a large pastoral holding with hundreds of thousands of head of cattle on it would expire shortly. The administrator could refuse renewal and grant it to Vestey’s, but it would be necessary to pay him £20,000 to use as graft for officials and parliament for this purpose.”3
  • Due to Carey incident, Unions striked, other pastoralists refused to supply, the officials were smuggled out of Darwin as threats and abuse had been directed at them3
  • Only operated 3 seasons4
  • In 3 years of operation processed meat value was £1,029,271(Pg 52)14
    • meatworker employees had received approximately £400,000 in wages14
  • Variable costs of operation that included wages, materials and administration(Pg 65)14
    • greatly in excess of those current elsewhere14
    • £11 13s 2d per head14
  • Processed 21,866 head in 191915


  • February. Gilruth advises Serious trouble with Darwin works and doubts Vestey’s can carry on. Pg 48910
  • Closed – was never profitable1
  • Closed March 17, 1920 (Pg 61)14
  • Reason for closure – Vestey’s blamed ‘Labour indiscipline and poor quality of local cattle.3
    • Strikes occurred over accommodation – Severe housing shortage in Darwin and therefore administrator waived health regulations and allowed workers to live in camps and tents (Pg 62)14
    • Vestey’s had to meet all demands of the unions (Pg 63)14
      • Company tried to control situation by paying inflated wages, living allowances and travel costs to and from southern states for seasonal workers.14
        • Made bonus payments to other employees in other industries in return for agreements not to strike14
        • Unions justified actions – AWU Darwin Branch Secretary – Harold Nelson14

“In the past capitalists have stolen from the workers and now the workers propose taking back the spoils. Anything wrong with that?” (Pg 64)14

  • Due to war, workers took advantage of labour shortages and went on strike for higher wages, Quote by Sir Edmund Vestey “..it was more profitable to let the cattle die on the stations than to put them through the Port Darwin works5
  • NT cattle herd now at 659,840 head. (Pg 60)14
  • Most immediate cause of closure was the shortage of shipping arsing from losses sustained in the WWI (Pg 62)14
    • Telegram from the Minister for Territories14

“Conacher, meat company states only reason for not operating this season is the government can not give a guarantee regarding shipping to bring coal and supplies and necessary labour. As 95% of settle population is dependent on the meat industry, therefore strongly appeal to the Government for consideration as regards our quota of shipping” (Pg 62)14

  • Government wasn’t in a position to promise ships or guarantee 8-10,000 tonnes of coal required to operate the works (Pg 62)14

Other reasons cited

  • Vestey’s owned a South African operation which was a powerful competitor to Australian product in England. The South African business being more profitable than the Australian. Vestey’s hadn’t wanted to turn down the offer by government to build the Darwin abattoir, someone else would have and thus created competition. Vestey’s invested £1M to build packing plant, they effectively made sure no-one else could compete with them in Australia3
  • Vestey’s had a divested a large proportion of their assets with American interests in WWI for taxation purposes, American Meat Trust (Pg 61)14
  • Gilruth, NT administrator was part of the conspiracy to allow the Meat trust run of the NT (Pg 61)14
  • Australian government failed to build railway between Alice to Darwin to bring in Cattle. Meant plant couldn’t operate profitably and forced Vestey’s to send their cattle to QLD abattoirs3
  • Basic error in abattoir location was due to lack of infrastructure and transport capabilities of source of animals from cattle producing areas, Vesteys owned Wave Hill and would have been better suited to locate a works at Wyndham (WA)8
  • Supply of stock was unsufficent. Turnoff was restricted to animals 4 years and older, Vestey’s herd was only capable of supplying 60% of the Darwin plants operation(Pg 61)14
  • Quality of the stock was unsatisfactory and the immediate area around the hinterland poverish in grass for stocking animals. (Pg 62)14
  • Reported losses of £250,000 after just 3 years2
  • Vestey’s forfeited capital investment of £900,000 and over £260,000 in operating losses (Pg 61)14
    • represented a budget over run of 300% (Pg 65)14
    • Original agreement with NT administrator (Pg 65)14
      • rate of return included depreciation 7.5%pa14
      • profit margin of 6.5%14
        • Company was entitled to annual return of 14% or about £128,00014
      • Yearly throughput never exceeded 30,000 head per annum14
        • represents a fixed cost range £4 5s and £5 16s14
      • Severe impost of wages, materials, admin, repairs and fares14
        • these were greatly in excess of those current elsewhere14
        • Variable cost range from £8 16s 8d in 1917 to £11 13s 2d in 191914
      • Added expenses were station costs, droving fees, rail freight14
      • Vestey’s received £16 per head for a slaughtered beast.14
  • Critics saw building of the facility as a token gesture to simply secure northern land, Vestey’s argued that the government never kept its promise to build the rail lines.(Pg 40)13
  • Effect on Darwin and its narrow ecomic base was calamitous (Pg 61)

