BUTCHER Greg Townsend left for Sydney at 4am today to get a truckload of meat, desperate to replenish his empty coolroom.
The Country Capital Meats owner is one of many butchers around the region and the state left high and dry by the sudden closure of Bunganbah Meats at Coonabarabran – the only three-species abattoir (cattle, lambs, pigs) west of the Great Dividing Range in NSW providing service kills for local butchers.
Bunganbah Meats owner Beres Lang shut the doors on November 2, putting 30 people out of work.
An administrator, Worrells, was appointed last Thursday.
Mr Lang said yesterday he was hoping to sell the business within the next couple of weeks.
“They’re still negotiating with him,” he said.
He claims the closure was forced on him for two reasons – a $190,000 fine from the Environment Protection Authority about five years ago for an effluent spill into the Castlereagh River from which the business never fully recovered financially and also because Mr Lang was diagnosed with leukaemia and has not been able to work since February.
“It’s all been too much,” he said.
Mr Lang said the workers had not received their entitlements yet, “but they will”.
The abattoir serviced a huge area from as far west as Lightning Ridge to Rylstone, Kandos, Wellington, Coonamble, Walgett, Quirindi, Tamworth and Gunnedah.
Tamworth butcher Greg Townsend is just one worried that the abattoir might not reopen.
“In my experience, if this abattoir is shut for any more than a fortnight, it will not open again,” he said.
He rang Worrells on Monday.
“There was no satisfactory reply from Worrells except that they were dealing with the matter and the future looked uncertain at this stage,” Mr Townsend said.
“There is an interested buyer and the owner of the plant, Warren Sciffleet, is working closely with the potential buyer and the administrator towards an outcome.”
Mr Townsend said it was a terrible thing to have to resort to buying meat from wholesalers.
“It won’t be from this district. It’s just the fact we’re not supporting our local community,” he said.
“Price-wise, it’s not much different, but we’re not supporting local businesses including saleyards and keeping employment local.”
None of the larger abattoirs serviced small-scale butchers, he said.
“I can’t get a kill at Primo (in Scone), or Teys (formerly Cargill Beef) or T & R Pastoral (Country Fresh). The closest place would be (Eversons Wholesalers at) Frederickton on the coast (near Kempsey) which is running at full capacity – or Cowra.”
Brian Penrose of Penrose Prime Meats, in Tamworth, said it was “a bad situation”.
“This week, we had to buy a lot of carton meat in,” Mr Penrose said.
“We were hoping last week they’d reopen. At this stage, we’re organising to have our cattle slaughtered at Kempsey.”
He said Eversons Wholesalers had put an extra truck on Monday mornings to cater for butchers here.
Mark Knight of Kays Wholesale Meats, in Tamworth, said the abattoir closure was badly handled and butchers weren’t given enough notice.
“We were advised on a Friday, a couple of hours before the doors shut,” Mr Knight said.
“That was the worst thing about it. They should have let it trade ... while they sorted it out.”
He said a Bunganbah Meats representative had rung him yesterday morning to see whether Kays Wholesale Meats would consider going back with them if it did start trading again – but Mr Knight could not give his guarantee that they would.
“I don’t believe it’s a viable proposition anymore ... I’d be sceptical as to their longevity ... it is a shame.”
He said he would probably stick with Eversons – although he does, as before, still get up to 100 lambs a week killed at T & R Pastoral.
Namoi River Meats owner Luke Orchard, who has shops at Gunnedah and Boggabri, said the Coonabarabran closure was “a bit disappointing”.
“We’re over at Frederickton now – we’ve sent them over there,” he said.
“It’s a bit cheaper – but it’s a bit further to go.”
Mr Orchard said his business had up to four cattle and up to four pigs killed each week.
It had disrupted the schedule for his workers somewhat and had entailed a bit of roster shuffling.
“We used to get our cattle back on a Friday night – now we don’t get them back until Monday morning,” he said.