Vesteys sell most of Australian ranches

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE VESTEY family has sold most of the Australian property holdings that made it one of the biggest and most controversial names in the outback for almost a century.

Over the past week, the Vesteys have sold six cattle stations (or ranches) in the Northern Territory and Queensland for a total of almost Adollars 38m ( pounds 15m). Three more stations failed to go at auction and are being off-loaded separately in negotiated sales. The nine properties cover an area of 15,600 square miles - an area almost a fifth the size of Britain.

The sales are part of an international liquidation of assets designed to ease pressure on the main Vestey operating company, Union International, which is weighed down with large debts. The company's banks agreed to a three-year refinancing plan in February.

While the Australian sales may help to preserve the diminished Vestey empire elsewhere, they mark the end of the Vesteys' sometimes turbulent reign as cattle barons in the outback. It began before the First World War, when the family began acquiring land holdings in the Northern Territory, which they built into a key component of a global meat empire.

By the 1940s, the Vesteys' Australian holdings covered almost 63,000 square miles. They held most of their properties on long-term leases, negotiated at very low rents. For example, at Wave Hill, a cattle station of around 3 million acres in the Northern Territory and one of those now being sold, the Vesteys paid an annual rent of less than Adollars 17,000 ( pounds 6,700).

The Vesteys kept a low profile in Australia, but it was Wave Hill which catapulted them into the spotlight when it became the birthplace of the Aboriginal land rights movement in 1966.

About 200 Aboriginal workers of the Gurindji tribe walked off Wave Hill in protest at discriminatory rates of pay between black and white workers. They moved to Wattie Creek, tribal land within Wave Hill's boundaries, where they proposed to set up their own co- operative venture.

The final departure of the Vesteys from the outback will not see them disappear completely from Australia. Through the Angliss Group, they remain Australia's second largest meat processor and hold substantial canning and fishing interests.