Stars align at Bowen Downs

Stars align at Bowen Downs


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Bill Hartley (second right) and his sons Ben, Will and Nigel knee-high in buffel grass at Bowen Downs.

Bill Hartley (second right) and his sons Ben, Will and Nigel knee-high in buffel grass at Bowen Downs.

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ALL the ducks lined up in a row for Bill Hartley and his family when they wanted to buy Bowen Downs last year.

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ALL the ducks lined up in a row for Bill Hartley and his family when they wanted to buy Bowen Downs last year.

The elements needed to bring the purchase of the historic 44,500-hectare Aramac property – the dissolution of a family partnership, a change of banks, and the sale of their Barcaldine properties Mellew and Mayfair – came to fruition at the right times.

The transaction took three months to bring about but according to Bill, was facilitated well by Elders Rockhampton property specialist Virgil Kenny and the Acton brothers, the owners at the time.

“We couldn’t put a loan application in with our bank until we sold Mellew and Mayfair – the bank naturally wanted to know money was coming – so the Actons were very patient during all this,” Bill said.

They were confident enough of the end result to put 1300 head of cattle on the road and walk them towards Bowen Downs, starting at the end of October and arriving in early December to coincide with the sale finalisation.

The Hartleys paid $9.7m or $87/acre for the country after being able to sell their Barcaldine country for $140/ac.

On top of the base cost for Bowen Downs were stamp duty charges of $516,000 and machinery costs of $100,000.

Bill and his father, Bill Snr, said they'd had their eyes on Bowen Downs for some time.

“When it got dry at our Mitchell and Injune country, we always used to go north with cattle, then Mellew and Mayfair came up, which we bought for grass,” Bill Jnr said. “That’s how we got Camara and Wilton at Aramac, too, in 2006.”

Bill Jnr said three things made Bowen Downs a good buy for the family – the quality and quantity of feed, the quality and quantity of water, and the fact that two-thirds of the country was in freehold title.

“Plus, it joined up with the other country we had,” he said.

All up, the family owns 62,700ha of adjoining land at Aramac, with Tyrone included as a part of Bowen Downs. It’s a far cry from the original selection of Sunnyvale at Roma in 1879.

Subsequent purchases of blocks from Womblebank and Crystal Brook at Mitchell and country at Injune helped establish the family name firmly in the west.

According to Bill Snr, his father had“160ac and a 150-quid mortgage” when he got started in the business.

“He built it up to 7000ac and I built it up more.

“My father was the start of something, Billy’s a link and his sons are three more links.”

Will, 31, Nigel, 29, and Ben, 21, and their families live at Bowen Downs, Camara and Tyrone respectively, while Bill Snr has made a spot for himself at Bowen Downs as well. There is plenty of work ahead for all, with five more pipelines to be put down to replace bore drains as part of the GABSI scheme.

About 40km will be rolled out in a program to get under way shortly. Fencing is also on the agenda, along with prickly acacia control. They are running more than 7000 head of cattle at the moment – 1500 of their own and about 6000 agistment cattle from areas as far apart as Boulia, Tambo, Julia Creek, Mareeba and Ingham.

In addition, there are 3500 head of cows and calves at Camara. The plan is to eventually replace the agisted stock, but the arrangement suits the Hartleys well at the moment, not having to spend any money on purchases or pay for trucking

costs. “We can run three times the number of cattle Mellew did,” Bill Snr said.

The Huntleys had 130mm to 200mm of storm rain at the start of March, which has given them a green safety net.

“The first people to come out to this part of the world selected this bit of country, so they must have thought it had the good grass,” Bill Snr said. At the moment, it’s living up to that reputation.

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