This book is dedicated to the loving memory of Peter Greenham Senior
Greenham Family Foundations
H.W. Greenham & Sons
The Abattoir Rollercoaster
HEBA AT TONGALA
STORIES & LESSONS
he Greenham family “company” started as a small mob of cattle purchased from Melbourne in the 1800s. The idea was to take these cattle to Bendigo to sell them to prospectors during the gold rush. Today, the company has grown to four sites across two states, with hundreds of employees and thousands of animals processed each day. What qualities does it take to grow a company to that size? What type of people were responsible for growing such an organisation? And how does a “family business” stay together for six generations (with more to come)? Whilst less than 3% of family businesses survive beyond a fourth generation (Businessweek. com 2010), Greenham is about to undergo its greatest transformation in its 170+ year history. A transformation that will prepare it for many generations to come. My name is Adam Ashton, and I’ve written profiles of some of Australia’s greatest business stories. • I covered the “rebel trader” Frank Penhalluriack, a man who changed the face of Australian retail. He was sent to jail for repeatedly opening his hardware store on Sundays in the 1970s, before the government eventually changed the law to allow shops to open on weekends. • Another was Lindsay Fox, the multi-billionaire founder of the Linfox transport and logistics empire. Anyone who has ever driven on a road in Australia, has seen at some point that they were “passing another Fox”.
Yet the Greenham story may be my favourite of the lot. It has all the trappings of an enthralling family legend: a legacy stretching back generations, involvement in building one of Australia’s favourite cities (Melbourne), driving across Australia in the 1910s with nothing but an umbrella for shade (I didn’t even know they had cars back then!), internal struggles about the future direction of the business, external struggles against unions and authorities, customers that are international household names, larger-than-life characters, and lessons about what it means to be a good businessman and an even better bloke. In addition to my interest in this story as a writer, I had a personal interest too. I come from cattle farmers in New South Wales, and as a child I’d spend my school holidays “helping” at the farm (although I don’t think I was much help). I’d be involved with the mustering, marking, or picking out cattle to be sold. I vividly remember being the star of show-and-tell in grade 3 when I brought in a jar containing two testicles we’d collected from a day of marking calves. Through the process of writing this book, I learned that my uncle had sold a few cows from his farm, Sunnyside Station, to the Greenhams at their Tongala facility! This enthralling book is the story of the Greenham family and the Greenham company. Part I begins in the early 1800s, as William Henry Greenham Senior immigrated to Australia as a 22 year old. Will tried to strike it rich in the gold rush, but found more luck in selling cattle to gold diggers rather than in prospecting himself. William’s grandson, Henry William Greenham Senior, guided the company through its next evolution. After initially working with lambs in Echuca, and travelling to New Zealand each spring, Henry then moved his family to Melbourne. Working out of Footscray, ‘12 The Crescent’ would be Greenham’s home base for decades to come. Henry was later employed to establish a meat buying office in Sydney, and an export facility in Byron Bay prior to returning to Melbourne to continue working on his own business and future legacy.
Part II shows Henry forming a company with his two sons, Harry and Reg, in 1933. In the 1950s, they operated out of the Melbourne City Abattoirs, where they worked in ‘Beef Block C’, boning meat for butchers across Melbourne. At this time, Peter Henry Greenham (Peter Senior) was brought into the family business to work during the school holidays. More and more opportunities started coming Greenhams' way, including providing canned meat for Campbell’s in the UK and the famous Chiko Rolls in Australia. Part III focuses on Peter Senior’s wild ride through the 1980s: buying his very first abattoir, only to sell it back a few years later; joining forces with his biggest competitor, only to be shown the door shortly thereafter. Peter toiled for years, battling union strikes and debilitating droughts, only to find himself in an early forced ‘retirement’ in his 50s. As much as Peter loved playing a round of golf or drinking with his mates at the Cricketers Arms in South Melbourne, he didn’t want to do that all day every day for the next few decades. He was a hard worker, and having spent his whole life in the meat industry, he wasn’t ready to give it up. Part IV walks through ‘Peter’s new baby’. Greenham was the first company in Australia to use the ‘hot boning’ technique, and Peter built the highest efficiency abattoir in Australia. It represented his greatest contribution to the meat industry, and a step-change in the growth of the Greenham company. The Tongala plant, near Echuca in Northern Victoria, supplied hamburger meat to one of the most renowned international big-box retailers, Costco. Part V covers the modern expansion of the company, specifically, the addition of facilities in Smithton (Tasmania) and Moe (Gippsland, Victoria). The early 2000s saw the introduction of Peter William Greenham (Peter Junior) to the business, and with the inclusion of the next generation came fresh ideas and approaches. The high quality beef found in Tasmania gave birth to a new business philosophy: “branded” meat. Previously Greenham was all about high-efficiency, low-cost production, but the business started shifting towards value-add. Peter Junior attracted a new type of customer; the type that was willing to pay more for higher quality.
