Bruce McKenzie with his grand son Riley McKenzie at Gracemere sale yards.
Bruce McKenzie with his grand son Riley McKenzie at Gracemere sale yards. Allan Reinikka ROK240217amckenzi

An industry changing before Bruce's eyes

BRUCE McKenzie's 88-year-old hands tell a story.

Each wrinkle serves as a reminder of when he loaded a beast onto a cattle truck headed for the saleyards, each freckle, a memory of the days he spent in his saddle, on horseback mustering.

The boy who grew up at Alton Downs on Coolarah Station and rode to school on horse back ended up moving "down the road a bit” to Pearl Creek station where he married the "girl next door”.

Bruce learnt a lot about the cattle game when he moved to become the station manager at Pearl Creek and began to attend nearly every weekly sale at the Gracemere saleyards, which were located at the Rockhampton show grounds at the time.

Having spent close to nine decades in Central Queensland Bruce is a true local. He's lived through the cattle depression and seen the beef industry change significantly.

Bruce has witnessed cattle prices fluctuate "year in and year out” but says prices over the past year have been the dearest cents per kilo and per head he has ever seen.

"I think in the early '80s and before the beef depression in the '70s, the value for money was just as good. I don't know if financially you're any better off than back then,” he said.

Having kept journals over the years of price swings and patterns in the industry, Bruce said the sale yards were the very thing that saved him during the cattle depression.

Starting back in 1976, the industry fell into a depression due to what Bruce believed to be a mix of shortage of demand overseas and seasonal conditions.

"The sale yards saved me during the cattle depression, they saved me because I sold and I had a cash flow,” he said.

Not only have prices changed over the years but the sale yard aesthetics themselves have developed with the times.

Bruce recalls the early days in the Gracemere yards where there ring was simply a big enclosed wooden selling ring with wooden seat.

"It was changed to timber selling pens and covered walkways later on,” Bruce said.

"A plane would fly from Brisbane with buyers and the sale would even be held up because the plane would come late.”

With tears welling in his eyes the retired stockman remembered back to what his wife would say to him every weekend when he would work relentlessly at the saleyards.

"My wife used to say to me, I work most weekends in the 70's and 80's, most weekends I work to take cattle to the saleyards,” he said.

"I lost my wife two years ago, sorry I get a bit emotional at times.

"She said you're working when everyone else is resting, but I did it because I loved it, it was my life.”

To this day Bruce still heads out to the weekly Gracemere sales each Friday.

When asked why, he said "to keep my brain from becoming scrambled”.

"Better to smell the cow dung than to look at brick walls,” he joked.

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