Jimmy has life's work in cattle industry honoured

Undoolya's Jimmy Hayes recognised for life's work


Life & Style
HISTORY SHARED: Gail and Jimmy Hayes, Alice Springs, NT, with Jimmy's NTCA life membership.

HISTORY SHARED: Gail and Jimmy Hayes, Alice Springs, NT, with Jimmy's NTCA life membership.

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CENTRAL Australian icon Jimmy Hayes has spent his life in the beef industry and building the reputation of NT cattle.

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CENTRAL Australian icon Jimmy Hayes has spent his life in the beef industry and building the reputation of NT cattle.

His contribution has been recognised with life membership of the NT Cattlemen's Association awarded earlier this year.

Jimmy grew up at Undoolya Station, just outside Alice Springs, NT, and is a passionate supporter of the pastoral region, central Australia and the Poll Hereford breed.

"I grew up in the pastoral industry, it's all I've known," he said. "I've only ever worked for two people - my old man and myself."

The Hayes family have run Poll Herefords at Undoolya since 1946, when they started the herd with five cows and a bull imported from New Zealand.

In his childhood, their cattle would head to the Gepps Cross markets in Adelaide via train, a week-long trip.

"If we put any more than 100 head of station cattle in, the price would take a hit," Jimmy said.

"It would test the limits of the train too.

"It was a Monday sale and by Monday afternoon Grandma would get a telegram of the prices.

"Our job, as soon as we got out of school, was to jump on our pushbikes and take the telegram to Grandpa, who was more than likely at the truck yards organising cattle for the next sale.

"We'd have to read the telegram out to him, as he never learned to read and write."

Jimmy met his wife Gail while at school in Alice Springs, when he would stay in town and return to the station each weekend and holidays to work.

In the early days, Jimmy would often head out for weeks at a time mustering on horseback.

"You'd have to travel pretty light - the tucker you had was only the tucker you could fit," he said.

He said there had been big changes in the industry since then.

Undoolya made the switch from horses to bikes in 1988 - it was getting too hard to find workers who could ride horses, Gail said.

The cattle are also quieter and fenced, while workers are home each night.

"We have scales so if people want a certain weight, we can put those out in the paddock and get all the suitable ones within days," Jimmy said.

He said solar bores had revolutionised the industry.

"Bores that we gave away 40 years ago have now got a solar pump and are very effective," he said.

"The system has changed but if it didn't change, that would be something to worry about."

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Jimmy and Gail have never been afraid to try something new, especially if it could benefit central Australia or the beef industry.

Gail said NT cattle had a reputation for being "rough".

"Our type of steer are as good as anything you'd see in the market," Jimmy said.

They formed a partnership with Cascade Poll Hereford stud manager Jack Smith, to buy shares in a bull and sell the offspring under the Undoolya prefix.

The family has trucked cattle to every state in Australia, except Tas, and even flown cattle into South Korea in the early 1980s.

Jimmy said the South Korean "experiment" was a success, but the protocol could be onerous.

They also worked with other local producers to get quality boxed beef into Indonesia and Malaysia, but international politics and the lack of a local processor meant it did not go ahead.

"It was a good exercise, it didn't ever happen but did have a lot of support," Jimmy said.

"You never make a name for yourself unless you try something."

They also started a tablegrape venture at Rocky Hill as a drought-proofing exercise.

With the moon landing in the news, Jimmy has his own memories of the momentous occasion.

"The early morning train had cattle on board, coming back from agistment down south and they had to count the cattle off the train before they went to the station," he said.

"I was listening to the wireless in the early hours of the morning and Neil Armstrong said he could see the lights of Perth.

"I thought, 'If he can see Perth, I've got to be able to see him', so I looked up and there was a bright light."

Jimmy has no doubt he was watching the moment the crew re-entered Earth's atmosphere, something he considers a "privilege".

"Ten minutes later they were picking him out of the Pacific," he said.

"Gail and I were in the United States a few years later and saw the craft in the Smithsonian - we couldn't believe the size of it."

Much of their time was spent gazing into the stars.

"Airconditioning wasn't a factor so we spent a lot of time outdoors and knew every star," he said.

Jimmy and Gail's children are all still living locally, with Andy taking on The Garden Station, Richie at Rocky Hill and Ben taking on Undoolya, while daughter Jaynie runs a spare parts business in Alice Springs.

The pair just welcomed their sixth great-grandchild.

A long-time friendship with songwriter John Williamson even paying tribute to "butcher, welder and diesel engineer", in a song Three Sons.

Jimmy is finally prepared to admit he has retired after "slowing up" about four or five years ago.

He and Gail moved to town in the early 2000s.

"We sent the boys away to get a trade and they got married and came back again so we decided to move out," Gail said.

Jimmy is still on the family "board" and is there to advise. Each morning he wakes up early - "I've never slept in, in my life" - and checks his iPad, with a cup of tea, to see the latest agricultural trends and ideas.

As well as being involved in the NTCA, he has also been on the NT Pastoral Land Board, Bushfire Council, the school council and was the Alice Springs show patron.

"I've done a lot but I've spent a lifetime doing it," he said.

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