As we enter the Christmas and New Year break in the processing year, it is valuable to dwell for a moment on some of the pioneers of this great industry.
If I relayed a short tale about someone who arrived in this country as a 19-year-old immigrant and worked hard and strategically throughouthis life to become the wealthiest private citizen in the country, you would probably think that I was talking about maybe Meriton guru Harry Triguboff or even Frank Lowy of Westfield shopping malls fame.
But I am not.
I am talking about the often forgotten story of the father of the meat processing sector in this country, a man who was so innovative and visionary for his time. He built a meat processing and export enterprise over 120 years ago that was the first of its type in this country and laid the foundation for the industry of today.
His name was Sir William Angliss.
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Most people think that William Angliss & Co, the meat processing company that he founded in the first half of the last century, was an English company owned by Lord Vesty and his family in England.
It eventually was but it was founded and built by William Angliss, an English migrant who arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, in 1884. He tried to get a job at the local meat works but was not successful. Ironically 40 years later he came back and bought the whole place.
From humble beginnings as a retail butcher in Melbourne he expanded into wholesale and then contract processing his own livestock.
He finally purchased a small abattoir of his own. The business became a partnership to accommodate his brothers and other family members who also emigrated from England to help him take advantage of the opportunities he saw in the meat industry in this then British colony.
The first successful refrigerated meat shipment to London had occurred in 1879. Angliss saw the potential of the new technology and began supplying frozen beef and sheepmeat from Victoria by sea to the goldfields of Western Australia in the 1890s.
That expanded to the British and Empire troops in South Africa in the Boer War of 1899 and increasingly to England.
On a visit to the United States in 1902 he saw at the Swift & Co meat processing plant in Chicago their production line approach to livestock and byproducts processing.
Swift were content to make low margins (1-2 per cent) on their otherwise huge turnover and this crystallized in Angliss's mind the high volume low margin philosophy that would become such an important business model for his company and the industry in Australia.
Car manufacturer Henry Ford made reference in his memoirs that it was also a visit to a Swift meat processing plant which aroused his attention to the production line business model for cars.
On return to Australia Angliss applied these principles in building what were at the time some of the largest and most efficient meat processing facilities in the country. To accommodate staff to run them he built houses to accommodate key workers and their families, very innovative for the time.
By 1930 he had six plants across eastern Australia as well as many wholesale and retail outlets throughout the country.
At the height of the great depression in 1932, at the British Empire Conference in Canada, agreement was reached on a policy of "Imperial Preference". That is Great Britain would preference imports from British Empire countries.
This represented a significant blow to the British meat mogul Lord Vesty and his Argentine meat interests. The ability to export chilled beef quarters by sea was just starting to emerge in Australia.
Lord Vesty had developed a shipping line (the Blue Star Line) to utilise this new technology in Argentina but that option was now unviable.
He turned to Australia and his offer to purchase the Angliss meat processing business for £1.5 million and become Australia's biggest meat processor overnight became the largest ever company sale in Australia to that time.
The Vesty's respected Angliss for what he had achieved in Australia and asked him if he would continue with the company as the governing director, a position he accepted for the next two decades.
William Angliss remained active in Victorian state politics and business for another 25 years and was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council for most of that time.
He developed a string of livestock properties throughout Australia not unlike the Kidman empire, an asset that was not part of the Vesty sale in 1932. His broadening business interests included insurance and construction and ultimately led to his rise as the wealthiest private citizen in Australia in 1950.
His philanthropy was extensive and it was one of those donations of £20,000 in 1937 for the establishment of a food trade school in Victoria that still carries his name today.
He died in 1957 aged 92 leaving £4 million pounds, £1 million of which was for charity, all from that original meat processing production base.
Two funds established in his name both continue to fund charitable purposes to this day.
Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies said in 1957 that "Sir William Angliss was in a real sense, one of the great Australian pioneers...not by speculation but by a long and laboriously acquired expert knowledge of a great Australian industry."
China's Return to the Table
Prime Minister Albanese's breakthrough meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November marks the first step hopefully towards restoring the Australia China relationship but as the former Australian Ambassador to China Frances Adamson was quoted as saying, we will still need to be patient as the path to stabilising the relationship may still take some time.
The meeting comes at a time when Australian plants are in the process of renewing their registration in the China Imported Food Enterprise Registration system, a requirement whether the plant is currently suspended or not. While removing all of the current plant suspensions by China may take some time, the low hanging fruit may be the two plants suspended on COVID-19 grounds.
Given Chinese authorities are relaxing some of the constraints around COVID in the community, it may present an opportunity with no loss of face to also relax those COVID-related suspensions.