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A privilege to know Cannon Hill stockman Neil Pugh

Cannon Hill stockman Graham Daly.
Cannon Hill stockman Graham Daly.

G'DAY readers. Neil Pugh left school at 15 to start work with his father, Roy, at Cannon Hill saleyards in 1955 and spent the next 37 years doing exactly what he was born and bred to do, work cattle.

In my opinion there were few as good and certainly none better than Neil.

Of course he had to serve his apprenticeship like everyone else, handling pigs, calves and sheep but he was destined to be a cattleman.

Through the years Neil worked for all of the pastoral houses and many butchers.

Along the way he branched into the hay business, supplying nearly every operator at The Hill - at a rough guess I'd say he probably handled about 1000 bales a week in the busiest periods.

By the time I started working with him in the mid-70s, he was drafting Dalgetys sale cattle and running his hay business.

We worked together until the yards closed and became pretty close.

We had thousands of those cattle that year and they never improved. I don't recall where they came from or who owned them but I will remember that brand forever ET7.

Stan Wallace (Old Son) was the fat stock manager and his right-hand man was Keith McRoberts.

Between them, we were never short of cattle to draft and a great bloke named Reg Fitzsimmond was Dalgetys clerk - no computers back then, just a biro and carbon paper, and Reg would balance the sale within an hour of the last pen being weighed and be spot-on every time.

All in all, Dalgetys had a great team in those mentioned but I like to think that it was made that much easier by Neil's expertise in presenting the sale cattle.

When Neil penned them, you could put a spirit level on them.

I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from a man I rate as the best cattleman I've ever known.

Neil was a unique fellow, unlike anyone else I ever knew.

He was about as casual and carefree as a man could be and yet super-efficient in his job.

He was however still only human and subject to venting his frustrations when things didn't go so well, in his case by bending at the knees , leaning slightly forward and pulling the brim of his hat down over his ears and growling for a moment.

Then he would look up with a big silly grin and laugh and he was as good as new.

He would do this routine whether he was on foot, on horseback or in a vehicle.

I remember one particularly frustrating day, he and I were drafting a rowdy mob of helicopter mustered cattle with limited success.

They had no idea what a man on a horse was and were racing in circles around Neil, only altering their pattern to occasionally charge me at the gate.

All of a sudden a passenger jet came low over our heads as it descended into Brisbane airport.

Like a chorus line, these mongrel bloody cattle stopped in their tracks and looked up at this jet.

It was more than Neil could bear; he went into his routine and I all but fell off my horse laughing at him.

We had thousands of those cattle that year and they never improved.

I don't recall where they came from or who owned them, but I'll remember the brand forever - ET7.

It would be still smouldering when you opened the K wagon doors.

Two of my horses were gored by them, as was Graeme O'Keefe, and early one morning one of them knocked me A-over-T and proceeded to do a Mexican hat dance on my head.

Guess who rescued me? Good old Neil... I rolled over and looked up to see him straddled over me with a headlock on this murderous mongrel and he wasn't about to let go until I was safe.

I have fond memories of the marvellous big grey horse Neil rode named Fred.

He could cut the coconut out of cake and put blind mosquitoes into beer bottles and what's more he could skate on the bricks better than Torvil and Dean - a real low-maintainence, self-care unit.

Wherever we finished at night, Neil would pull the saddle off him and let him go.

Fred would just find a yard with some hay left in it and look after himself.

Often he would wander onto Lytton Rd and pick a bit of grass. It was common to see him camped in the middle of the road under the street light late at night.

Neil never knew where Fred was from one day to the next; often he would poke his head in the canteen at breakfast time and ask, "Anyone know where Fred is"?

They were a real comedy double act; Fred was the straight man.

Neil had big cheery smile that would melt a miser's heart and he knew just how to use it.

Every morning he would come into the canteen wielding all of his charm and ask, "Who wants to come for a ride in my big red truck"?

Which actually meant, who wants to help me feed out several hundred bales of hay, open dozens of gates and bring your own wages.

He was hard to resist and, over the years, he got all of us to pitch in. Somehow or other he could always manage to organise the arrival of a semi load of hay to his shed when there were plenty of us about to help out.

Always full of business and a sharp eye for a bargain, Neil traded hundreds of cattle over the years.

Sometimes he'd win and sometimes he'd lose, either way Neil was never discouraged.

During the years Neil and I worked together, we had good days, bad days, hot days, wet and windy days, funny days and not-so-funny days.

I'm just grateful we had them together and I was privileged to have been mentored by an all-time great cattleman and proud to say he was a mate of mine.

In the bar of Eagle Farm Racecourse on the day of Gary Beckett's funeral, Neil, Stan Wallace, Jim Scully, Graham Flynn, Reg Clanchy and myself were having a few drinks for Gary - as you would expect the conversation was centred around Cannon Hill.

When conversation turned to drafting Dalgetys cattle, Neil put his big arm around my shoulder, put me in the same headlock he had on that ET7 steer and said, "I had three real good men helping me over the years - Peter Lawlor, Gary Beckett and this little bastard".

Greatest compliment I've ever received.

Topics:  cannon hill graham daly meatworks