Establishment of Vestey's meatworks
In June 1914 the Commonwealth signed a contract with Vestey Brothers (Vestey's) for the company to construct and operate a meatworks in Darwin and, in return, the Commonwealth would extend the existing railway line from Pine Creek to Emungalan (Katherine), a distance of 88 kilometres. It was expected that the meatworks would process a large number of cattle, many of which would be exported, and would provide impetus to the Territory's economy. The extension of the rail line would assist Vestey's, whose principal property, Wave Hill, was located west of Katherine. The line was completed in December 1917.
The meatworks was also completed in 1917, at a substantially higher cost than was originally estimated. It operated for three years before closing in 1920. Over the three years of operation there were frequent strikes and union demands for higher wages, and the meatworks never processed the number of cattle that was anticipated. After a short season in 1925 it closed permanently. The closure had a devastating impact on Darwin's economy. The lack of a local meatworks meant that cattle had to be sent long distances over stock routes to markets in adjoining states.
Causes of the closure ranged from union militancy and demands for higher wages to Vestey's deliberately overcapitalising the works to ensure it failed, thus protecting their interests in Argentina. Powell has suggested that Vestey's viewed operations on a world-wide scale and simply closed the works in response to economic forces generated far outside Australia.14
In April 1933 Senator George Pearce had discussions with Vestey's principal representative in Australia, Charles Conacher, to canvas the possibility of the works reopening, but these were unsuccessful.15 The meatworks gradually fell into a state of disrepair. They were demolished in the 1950s, and the site is now the home of Darwin's principal high school.
|Selected Records Relating to Vestey's Meatworks|
|National Archives, Canberra|
|Vestey Bros freezing works – erection, 1912–15||A3, NT1916/1230|
|Construction of railway sidings for Vestey Bros, 1914–20||A3, NT1920/841|
|Vestey Bros – agreement regarding freezing works, 1914||A3, NT1914/6267|
|Vestey Bros meat works, 1915–17||A3, NT1917/258|
|Meat works, Darwin – formal opening, 1917||A3, NT1917/726|
|Meatworks – North Australian Meat Company – registration, 1917||A3, NT1917/1753|
|Vestey Bros – agreement with Government regarding meat works, 1918–24||A3, NT1922/4851|
|Vestey Bros – lack of shipping space and closing of works, 1919/21||A3, NT1921/3421|
Image 3: Vestey's meatworks on the outskirts of Darwin, 1919.
Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers (1917–19), volume VI, p. 1155
Patrick Glynn returned as Minister in 1917 and issued an updated version of his 1914 policy statement.16 After reiterating the Government's intentions for an extensive program of capital works, he added a cautionary note that 'the war, which now prescribes duty and directs expenditure, for a time blocks projects essential to development'.17 World War I had a stifling effect on development in the Territory and elsewhere. Powell noted that it began at a time when Commonwealth revenues were buoyant, having been restricted since 1908 due to commitments to defence and aged pensions.18