Part VI is a glance into the future of the company, a taste of what is to come for the next phase of Greenham. We finish with Part VII, a collection of lessons and stories about the legendary Peter Greenham Senior. This book was initially commissioned by Peter Senior a few years ago with another historian. After it was put on hold, I picked up this project in mid-2020. It started as a history of the Greenham family and the Greenham company. More and more, the bulk of the story centred around Peter Senior himself: he was the driving force that took H.W. Greenham & Sons from a small family business to a thriving enterprise with hundreds of employees. When Peter passed away in August 2020, this book project was continued with the help of his son, his family, his employees, and his mates. This book is part history of the Greenham family and business, and part tribute to Peter Greenham Senior. This book features a collection of photos and records that were gathered by Peter Senior of the years. On my first day on the job as the author of this book, I was given “The Box”. In this box, Peter had collected over 100 years of documents and memorabilia: old photos, ledger books from the early 1900s, documentation of the first ever shares in the company in 1933, business plans, applications for business loans, newspaper articles about the company… and everything in between. Included was a partial family tree, which you’ll see recreated in this book. As an only child, Peter wanted to ensure that these stories and these records didn’t die with him. They have been captured for future generations of the Greenham family tree and all future employees of the Greenham company. I believe you’ll find the stories, stretching from the early 1800s all the way through to the Greenhams’ hopes for the future, to be fascinating. There were struggles and successes, whiners and winners, toils and triumphs, highlights, heartbreak… this story has everything! I hope you have as much fun reading this book as I had writing it.
1797 1800's 1910's
William Henry Greenham, Senior Henry William Greenham, Senior FAMILY TREE By Iris Greenham
WILLIAM HENRY GREENHAM, SENIOR
harles Greenham, born 1797, was a carpenter and cabinetmaker who lived in Somersetshire, England. He married Elizabeth Hockey, and together they had 11 children. In 1844, four of their sons migrated to Australia, including their third eldest, William Henry Greenham, born in 1822. After migrating to Australia at the age of 22, William spent his first year in his new home in country Victoria, working on a sheep and cattle station. He then moved to Melbourne and set up a small business as a family butcher, working in Little Lonsdale Street East, before moving to Heidelberg for two years. On the 28th of October, 1850, William Greenham married Mary Ann Coleman, who was born in 1830 in Exeter, England, at St Peter’s church in Melbourne. Swept up in the gold rush, like most Australians in the 1850s, William set off with his new bride on an adventure to Bendigo. Also like most Australians, despite high expectations, they ended up empty handed. But as the old adage goes, the ones who made it rich in the gold rush weren’t the ones digging - it was those that were selling the shovels. Despite losing out in his prospecting attempts, never making it rich by digging up a nugget of gold, William bought a mob of cattle from Melbourne and took them to Bendigo to sell to hungry miners.
As the excitement surrounding the gold rush started to fizzle, and the hoards of bright-eyed prospectors dissipated, William returned to Melbourne. He bought land in Johnston Street in Fitzroy for his cattle and built a butcher shop. William then added additional branches in Collingwood and Northcote. He was the first person to contribute £25 toward the creation and construction of a new road in Collingwood, what we know today as Smith Street. In the period from 1851-1862, William and Mary had eight children together: George, Isabella, Charles, William Junior, James, Frederick, John, and another daughter who died young. In 1869, as the city of Melbourne continued to expand, William kept himself busy. He moved most of his operation to Footscray, where he built both a family home and a new butcher shop on Barkly Street, as well as doing wholesale trade at the City Meat Market, and being a part-owner of a meat preserving factory in Yarraville. His son, also William Greenham (born 1855), worked with him in the business. William Junior went on to marry Agnes Brewery. Together they had four children: Lydia, Henry, Alfred, and Lily.
Right: Melbourne's burgeoning suburbs in the 1850's, with Smith Street running through Collingwood in the centre. Below: Bendigo in the midst of the Australian gold rush 1850.
HENRY WILLIAM GREENHAM, SENIOR
enry William Greenham (grandson of William Henry Greenham Senior and son of William Henry Junior) also got into the meat game.
