“WHAT do you reckon my son has gone and done this time?” With that short sentence, retired grazier and raconteur, Laurie Reid, displays the enormous pride in his son, Philip, who has taken his parents’ former property, Paringa, to an entirely new level in size, scope and possibilities for the future.
We’re sitting in his kitchen discussing the attributes of Chivas Regal and perusing the magnificent view over Emu Park (Rockhampton) and the aquamarine seas surrounding Great Keppel Island.
Sometimes it appears Laurie has a contrasting vision that flicks between the ever-present seascape to the paddocks of his former grazing country, where he ran a prized Braford herd.
Laurie — who goes by the name of ‘Capella Fella’ in poetry circles, especially bush festivals, and sometimes complete with kilt — was the subject of a cover story in Blue’s Country Magazine in February 2012 to acknowledge his turning 80.
Yet retirement is only a word — he stays occupied with the local men’s shed, indulges in woodwork, climbs ladders (much to the anguish of family), repairs furniture for friends and is the rare male in the local all-female choir.
The Reid name is well-known around Woodenbong, in northern New South Wales, where Laurie was born. He married Heather Sommerlad, a Tenterfield girl from a well-known cheese-making and grazing family. In 1964 they moved to a property at Capella, in central-western Queensland, taking their prized Herefords with them. Laurie soon learnt the lesson of Herefords in the Tropics, and joined them with Brahmans to develop his Braford stud.
This marked their complete separation from dairy cattle to embrace the grazing lifestyle.
Within four years they had purchased a second property at Capella — at the beginning of one of the worst droughts recorded at the time. The Paringa Feedlot was a later addition.
And that’s the current story Laurie is so proud to deliberate upon.
Laurie and Heather continued to battle the elements together — and life’s challenges — till their retirement to the coast. The support Laurie received from Heather turned full circle when she suffered a debilitating stroke that left her incapacitated, just a month after their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Laurie maintains those memories: “She was my wife, my partner, my friend.”
As I cook dinner, Laurie holds court, relating how Philip has applied for a development permit to more than quadruple the 4,000-head Paringa feedlot to 17,600 SCU (standard cattle units).
He had more news: “Philip has just purchased two more properties.
“Next time you’re in the Central Highlands, you should let Philip tell you the full story and show you around,” encourages Laurie.
So it was, while returning from North Queensland ahead of Cyclone Debbie, and being forced via the inland route, I did take-up the offer to call on Philip Reid to have a look at the ever-expanding Paringa operation.
But there was one obstacle: Philip is not the outgoing conversationalist like the ‘old boy’ — “I’m not one to get-up on the roof and tell everyone what I’m doing,” he says on the phone — “but call in.”
Philip Reid has a determination that, once he has a foundation of an idea, he drives it forward — not unlike on a previous visit to follow his research and development of a bio-diesel operation utilising tallow.
One of his sheds had taken-on the appearance of a petroleum facility as he developed his dream to refine diesel from tallow for farm use, and possibly sell the rest. He continues to progress his dream impeded by government red tape and obstacles that make it uneconomical. Yet he carries on.
When I arrive, his thoughts had changed somewhat: “Get in, I’ll show you around,” pointing to the LandCruiser.
He points to his home high on a ridge that provides a panoramic of the entire property. It’s quite hard taking notes as we bounce along the bush roads, and then stop briefly to meet wife, Deb, who’s on her way to town and has his lunch on board.
Philip quotes statistics: He has 38,000 acres over six properties, having just bought the neighbouring properties of Salt Springs from the White family and Grenada from Keith and Bev Lacey. It is anticipated these acquisitions will limit objections to an expanded feedlot from nearby residents.
The subject of mining comes into discussion: “No, there is no coal underneath.”
Groundwater can be harnessed from all four blocks and pumped into a specially-constructed water storage area of 15 megalitres to supply the feedlot.
Alternatively, surface run-off can’t be harnessed due to government regulations.
“Talking of economy of scale, I had never thought of anything of this size, but when the two properties came available, Deb and I had a lot of thinking to do,” Philip tells.
“Land is hard to come by around here, it is exceptionally good country — and to purchase two properties within a six month period required a lot of soul-searching.”
The heavy dark rain clouds announcing the remnants of Cyclone Debbie roll across the landscape — and Philip receives the news over the farm radio that his employees had just finished planting the last 500 acre (200ha) paddock of forage sorghum. As with any self-sufficient feedlot, crop cultivation is vital, and Paringa has 10,000 acres under cropping. He has 10 employees to help run the operation.
“We have a new plan for the feedlot that has cut back on outside feed costs and improved overall nutrition,” he adds.
“Water is vital to productivity in the area, yet millions of litres are tied-up — it’s a matter of getting it here,” says Philip.
“What we actually need is a pipeline from any number of mines around here — pumping water that has been through reverse osmosis back into the creeks so that it then soaks back into the aquifers.”
Philip suggests it would be a better idea to use it in developments like his feedlot.
Paringa is a far cry from when Philip took-over and Laurie and Heather left for a life in retirement. But that does not stop Laurie returning for a nostalgic trip and stay abreast of developments.
There is a new office block, the feed mixing area has a new roof, and a huge shed that stands-out on the property was once a Brisbane City Council Works Depot.
Feedlot manager and Philip’s right-hand man, Justin Dooley, oversees the entire operation in the bosses absence. He has been on the land all his life, and with Paringa for ten years.
Justin can see plenty of future for those wanting to join the industry. “Feedlotting is a growing enterprise,” says the young dad whose wife, Kelly, has just given birth to a daughter.
Again, Philip talks of debilitating red tape that has the ability to stifle progress. He talks of costs from all levels of government — and the savings he could make without them that would allow him to expand the feedlot even further now that he has the available land, and employ 25 more people.
But for the time being, he is concentrating on what he already has planned.
Paringa Feedlot supplies on contract to Coles and JBS on a weekly basis.
A major part of the feedlot program is custom-feeding for clients from Queensland and the Northern Territory. Some clients have been with Paringa for more than two decades.