Buoyed by two good seasons, the annual cattle market in Alice Springs delivers some of the best beasts found anywhere in Australia.

Story By Tom Dawkins

Jim Willoughby is in the eye of the storm. For a few brief moments, at least, he can afford to stand back and soak in the spectacle. It’s show week in Alice Springs and while the amusements of sideshow alley will lay quiet until tomorrow’s official opening, today all attention is turned to the nearby Bohning Yards for what is a truly special event. The iconic annual cattle market, the only one of its kind in central Australia, has once again delivered on its reputation for offering some of the best pens of pastoral-bred steers and heifers to be found anywhere in Australia.
Row upon row of four-wheel-drives in the car park and laneways packed with buyers, vendors and onlookers are testament to the significance of this sale. For Jim, the operations manager of the saleyards, the lively sights and sounds are a reward for weeks of planning and a run of busy days leading up to the sale. As stock agents scour the gallery for bids and buyers jostle on the rail from pen to pen, Jim is clearly happy that everything is running according to the script.
“There’s more than just a couple of days’ preparation leading up to this sale, because it’s a one-off event,” Jim says. “It’s not like your normal run-of-the-mill saleyard where you’ve got a regular staff to operate a sale every week.” Most of the 3700 sale cattle have been at the yards since the start of the week, leading up to Thursday’s market. Trucks have offloaded station consignments from across the area, a catchment that stretches several hundred kilometres in all directions from Alice Springs. “We’ll feed the cattle here from Monday right through to Saturday when the last of them are trucked out,” Jim says.
While the sale itself rolls on and the logistics of transport from the yards are yet to be finalised, Jim has a few moments to reflect on what has been a busy lead-up to market day. Working with the four different stock agencies, plus the large number of pastoral vendors consigning cattle and the transporters delivering them to the yards, Jim has overseen a rigorous schedule of unloading, scanning, weighing and penning-up animals ready for the sale.

This story excerpt is from Issue #85

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012