In the early 1900s, whilst living in Echuca on the Murray River, Henry became a member of a group called ‘The Freezers’. The Freezers was a group of young men that would kill spring lambs to be frozen for exporting overseas. At the end of the Australian spring, The Freezers would then go over to New Zealand for their ‘freezing season’. They worked on the North Island in places like Rotorua and Pureora. This meant the men had work for most of the year, not just the few months of lambing season in Victoria. Henry married Doris and they had three children: Iris, Henry William Junior (who went by Harry), and Reginald Albert. Most years, the whole family would go over to New Zealand once the freezing season finished in Echuca. Around 1907, the family moved to Melbourne where Henry continued his line of work. In those days, there were no motor trucks; everything had to be transported in horsedrawn carts.
Dad used to start killing very early in the mornings, usually about 4am. He’d take a cut lunch and work right through 'til about 10pm at night, or later! He worked at the City Abattoirs in Flemington. Mother used to make a hot meal at about 6pm and pack it up for Dad, then she and I would walk 2 miles to the abattoirs. There was no Thermos or Tupperware in those days. It’s only now that I realise how cold those meals must have been by the time we got there! But at least it was a solid meal for him.” Henry was always looking for ways to expand his business. He rented various different houses and stables, searching for more storage and more places to work. Eventually, Henry built ‘12 The Crescent’ in Footscray, which became his home base for decades to come. Here he built stables, a loft, sheds for wagons and mutton trolleys, a garage for his car, and an office.
Clockwise from far left: 'Freezers' from 1913 working out of New Zealand's Picton Works; Early nineteenth century advertising for the Christchurch Meat; Harry (left), Iris (right), Doris with Reggi (centre); Illustration of 'Henry'; A meatworker's apron from the 1930's.
Peter Greenham Snr.
HENRY WILLIAM GREENHAM, SENIOR
enry sold his meat at the Metropolitan Meat Markets in North Melbourne, where the local butchers would buy the meat they sold in their shops. Henry had a great eye, and a special knack for judging the quality of stock as well as the weights of their carcasses, skins and hides. He started to garner a bit of a reputation, both for his eye and for the way he was expanding his business. One of the stallholders at the market, P. Reynolds & Son, approached Henry and made him a healthy offer to work for him. For £20 a week (£1,000 for the year), Henry would be tasked with going to Sydney to establish a new office, and do their buying for the first year. Henry took up the offer and the family set off to Sydney. After the year was up, Henry and his family went on to Byron Bay to set up an abattoir and an exporting factory.
At this time, our family of five also included a horse named “Darky” and a buggy. We all got on a boat with Dad to go to Byron Bay, even Darky and the buggy came with us! After a few years working hard to set up new facilities for other people, Dad was getting tired. He felt he had been neglecting his own business. So we all came home back to Melbourne - this time Darky and the buggy were sent on the boat and the rest of us drove by car in our English Standard. It was the middle of summer and it was very very hot. It took us 12 days to make the 1200 mile drive. The black soil through the Western Districts made for good driving… until it rained and we all had to get out and push! We averaged two punctures a day. Some days we were lucky and didn’t have any, but others it seemed like we got a puncture every hour. There was no roof, so we children had to take turns holding an umbrella over Dad’s head to keep the sun off him. We aimed for a town each day to find tea, bed and breakfast. We’d have lunch on the road. We had a little stove we’d made inside a cut down kerosine can, and most of our lunches consisted of asparagus on toast.”
The Greenham family arrived back at ‘12 The Crescent’ at the beginning of 1919 to find it quite run down. Henry got back to work, building his business back up. He did such an exceptional job that eventually, as the work began to pick up, they outgrew Footscray, and an additional location had to be built in Moonee Ponds. Henry’s two sons, Harry and Reg, started working with him as soon as they were old enough. After operating as a Sole Trader for his entire career, a company was formed to formalise the role each member played in the family business. On the 10th of April, 1933, H. W. Greenham & Son Pty Ltd was created. Henry William Greenham Senior, Henry William Greenham Junior (Harry) and Reginald Albert Greenham were the three shareholders and directors of the company.
Clockwise from above: The North Melbourne Meat Market today; Standing: Doris Annie Greenham, Annie Greenham (Golding), Seated: Henry Greenham Senior, Front: Harry, Reg and Iris; An English Standard from the early 1900's similar to that of Henry Greenham Senior's vehicle that made the trip from Byron Bay to Melbourne; Byron Bay 1920, when it was little more than a whaling station.
