The North Australian Pastoral Company Pty Limited (NAP) is a major player in Australia’s cattle industry, managing a herd of 200,000, including 90,000 breeders, across six million hectares of land throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Its origins date from 1877 when Queenslanders William Collins, William Forrest and Sir Thomas McIlwraith were joined by Englishmen John Warner and Sir William Ingram to form a partnership, the North Australian Pastoral Company. Descendants of two of the original partners are among the current investors. In 1877, the NAP partners were the original lessees of Alexandria Downs Station in the Northern Territory (subsequently simply known as Alexandria), which remains central to the operation today. In the following year, the properties Inkerman, Woodstock and Jarvisfield in the Burdekin district of Queensland were purchased, primarily to stock Alexandria. The Burdekin properties were sold at a good price for sugarcane land in 1910.
The period from about 1910 to the late 1930s were difficult years: World War 1 followed by severe drought and a market downturn. For most of that time Alexandria was the company’s only station, although the first Channel Country property, Marion Downs, was purchased in 1934. The acquisition in 1939 of two other Channel Country properties, Monkira and Coorabulka, served to establish more firmly NAP’s style of operation of breeding cattle on Alexandria and fattening on, and selling from, the Channel Country. The period up to the late 1960s was a time of consolidation and internal development for the company. Although labour and materials were scarce during World War II, major improvement programs were undertaken on the properties in the post-war years.
The pattern of ownership changed in 1937 when the Tasmanian-based Foster family bought into NAP. Over ensuing decades, they increased their holding but stopped short of becoming majority shareholders until the takeover period of 1984-85 when outside interests sought to take control of the company. The final outcome – formal control by the Fosters – decidedly changed the configuration of ownership. The most significant advantage, however, was the stability that followed.
The period from the late 1960s saw further expansion. Glenormiston was bought in 1968 and Islay Plains, in the Clermont district, was held for ten years from 1970. A striking period of expansion was from the mid-1980s with the purchase of the Wainui Feedlot (1985), Connemara (1986-2007), Kynuna (1986), Boomarra (1989), Vergemont (1990-1997), Coolullah (1992), Roxborough Downs (1994-2009) and Dagworth (1995). Some of these purchases were made initially for drought relief, but all have played an important part in NAP’s strategic development whether by positioning the company for grainfed or grassfed product markets, by expanding the company’s breeding area to include Queensland’s Gulf Country, or by adding geographic diversification to the property group and flexibility to herd disposition.
Large-scale lotfeeding was in its infancy in 1985 when NAP purchased Wainui. One of the first major cattle producers to develop such a facility, the company continues to be a leader in this field. Wainui is essential to NAP as it underpins the company’s guarantee of quality and consistency of supply to its customers. With the purchase of surrounding farmland to grow crops for the feedlot, Wainui is now the largest single-footprint farming enterprise on the inner Darling Downs. It also has one of the largest silage programs in Australia.
Another mid-1980s milestone for NAP came when it identified composite breeding as an opportunity to exploit the genetics of different breeds, blending and matching important traits such as reproductive performance, maternal ability, growth rates and carcase characteristics with adaptability to the northern environment and market requirements. The program that followed made NAP a world leader in large-scale composite breeding, with two strategically developed composites on Alexandria from 1986, and Kynuna from 1995.
The company introduced backgrounding into the process of preparing cattle for the feedlot when it purchased Goldsborough in 2000. On an all-weather road and with same-day access to Wainui, the property allows cattle to be transferred into the feedlot throughout the northern wet season. Adjoining properties have been added to the Goldsborough aggregation.
A significant addition to the backgrounding capability occurred in 2006 with the purchase of Cungelella in Central Queensland, the company’s first large scale purchase in that area. In recent years, NAP has also leased country in the Maranoa and Central Queensland, and entered into backgrounding arrangements with third parties who grow out NAP cattle for payment, dependent on kilograms gained. These strategically situated properties ensure a continual supply of cattle to the feedlot, a crucial factor in the overall profitability and sustainability of the company.
The purchase in 2001 of Mittiebah, a property adjoining Alexandria’s northern boundary, resulted from the company’s desire to acquire further property in the familiar breeding environment of the Barkly Tableland. Coincidentally, Mittiebah had been part of Alexandria in earlier days, prior to its resumption by the Government in 1965.
A major milestone in the company’s history occurred in 2016 when QIC, created in 1991 by the Queensland government to serve its long term investment responsibilities, acquired a controlling interest in NAP. The first major acquisition since then has been the purchase in 2018 of Portland Downs which provides the company with further geographic diversification and supply integration.
While all these changes have taken place, the company has continued to invest heavily in the further infrastructure development of its existing properties. The survival and development of NAP over more than 140 years is a tribute to the people involved, in particular the character, ability, foresight and often quite extraordinary dedication of those who have contributed both on and off the properties.