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The Graeme Acton story: A legend of the land in Central Qld

Cattleman Graeme Acton. Photo The Morning Bulletin Archives
Cattleman Graeme Acton. Photo The Morning Bulletin Archives Morning Bulletin Archives

"THE year was 1950, it was November 15 and a baby boy was born. On that very day, no one knew that this tiny baby was just the beginning of a remarkable, extraordinary man. This man became my father."

All of the 3000 people at grazier Graeme Acton's funeral last week would wholeheartedly agree with his son Tom's description of the well-respected visionary.

Recognised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Campbell Newman as a true leader, the 63-year-old began dreaming big from a very young age.

As a fourth generation cattle man, Graeme's love for the land was bred in him and his siblings Robert, Elizabeth, Evan and Allen.

They grew up on their family property Wilpeena, near Dingo, and Graeme attended Southport School.

Like his great-grandparents, who migrated to Australia from Ireland in the 1860s, nothing was handed to him on a silver platter. The late cattle king's forebears purchased about 404ha of land near Rockhampton.

While he might have passed away with a "personal hat peg and an office at the Hilton", according to his good mate Richard Wilson, the avid horse rider had to earn his own saddle as a child.

Graeme and his siblings were taught how to ride bareback. But he didn't just love horse riding. From the fishing and swimming in the nearby creek at Wilpeena, to the rough and tumble life on the land, Graeme was dreaming of owning his own block of land before he even hit his teens.

"As fate would have it, in 1970, Dad drew a brigalow block called Arana Downs on the May Downs Rd," Tom said when he read his father's eulogy.

"This would become his first real pride and joy. (Dad) and Robert lived in a tent with their cat Aristotle, who kept the mice away for the first couple of years."

Eighteen years later, Graeme bought the block of land he had coveted since he first went there with his father at only nine years old - Croydon.

During that time, his life had drastically changed.

He had met the love of his life - Jennie - in 1970 at a bull sale at the Gracemere Saleyards. It was the first time they had knowingly crossed paths, but they were in fact born in the same hospital, only hours apart.

Jennie was dragged along to the saleyards by a friend interested in a young cowboy named Graeme Acton. But it was Jennie who piqued Graeme's interest.

During their first two years of dating, the pair saw each other only a handful of times - at Christmas, Easter, the Rockhampton Show, and of course, the rare drive-in.

"Dad would sometimes tell mum he was coming to town to take her to the drive in, only to be accompanied by his brothers and cousins," Tom said.

"Mum can't have been too worried and she proposed to dad in 1972."

Although he turned down her proposal, a couple of years later, he sold his rifle to purchase Jennie an engagement ring.

"Funnily enough the same rifle would be returned to him in recent years," Tom said. "He now had his beautiful wife and his rifle back."

They married in 1975 and went on to have four children - Tom, Victoria, Hayley and Laura.

Although Graeme had expected boys, Victoria said he quickly learnt he could turn girls into ringers.

Graeme passed on his love of the land to his children.

Tom also inherited his father's love of race horses.

"Dad would take me to the races with him and I would cherish those times," Tom said.

Throughout his life Graeme was well-known for the pride he took in his presentation, and his unique style.

Richard said he would never forget the painstaking effort his mate, also known as "the Big G", put into maintaining "his famous cowlick". "Graeme 'Action Man' Acton was a unique and colourful character with his distinctive clothes, hats and boots," he said.

"His unique saddles… his commanding colloquial voice, his infectious chuckle, twinkling eyes and visionary thoughts and actions."

During his tribute at Graeme's funeral, Richard didn't forget to mention his surprise at seeing "the Big G" embossed on the pyjamas he once borrowed from Graeme.

The pride Graeme took in presentation was clear to the mourners who attended his funeral at his prized Paradise Lagoons.

The impeccable grounds, the huge vibrant red and green canopy over the arena, and the welcoming "Paradise Lagoons" sign.

"Paradise Lagoons was definitely his masterpiece," Victoria said.

"When he purchased Paradise Lagoons in 2001 he began to put yet another one of his dreams into fruition.

"He wanted to bring campdrafting into the spotlight and that he did.

"It appealed more to dad than horse racing because he was able to compete. After all, long ago he had become too big to be a jockey."

As a young man, racing at picnic races was a favourite past-time of his.

Graeme not only advanced the rural sport of campdrafting and was heavily involved in community groups and fundraising, he brought the beef industry forward in leaps and bounds.

Today, the family's Acton Land and Cattle Co owns 3.87million acres of land across Queensland properties, and about 180,000 head of cattle.

The company became one of the first to brand their very own beef, the renowned Acton Super Beef.

The Actons were named in Queensland's Top 150 Rich List in the Sunday Mail last year, with an estimated wealth of $405million.

More than half of their beef products are exported, mostly to Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Recently, he and friend Baillieu Myer had been trying to "flood China with Australian Acton beef meat pies".

Only weeks ago, Graeme was discussing another entrepreneurial enterprise with the Premier in Brisbane.

"We talked about a bold plan to take campdrafting to Brisbane, and also attract overseas visitors with an international campdraft and rodeo," Mr Newman said.

"I hope that that vision can be pursued."

Graeme passed away earlier this month from injuries he suffered after his horse toppled on him at a campdraft at Clarke Creek, northwest of Rockhampton.

Topics:  campdraft graeme acton horses paradise lagoons