Roma to Walgett

It rained softly during the night. I love hearing the sound of the rain when we are snuggled up inside our warm little house on wheels.

We had to be up bright and early as we wanted to do the tour at the Roma Saleyards and it starts at 8.30am every Tuesday. You need to be outside the Saleyards Interpretive Centre by 8.15.

At the saleyards there is a large carpark for visitors with specially marked long bays for parking of caravans, motorhomes and vehicles towing a trailer. How annoying is it to get there and find single vehicles parked in those spots? Especially when there are still lots of single car spaces still available. We got the last of the long bays though.

I was surprised to see how many people were waiting outside the Interpretive Centre. There must have been at least 50 people ready to do the tour.

We were split up into groups and allocated to a guide. All the guides are volunteers and most of them are retired farmers or stock & station agents. Our guide was a very tall retired farmer named Jim. He was a wealth of knowledge as he had been a cattle farmer and his family are still involved in the industry.

Roma Saleyards is the largest cattle selling centre in Australia and 300,000 – 400,000 cattle are sold there each year. The Maranoa area around Roma has a long history of beef production however cattle sold at Roma can come from as far away as the Northern Territory and even Western Australia.

Every Tuesday is a sale day and the price set at the Roma Saleyards sets the benchmark for the rest of the country. Cattle are usually sold by cents per kilogram of their live weight but in some cases such as small weaners, pregnant cows or cows with calves they can be sold at dollars per head.

8,230 cattle were to be sold on the day we visited but the Saleyards can cope with up to 12,000 on any one day.

Roma Saleyards also hold regular bull sales and these are held in an especially built bull sale arena. This arena is a semi-circle shape with tiered seating around the arena for the buyers. The bull being sold is paraded in the ring at the bottom.

Jim informed us that the bull sale arena is also used for other events such as musical performances.

Jim explained how the yards worked and how each beast has to have a National Identification tag on its ear. This has a chip that can be read by a reader and all details of that animal can be found on the National Database. You can find out how old it is, where it was bred, who it’s parents were etc. A beast can live up to 25 years and can change ownership a few times. All of that is recorded.

It was fascinating watching the auctioneer standing up on top of the pens with his support crew alongside and listening to his patter as he sells the pen of cattle to the buyers down below. I couldn’t understand a word the auctioneer said! It sounded like gibberish to me!

Once the pen of cattle are sold they are moved along the lanes and into the weighing scales. Roma has two scales, one big one and one small for smaller pens of cattle. The cattle are herded into the scale where the gate closes behind them then the entire pen is weighed and the average weight and average price per beast is shown on the electronic board based on the cents per kilo that the buyer earlier agreed to.

I though it was interesting that most of the yard workers, including the ones on horseback, that are responsible for moving the cattle from pen to lane to scales and back out to pens are women. Apparently cattle react more calmly to women yard workers than they do to men and to minimise stress for the animals women are employed for this job.

Once the pen of cattle are weighed they are then moved forward out of the weighing scales and placed in pens to await loading onto transport. The sale starts at 8.00am and sometimes does not finish until 6-7pm so it’s a long day for all involved. Sometimes if the cattle are not to be transported immediately they can be placed in large yards and fed and watered until they are ready to be collected. The saleyards sit on 123 acres so there is plenty of space.

What a fascinating tour. I wasn’t really expecting it to be very interesting. Oh yeah I thought. A cattle sale. Boring! However it was really interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Without a guide it would have been a little hard to understand as it all looked like organised chaos but once Jim explained how it all worked it made sense.

We finally left about 10.30 and got on the road heading south.

Our first stop along the way was in the next little town called Surat. We stopped to have a look at the Cobb & Co Changing Station Museum. This building was originally one of the Cobb & Co Changing Stations and is now home to the Visitors Centre, a museum, Art Gallery and the Library. It is a Gold Coin donation entry fee for the Museum and we were fascinated by the huge 250,000 litre freshwater aquarium in the foyer. It held lots of fish that are native to the Balonne River such as Murray Cod, Catfish, Silver Perch and Yellow Belly.

The excellent museum houses original artefacts and memorabilia from the area and even has a replica Cobb & Co Stagecoach. Residents of Surat district were still receiving their mail by Cobb & Co Coach right up until 1921. The last Cobb & Co Coach made its run in 1924.

We had an early lunch in the coffee shop across the road from the Cobb & Co Changing Station before setting off again to head further south.

Check out the beautifully restored Shire Hall in Surat. Isn’t it gorgeous?

We crossed the border into NSW just after the tiny town of Hebel. At the edge of town Queensland Police had a roadblock set up checking all vehicles entering Queensland from NSW. There was no one on the NSW side of the border but we had already filled in the online Travel Pass so we were ready if we were stopped.

I was reading about the Hebel Pub the other day and, because of Covid, they have gone from serving over 80 meals a night to just a few. How do these remote places keep going?

We stopped for some fuel in Lightning Ridge and had to quickly duck into the hardware store across the road to purchase some disposable face masks as mask wearing is now compulsory in NSW. The hardware store had packets of 50 for $25 so we were all set.

When I went in to purchase the packet of face masks, which were on a table out the front of the store, the cashier looked at met askance but I explained that we’d just entered NSW from Queensland and needed to buy some masks. He was OK with that and let me purchase them however while he was serving me a lady came into the store and she gave me a filthy look because I was not wearing a mask. Something we will have to get used to.

Between Lightning Ridge and Walgett we saw lots of emus. We hadn’t seen emus for a very long time. We also saw a couple of wild pigs. As we approached Walgett we were surprised to see the billabongs overflowing and then we crossed the Namoi River and it is in flood. There must have been some serious rain in the area lately.

Walgett has a very nice RV Park for travellers. There were about 12 campers set up when we arrived and a couple more came in after us. The Alex Trevallion Park has a dump point, BBQs, toilets and drinking water and self contained vehicles can camp for free for 24 hours. Mr Have-a-chat was off chatting to the neighbours while I typed up this post. It had been a long day from our early start and then putting 486km behind us.

We are on the home stretch now. Only 688km to go and we’ll be home.


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