Agents, buyers and sellers at last Thursday’s cattle sale welcomed some new faces on the catwalk – representing the Castlereagh Regional Abattoir.
It has been almost exactly twenty years since the founders of the Abattoir, the Scott Family, closed the gates on an enterprise that had operated successfully since 1974 and at one time employed up to 50 people.
Over the last two decades the Scott Family had actively marketed the abattoir and many interested parties had inspected the plant until finally a change of ownership in 2012 gave signs of hope for a re-opening.
By 2015 some major maintenance and repair work had been undertaken to gain the various licences and approvals required and steps were underway to engage a workforce before the worsening drought and internal shareholder issues again saw the project moth-balled.
A lease of the property to a third party in 2018 did not go as expected, with the discovery of an illicit crop of tobacco and related infrastructure that was investigated and prosecuted by the Australia Taxation Office.
The abattoir remained closed but 11 months ago, new partners Kevin Xu and Gary Zhang, came on board to help kickstart the project.
In recent weeks they have been visiting the facility just a few kilometres south of Coonamble, to begin putting the pieces back into place to re-start meat processing.
Contractors have been engaged to tidy up the site, do some plumbing repair work and other upgrades with Mr Xu and Mr Zhang also working hands-on to keep things moving.
“It is starting to look better,” Mr Xu said. “We are proactively following the requirements from the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) and the Food Authority processes as well as servicing the equipment.”
“All in all it is a good facility,” he said. “I come from a building background so that makes this happen quicker.”
Mr Xu’s experience in exporting meat to China also gives him an idea of the possible pitfalls and the unpredictability of the industry.
Although at this stage the Coonamble abattoir will be for domestic supply only, he says that it is important to take small steps on the path to re-opening and not to make big promises.
It is intended to return to the Scott Family formula of a multi-species abattoir providing service kills for regional and city-based butchers and consignment kills for wholesalers, as well as custom-kills for local families.
“We have to start the engine first and start small,” he said. “I don’t want to talk and not deliver.”
“It is market-driven so it will all depend on the orders.”
“At the start we will aim at break-even,” Mr Xu said. “We hope to start with a workforce of about a dozen people but it will all depend on the demand.”
The company have recruited Mark Goodman as Abattoir Manager and he joined them at the cattle sale, along with former co-owner Len Scott.
“We are fortunate to have Len and Mark to come on board and make things happen,” said Mr Xu.
“With them we have 50 years of local experience.
Mark Goodman is very familiar with both the Coonamble facility and the regional meat processing industry, having worked at plants at West Wyalong, Nyngan and most recently Binnaway abattoir.
“I’ve always loved the cattle out of this area because they yield so well,” Mr Goodman said.
“And I love the Keep Coonamble Kicking signs as you come into town, as we always like to buy local.”
“We will definitely need the locals to support us as well so we can service the community,” he said.
The men said that they had already received kill inquiries about cattle, sheep, goats, horses and even a camel.
“We will do all those,” Mr Xu said. “We just won’t be killing pigs as the halal is important to many people and we will need to do that 100% correct.”
He says the onset of COVID-19 has added an extra layer of complexity to the re-opening.
“We have to be conscious of that with the company’s procedures and have the precautionary measures in place to get up and running and be safe,” said Mr Xu.
With much to do and so many factors at play, the new partners are reluctant to commit to an exact date for the re-opening, but there was some suggestion that it may just be a couple of months away.