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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cattle Duffing in Australia

Cattle duffing is big business in Australia and on the rise.   In the olden days, thieves would be strung up from the nearest tree but today, the maximum prison term is around seven years.

Cape York grazier Scott Harris had 860 head of prime bullocks stolen while he and his station managers were away for a week at his wedding at Palm Cove in April.   He owns Strathmore Station, the largest single pastoral lease in Queensland which covers 931,000 hectares.

He’s put up $100,000 reward for the return of his stock who were all tagged and branded and worth around one million dollars.  The thieves would have needed a handful of stockmen, some dogs and cattle trucks to carry if off.  He thinks his cattle are still alive because to date, they haven’t turned up at an abattoir.  

His stock had been fattening in sorghum paddocks of Yandarlo and Southampton Downs in the Tambo district when they disappeared.

Australia has a colourful history of cattle duffing.  In the 1870s, Henry Readford was working as a stockman at Downs Station near Longreach in Queensland when he realised that the property was so vast that some areas were not visited by station staff for months on end.  So he built stockyards and gradually built up a herd of 1000 branded cattle.  

He knew he couldn’t sell them in Queensland because they were branded and decided that New South Wales was too close for comfort so with two associates, he took them all the way to South Australia, a journey of 800 miles across cruel desert country that took three months.  At the time it was considered an outstanding droving achievement. 

Readford was apprehended in Sydney in 1872 and was brought back to Queensland to face trial in Roma.  But the jury was so impressed by his remarkable achievement, they found him not guilty.  The judge was disgusted and said “Thank God, gentlemen that the verdict is yours and not mine.”  The government was also so furious with the people of Roma, they shut down the Court House for eight months.

Today there is a huge Stock Police Squad working out of every state.   Stock Squad's Detective Sergeant Warren Baker said "Poddy dodging, or stealing cattle, is big business, everyone talks of the romanticism of the Henry Readford case, but there is a serious organized crime syndicate behind this lift."

The Harris family bought Strathmore in 2004 for around $20 million but before that time, the property was targeted by a cattle-duffing dynasty called the Devil’s Triangle.  There were nine syndicate members and three were sentenced to the maximum seven years in prison in 1989 for stealing 3000 unbranded cattle from the previous owners, Frances M. Boyle.

Frances Boyle wrote a book about it called Cattle Duffers of the Outback.  The book is a true story of one family’s struggle for survival on a cattle station in far north Queensland over six years.  It’s about cattle duffing, organised harassment, victimisation, arson, corrupt state and local politicians and bent police.