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Busy days in the saleyards are happy memories

BACK in the day, John Lavers would work from sun-up Sunday to late Thursday nights, pushing cattle through the yards and other odd jobs.

He had a family to feed - it was his job to put food on the table - and besides, he liked being a stockyard worker.

On his first day at the Elders saleyards more than 30 years ago, he got skittled by a bull and over the following 27 years that wouldn't be the only time he hit the ground.

"I've been knocked around a bit, yeah, you could say that," John told the Rural Weekly on Monday at the O'Sullivan auctions yards in Toowoomba.

"I've broken and cracked a few ribs.

"I can remember once a cow got me in the corner and that's when I cracked the first three ribs."

He's broken six ribs in his 67 years, but said others had come from car accidents and other misadventures he no doubt enjoyed in his younger days.

He's still got mates who run the yards now, but he isn't among the action but rather an observer on the sidelines and safety of the planked walkways.

But he recalls his days running the stock with a fair amount of fondness.

"I was always at the front gate," he said.

"That's when you have to know what's in the pen and you've got to be aware and quick. I was reasonably quick on my feet."

That's perhaps a lesson he learnt on his first day when he was bowled over by a bull that jumped the fence, and it's one he hasn't forgotten.

"I came back to work the next day," he said.

"That's one thing the boss always appreciated was that I'd turn up to work whether I was sick or injured."

They were long days back then when yardings reached 4000 and 5000 head, keeping agents working through the week.

After finishing a shift where he'd pocket about $16 an hour, John and the other keen workers looking for the extra shifts and income would shovel grain.

"We'd manage to shovel 22 tonnes an hour into the trucks," John said.

"The money at the yards has gone up now, but that's what it was back then.

"I'd go to work on Sunday and I wouldn't see my kids until Thursday.

"It was certainly tough going back then."

It was a time when saleyards out west weren't as big as they are now and the sheer number of cattle going to sale meant the hammers were still falling on Fridays after the first calls on Monday mornings.

Now his days are spent in retirement working his small block of land near Valeview.

It's a long way from where he started with his family.

"We spent eight years working around Australia then we had a block at Coomera (on the Gold Coast)," he said.

"I was a carpenter by trade and worked on the high rises at Surfers Paradise for a while, but I always wanted to be a farmer."

So he moved with his family to the 16ha (40-acre) block about 34 years ago and runs it still to this day with the help of his son Michael and daughter Vicki.

He likes angus cattle for their easy birthing ways and their quietness.

"Back in the good days we could run about 75 head on the 40 acres when there was feed around," he said.

John finished up working the saleyards about four years ago, but he still heads down to see what's happening in his old stomping ground.

"I didn't get the gold watch when I finished up, but I did get long service," he said.

"I like to come and see the people and the prices."

Topics:  cattle farming saleyards toowoomba