“Five or six hundred unemployed were walking the streets, and in spite of every effort made by the Federal Government, no vessels could be procured for nearly two months to take them away to some place where work might be obtained.
As it was impossible to find work locally for the large number of unemployed, many of whom were without any means, the Government was forced to the alternative of either granting to these free rations or free steerage fares to some other part of Australia. The latter was the lesser of the two evils, both from the point of view of the men and the Government. In all 216 free passages were granted, principally to Greek, Patagonian and Spanish immigrants who had been attracted to Darwin in previous years…” (Pg 61)14


  • Abattoir didn’t reopen in 1920 or 1921. Government became concerned and extended the rail freight agreement to 19248
  • Export beef market plummeted in 19218 (Red water fever)


  • Reopened briefly to operate as a boiling down works4
  • 9600 head turned into tallow but Vestey’s claimed a loss on operations8

Boiler room_edited-1

Source NT Library. Man in boiler room 1940.


  • Payne Fletcher report – Board of inquiry in regards to a range of issues concerning the NT at the time (Pg 128)14
    • Considered the possibility or re-opening the meatworks, but considered it unviable as by now it was suffering badly from rusting and deterioration of the concrete (Pg 129)14


  • Threat of war, army base was made at the site of Vestey’s meatworks12

1941 army trucks - Copy_edited-1Source – NT Library. Army base at meatworks. 1941/1942

Army vehicles of the 23rd Reserve motor transport unit.

ablution block_edited-1Source NT Library Ablution block 1940

1940's barracks - Copy_edited-1Source NT Library. Army barracks at meatworks 1940’s


1950's chimney's - Copy_edited-1Source NT Library. Meatworks in derelict state 1950
Facility by this time had been guttered of usable equipment, some used at other facilities to start meatworks.


  • Fire extensively damaged what remained of the facility, mens quarters was burnt to the ground and several other buildings.
  • Site demolished except for large cement tank6


  • Construction of the Darwin High school began

1962 high school construction_edited-1Source NT Library.. Construction begun on Darwin High School 1962.


Darwin high school_edited-1Source – NT Library. Darwin High School. 1982

The old Vestey’s meatworks buildings removed and replaced by school facilities. The only historic infrastructure remaining being the 2 square water tanks built in 1915.



  1. ‘100 years of Northern Beef production’ Nth QLD Register 22.11.12
  2.  ‘The Australian Livestock export trade’ Nigel  Austin 2011
  3.  ‘The Rise and fall of the house of Vestey’ Phillip Knight 1993.
  4. ‘Wild Cattle, Wild Country’ Ann Marie Ingham. 2007
  5. ‘Vestey’s before the food commission’. www.samememory.sa.gov.au. 1925
  6. ‘Establishment of Vestey’s meatworks’ Commonwealth Government records about the NT.
  7. ‘Katherines No lady’ Winsome Maff
  8. ‘Pastoral Australia:Fortunes, Failures & hard Yakka’ M. Pearson, J. Lennon.2010
  9. ‘Meatworks project for N. Territory’ The Canberra Times 21.11.52.
  10. ‘Sons in the saddle’ Mary Durack.
  11. ‘The privileged few’ Jeff Hill 2008
  12. NT Library. Photographic history of Vestey’s meatworks
  13. ‘World on a plate  – A history of meat processing in Australia’ Stephen Martyn 2013
  14. ‘Distance, Drought and Dispossession – A history of the Northern Territory Pastoral Industry’ G McLaren, W Cooper. 2001
  15. ‘Vestey’s and AACo abattoir both mothballed after 3 years, So why can’t Darwin sustain an abattoir? ABC Rural 08.06.2018