Vale red meat leader Dick Austen

Article by Jon Condon courtesy of Sheep Central.

FORMER red meat industry leader Dick Austen passed away in Sydney last week, aged 94.

Mr Austen served as chairman of the Australian Meat & Livestock Corporation, the predecessor to today’s Meat & Livestock Australia, for nine years up to 1994.

His term as AMLC chair coincided with some of the most profound changes ever seen in Australian red meat history, including the liberalisation of the Japanese and Korean beef and lamb export markets, expansion of trade into the United States after the end of the UK beef agreement era, establishment of AusMeat national meat and livestock trading languages, and the introduction of chiller assessment.

Mr Austen played crucial roles in the pioneering of electronic livestock marketing, helping take the early New England Livestock Computer Market (NELCM) trial into a full-blown sale of livestock by description – firstly under Computer Aided Livestock Marketing (CALM) in 1987, and later into today’s AuctionsPlus.

Under his direction, AMLC established sub-committees to create the authority for the uniform specification of meat and livestock (now AUS-MEAT) and Computer Aided Livestock Marketing (CALM). John Hall was appointed as Ausmeat’s inaugural director and chief systems analyser, and Howard Gardner as chief executive of CALM. After 12 months intensive investigation and development, both bodies became full entities in AMLC in 1987.

Having completed its development cycle, CALM was later sold to a joint venture comprising Elders, Primac and Dalgety, and remains in Elders/Nutrien’s hands to this day.

As was the custom during the 80s-90s era, Mr Austen was a ‘hands-on’, publicly-facing AMLC chairman, and frequently travelled to regional Australia to address producer groups on industry progress. He sometimes used his personal business jet for the purpose.

A gifted communicator, he more than once defused tense producer meetings where dissatisfaction over cattle prices threatened to boil-over.

In a somewhat unusual double-act while chairing AMLC, Mr Austen was also a prominent Australian coal industry leader, including chairing the Australian Coal Marketing and Technology Council for a lengthy period.

In 2000, he was recognised by a judging panel made up of prominent industry members and this writer as the Rural Press Beef Industry Achiever of the Decade, for his contribution across the industry over the previous 20 years. The award was made during the Beef 2000 event in Rockhampton.

He also spent three terms chairing the Beef Co-operative Research Centre, which provided the foundation for much of modern day industry understanding about meat and livestock science.

Mr Austen received an Officer of the Order of Australia award in 1982 for service to the coal industry, and received an honorary PhD from the University of New England, also where the CRC was headquartered, in recognition of his work in that role.

While his primary business interest was in Hunter Valley coal mining assets, Mr Austen always had skin in the game in the grazing industry. His home property, 10,000ha Glencoe Station in the Dubbo region of NSW was bought by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Agriculture on 2015, for expansion of her Wagyu beef operation.

Mr Austen’s Hartley Grazing Co ran about 1000 Angus breeding cows plus trading cattle on Glencoe.

A close associate of former Cattlemens Union and Cattle Council of Australia president Maurice Binstead, Mr Austen invested in Central Queensland cattle industry in the early 1990s, buying and developing Yarmina Station near Collinsville over 20 years.

Writing some years ago about the success of Computer Aided Livestock Marketing, industry identity and former CALM manager Dennis Scanlon said it was no surprise that 30 years on, Dick Austen was “still supporting what we all knew could prove to be a great asset for the total livestock industry.”

“I am sure those of us who were part of the beginning of what has become Auctions Plus, will well remember and acknowledge your vision and energy – which still has you committed to what we always knew could be achieved,” Mr Scanlon wrote.

Mr Austen is survived by his wife, Yvonne, with whom he was married for 72 years, a son and daughter and their families.

A Requiem Mass celebrating Dick’s life will be held at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Mort Street, Lithgow tomorrow, 10 January, from 11am. A private family burial will follow.


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