Before the Glenroy Meatworks, the only installations of abattoirs and freezing works in the Kimberley were located at Broome, Derby and Wyndham. This meant that each year Kimberley station owners had to drive their fat cattle 100's of miles over stock routes, towards ports which were the only outlet for their product.
Above: Pastoralists relied upon drovers to deliver their cattle
As a result cattle which were in peak condition, reached the abbatoirs as toughened wiry beasts bruised and in poor condition. To make matters worst, the feed on the last stretches of the run were eaten out by the first few 100 head of cattle, and late in the season herds often arrived at the ports half starved. Eventually a new means of sending cattle to port had to be found in order to ensure the continuation of Australia's North West Pastoral Industry.
Above: Gordon Blythe managed the Glenroy abbatoirs, whilst his brother Keith took care of the Agricultural side of the project
Gordon Blythe, who was bred to station life at Mt House, spent many hours with the A.I.F on Bougainville planning a venture to solve this problem of distance. Gordon's vision revolved around a scheme focusing on the establishment of small abattoirs, to serve the outlying tableland districts of the Kimberleys. A company known as 'Air Beef Limited' was formed on this idea, allowing aircraft to finally fill the long-felt need of transport in the remote areas of the Great North West. A new era of the Kimberley was foreseen through the Air Beef Scheme and establishment of the Glenroy Meatworks.
Above:Aboriginal Stockmen and the Air Beef Scheme
At a capital cost of 25000 pounds a modern abbatoir with freezing chambers was built at Glenroy Station, 190 miles South of Wyndham, and 160 airmiles east of Derby over the King Leopold Ranges. "The Glenroy Meatworks" was capable of handling up to 60 bullocks per day, with the abbatoir treating up to 2000 caracasses for the neighbouring stations per season. This saved 100lbs of meat on each carcass, by avoiding a 6 week overland drive, and provided the stations with much better financial returns.
Aboriginal Stockman at Glenroy yarding the cattle
The aboriginal stockmen (who were the mainstays of the Kimberley cattle stations) played an important role in droving the stock to the air beef abbatoir at Glenroy, from the local Stations. They were the Pastoralist's indispensable off-siders. Many of the cattle brought to Glenroy had never been yarded before.
Above: An Aboriginal Stockman
The beef was loaded onto the Freighter Plane by conveyor. The "Bristol Air Freighter Plane" could carry 58000lb of beef and station supplies from Glenroy to and from Wyndham, or Derby, in a day. As a result 'Mod Cons' from the towns and cities could be brought in by air, making it more practiceable for people from the stations to order modern comforts, necessities and accessories. The delivery of the frozen beef from Glenroy to Wyndham was arranged via the Flying Doctor Radio Service.
Above:The conveyor simplified the loading of carcasses
On arrival at Wyndham the beef was loaded into trucks for delivery to the chilling works to await shipment overseas.
From Wyndham the meat was exported according to grade to the UK, The Far East and Australian Ports. The journey by air to Wyndham from Glenroy took only 90 minutes, whereas it used to take about thirty days to overland the cattle from the stations to Wyndham.
Above:Loading the Air Freighter Plane
"The Glenroy Meatworks" and "The Air Beef Scheme" were the result of magnificent pioneering work on behalf of organisations such as "Air Beef Limited", dedicated Managers such as Gordon Blythe, plus teams of dedicated & hardworking individuals/locals. It was a revelation for Australia to have a particularly fine example of a beef transport and processing industry in the remote center of the Kimberleys.
Above:Hardworking Glenroy Meatworkers
"The Air Beef Scheme" and "Glenroy Meatworks" closed in 1964 when the old "Mt House Road" (which was a bullock & donkey wagon track) was dramatically upgraded and re-routed in sections to become "The Gibb River Road". This enabled beef transport by truck, and essential supplies could now be obtained by vehicle- rather than bullock and donkey wagon teams.
Above:Donkey Wagon Team carting supplies from Glenroy Meatworks
Wyndham meatworks closed in 1985, and Wyndham port recommenced exporting live cattle. As a result a new meatworks was established in Derby under the name 'Derby Export Meat Company', which operated for a couple of years, only to be bought out by 'Broome Meatworks'. 'Broome Meatworks' closed in 1994 because they could not compete with the huge shipments of live cattle, and high wages. The infastructure was later sold and demolished - and an expensive housing estate was built on top of it.
There are no longer any big meatworks in the North, thus ending another chapter in the history of the Kimberley. Today cattle throughout the Kimberleys have to be transported live to abbatoirs (primarily down South) via trucks. But more predominantly they are exported live to Asian Markets from Broome and Wyndham - this has called for a different class of beef where they want them a lot younger and a lot smaller than in the old days (predominantly Brahman Cross). The days of the old Shorthorn has gone.
Information & photos kindly donated by Rosetta and Sam Lovell. Sam worked at the Glenroy Meatworks for many years.