Tag Archives: roma

Roma cattle sales

The markets at Roma are on a huge scale. About a million cattle pass through the sale yards and spelling pens each year. Today more than 8000 cattle will be sold.

I walk along the metal gantry above the yards where the cattle are penned. Angular steel pens stretch out into the distance. The smell of manure is sharp and sour. The calls of the cattle blare out. Their mix of tone and pitch like a ragged brass band tuning up before a gig.

Brahman

The animals are grouped together into lots for sale. I watch with interest a group of Brahmans, milky white with flop ears and hump. An unusual sight in Victoria, they are common in Queensland. A group of Herefords sniff through the rails at the unfamiliar cattle next door. A solitary Droughtmaster bull stands and stares. Most of the animals are remarkably calm, despite their strange surroundings.Roma hand sits it outl

The proceedings are carefully orchestrated for speed and efficiency.

Sale yard officials are colour coded. Pink shirts are auctioneers. Spot them and you know where the action is. They jabber and gesture in an arcane ritual as unintelligible to the uninitiated as a witch doctor’s chant. As they move through the yards, a team of four, they conduct the movements in this agricultural dance.

Roma auctioneer

Blue shirts are yard hands, both men and women, driving the animals through the yards by waving old grain sacks on poly pipes. They stand on the overhead gantries above the cattle, waiting for the metal gates to open by remote control like lock gates letting the flow of animals through the system.

Roma yard

Buyers wear a mix of pastel coloured shirts, some checked some plain. They gather at ground level, moving from pen to pen to assess the quality of the stock for sale. An almost imperceptible nod or wink can buy a pen of thirty steers. To the untrained eye the buyers’ faces look impassive, their movements slow and cautious. A counterpoint to the frenzied pink shirted auctioneers.

Everyone wears a white akubra hat.

Snatches of conversation. “It’s been a patchy season.” “Good price for cows.” “Export market’s holding up.” “Prices are booming in the U.S.”

A yard hand named Fish stands and chats as we watch the sea of cattle move below us.

He’s worked at the sale yards for 35 years, starting when he was fifteen. They talked about selling them off a few years ago and there was an outcry, he says. They stay in the Shire’s hands, for now.

image

Its hard work but he loves it. Every market day the auctions run from 8am until 8pm. There are private sales using the yards and a significant business spelling cattle in the yards. There is always work to do and he knows the ways of the sale yards well. It’s a good life.

All roads lead to Roma

General Howard leads his troops out of the bush.  He’s smiling, “We’re four minutes early.”

We are on our way to Roma, home of the largest cattle sales in Australia.   The roadsides here are dotted with white fluffy cotton buds.  Cotton is cropped in the area and seedlings are breaking out of the paddocks to mix with grasses, gums and prickly pears.  A flock of bright lime green and red parrots swoops around us as the utes roll on.  Bright yellow sunflowers, more escapees from horticulture, nod as we go by. It’s a fine day in colourful Queensland.  Layers are stripped off as we moult our winter woollies.  Some go straight to shorts and tshirts while the more cautious start with slightly shorter 3/4 pants.

I blink and wipe my eyes.  No, it can’t be, that looks like a flock of bright yellow sheep.  Sure enough, here are more newly shorn sheep, happily grazing, oblivious of their lurid hue.  Yellow dyes have been added to their dip to mark out those who have been protected from ticks, lice and other parasites.  Any that have missed the dip can be easily spotted by the farmer. It’s logical, but it gives the view a surreal flavour as if we are waking from a morphine dream.

We are soon at St George and ready for morning cuppas.  St George is a gracious patrician town, wide roads, well maintained buildings, a John Deere franchise and a river frontage.   We can’t stop long to discover more this time.  It’s on to Roma and the cattle sales.

Even the scrub looks like parkland here.  Red red earth, grey green grassland dotted with trees.   Well nourished cattle wander in the shade.  We hope for a sighting of Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, a pink and yellow bird with a magnificent crest, named for Major Mitchell who explored this area in 1846.  In pictures he looks a rare beauty, (the bird, not the major) but he has not shown himself to us yet.

Lunch is at Surat.   An historic town on the Balonne river.   Bottle trees line the street, one appears to look back at us, the shape of an eye drawn in the markings in its bark.

Eye in treeSurat shire hall

We admire the old timber buildings in Queenslander style, a post office, the magnificent old shire hall and a Cobb & Co changing station.  Inside a free museum on the Main Street there are old wool industry artefacts and the star of the show, a restored Cobb & Co carriage.

What must it have been like to speed down these roads in this wooden carriage, harnessing the power of seven horses, bouncing on the leather springs? No glass in the windows, no air conditioning to block out the climate, dust and scents of the outback.

These days it’s diesel-powered cattle trucks and road trains that drive through Surat’s Main Street.

We drive on. It’s not far from Surat to Roma. We soon see the signs for the cattle market and pull in to the sale yard car park.