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Don Ross: a legendary Cannon Hill stockman

SUCCESS STORY: Don Ross at the Cannon Hill saleyards in 1982, where live weight selling took off under his direction.
SUCCESS STORY: Don Ross at the Cannon Hill saleyards in 1982, where live weight selling took off under his direction. Contributed

IT SEEMS fitting that the story of the early life of Don Ross should follow last week's feature on Henry Daniels.

Volumes could be written about this Depression era kid who built a family dynasty on the back of a horse.

Truly a rags to riches story, Don's life will unfold in chapters captivating anyone who ever rode a horse, chased a beast, whistled a dog or even thought they might like to.

Born in 1934 with generations of horsemen in his ancestry, Don was passionate and totally dedicated to the art of horsemanship.

It all started as a kid.

Don and good mate Ray Crowther found their way to Cannon Hill saleyards where they would get under the feet of old hands like Henry Daniels until they finally proved their worth and got a start.

Don's career in the saleyards was interrupted for a time when, in 1953, at the age of 18, he was drafted into national service.

Truly a rags to riches story, Don's life will unfold in chapters captivating anyone, who ever rode a horse, chased a beast, whistled a dog or even thought they might like to.

After that he worked for Swifts in a feedlot on nine acres at Tingalpa.

Draft horses dragged slides loaded with feed into the yards and Don developed quite a taste for pineapple which didn't do his teeth any good at all.

He went on to manage the feedlot and worked there for seven years until its closure.

Austin Biscoe (a man considered to be the father of feed lotting in Australia), Arthur Bassingthwaite and Henry Daniels would reward Don in 1955 with the closest thing to a holiday he had ever had - an overseas trip from Brisbane to Port Moresby in a leaky tub with 128 head of cattle.

Following Swifts' closure Don worked as a stockman at the Brisbane abattoirs.

Six years later Don left to go truck driving for Jim Hill, carting cattle and sheep as he had done previously for Henry Daniels.

It was during this time that I started as a stockman there.

As I walked up the lane that first morning Don was the first friendly face I saw.

He was working at the bottom of a very steep race that led up to the mutton slaughter floor with his old red bitch Boxer.

This must have been close to the toughest assignment in the place, usually manned by Kenny Parker who had a team of good young dogs.

Boxer was close to retirement and I recall one day when a mob of wool-blind wethers just would not step into the race.

Boxer had snuck off for a spell and Don was really battling.

He was whistling and calling: "Get up forward, here Bocky, get up forward here Bocky, you're right Bocky I'll go myself."

With that he hitched his jeans up and waded through the mob to the lead and got them going, laughing all the while with no animosity for Boxer at all. Most blokes would have been furious.

In 1974 live weight selling started in the Southern Hemisphere at Cannon Hill.

Don was invited to tender for the contract and while many had serious doubts in the future of this new technology, Don had the foresight to grab it with both hands.

He won the tender and in a matter of weeks most of the offering was sold live weight.

I was one of his team on the scales and as the only centre in Australia with the technology, we went in no time to two sales a week selling up to 11,000 head.

Don was easy to work for, all you had to do was apply the same work ethic as him, a man who thrived on work, had the capacity of any two of us and loved every second of it.

As the first pen was knocked down Don would issue his first of the day's orders: "Let's get this show on the road", in a voice heard all over the yards.

Every now and then if you were distracted Don might say, "do try to keep up" or in more serious cases, "please try to remain conscious at all times".

If something really annoyed him he would push his hat back, scratch his head and let go with an expletive unique to him. It included something of a religious overtone and a reference to Ireland - you will have to guess the rest.

Nine years of hard work, long hours, worn out horses, frayed tempers and sore butts all added up to a lot of fun and a great lift financially for Don.

Trading in horses since his teenage years, Don had thousands pass through his hands.

Harness horses were a specialty along with racing chariots, roman riding, wagon racing, wedding carriages and record-setting teams of heavy horses, Cobb & Co coaches, and the list goes on for the man I describe as "the best reinsman in Australia, possibly the world".

Don is a very proud fellow - independent, resourceful, physically as tough as a human being can be, tremendously strong, optimistic, fearless, generous to a fault and the most enthusiastic and energetic man I have ever known.

He is the dedicated patriarch to a large family - two terrific children of his own, seven grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

Many have followed in his steps and he is fiercely proud of them, although I doubt he would ever tell them.

He has never sought accolades for his own deeds and doesn't freely hand them out.

After all it's "just doing your job" in Don's world.

No tale of Don Ross would be complete without a mention of Mickey the wonder horse.

Anybody who has known Don knows of Mickey, the tough little brown stallion of no special breeding, bred and broken in by Don and worked until age 33 - and I do mean worked.

The most versatile horse on the planet, he was a great stock horse. Almost everybody who ever worked at "the Hill" rode him at some time.

He went in single, double and team harness, raced in chariots, pulled cows out of bogs off his tail, as good a pick-up horse as you would see, and taught Don and Judy's daughter Jenny to ride under the softest rocking horse canter.

They say you only get one real good horse in a lifetime.

Don has had plenty but I'll bet his fondest memories are of Mickey.

Don Ross is very hard act to follow, impossible to emulate, and so many of us are better men for having tried.

Topics:  cannon hill graham daly saleyards