FAMILY TREE BY IRIS GREENHAM
ris Greenham was working on pulling together a family tree. Her father had three siblings, her grandfather was one of eight children, and her great grandfather was one of eleven! She wrote letters to her cousins to try to pull together more names and more pieces of the puzzle. Iris's research work in the early 1900s was a great help in writing this book. Most of Part 1 of the book was based on her findings, plus we were able to piece together a more complete Family Tree, which you can find toward the back of this book.
1950's 1960's 1970's
MELBOURNE CITY ABATTOIRS LABOUR UNION STRIKES PETER SENIOR's EARLY APPRENTICESHIP Early Career Progression A Shift In Focus: ‘Boning’ A New Focus: Quality Assurance From Metro Ice to Frozen Food Industries A Tribute from Fred McDonald, OAM
MELBOURNE CITY ABATTOIRS
My earliest recollection of the meat industry is when, at the age of about six or seven. I remember listening to a conservation between my father and mother on a drive to Rye. They were complaining that they had made no money last week - the price of lambs was two pennies a pound. I can remember saying to my father (Harry), “Why don’t you put the price up a quarter of a penny a pound?” The retort was made, “Oh, a quarter of a penny a pound would lose us customers! It’s such a fine margin!” In 1953, Henry, Harry, and Reg moved their operation, and began working out of the ‘pens’ at the Melbourne City Abattoirs. This was a government-owned abattoir where people could go to bone their own carcasses. Lots of different meat businesses shared the Melbourne City Abattoirs, and H. W. Greenham & Sons Pty Ltd had been designated ‘Beef Block C’. The Greenhams bought livestock at auctions, and processed them through their pens, boning their carcasses and selling them to various butcher shops across Melbourne.
Despite operating out of what was called Beef Block C, the Greenhams were doing mostly lamb. In those days, the lambs in the hanging yard were put into old-fashioned slow chillers, and part of the job included grading the lambs. The best quality were kept to be sold to the domestic market, and those that didn’t make the grade would be exported to London as part of a special trade scheme.
My second recollection of the meat industry is from when I was actually working. I was attending Wesley College in Prahran at the time, and I can recall spending every school holiday down at the abattoir helping out. At that time wool was £1/lb (one pound per pound), so I made a few pennies shearing dead sheep of their wool for pocket money.”
Clockwise from right: Reg and car; Newmarket Saleyards, 1965; Peter Snr with Harry; Block Plan of the Melbourne City Abattoirs.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
LABOUR UNION STRIKES
ater, the Greenhams started doing beef as well as lamb. Harry and Reg, along with a couple of staff members, would kill and dress the cattle for local butcher shops. There seemed to be constant changes in international trade agreements, but the Greenhams at this stage were focused solely on the domestic market. This focus meant they weren’t negatively affected when the rules changed, but it also meant they weren’t yet exposed to any upsides of new international markets opening up. In that era, labour strikes and union activity were a common occurrence.
We had Wally Curran, who was just starting to become a force in the industry, and George Seelaf, who was the secretary of the AMIEU (the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union). George was a bit more compassionate than Curran. Curran was a bad bastard… Curran could only see straight down the line and nowhere else! But the other bloke, George Seelaf, was a bit more understanding and I can remember my Uncle Reg saying that George's favourite words were “Just give me a little bit of a banana to slide on, so as I can keep the troops happy”. That’s something that has stuck in my mind.” The Greenhams were some of the “lucky ones”; the ones that managed to survive even through the union activity. As a small family operation with only a few additional staff, they had enough hands between the three of them to keep their income stream alive even when most other meat workers in the industry refused to work.
Curran was a bad bastard…
Far left: Wally Curran, at one time secretary at the AMIEU, instigated several key strikes and had a big impact on meat operators. Left: George Seelaf pictured speaking, was more balanced in his approach.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
Just give me a little bit of a banana to slide on, so as I can keep the troops happy. 21
PETER SENIOR’S EARLY APPRENTICESHIP
I got pulled out of school at the end of my leaving year because somebody working for the Company had been found absconding with cash.” eter was earmarked to be brought into the meat business, but he wasn’t brought straight into the meat business. First, he had to learn the ropes; not just of the abattoir itself, but also general business knowledge required to successfully take on what had become a formidable family business. The first item on the curriculum was learning how money works. Revenue, costs, margins, profits, stock, inventory, balance sheets, cashflow, payment terms, accounts payable, accounts receivable. Peter had studied accounting in school, but quickly discovered that what they teach in the classroom, and what you actually need to know for real world success, are two different beasts. Through working for Watts, Nimmin & Co, a firm of Chartered Accountants, Peter accrued all the necessary financial acumen to successfully join his family's legacy.
I recollect that one of my clients made 1⁄4 horsepower electric motors for washing machines. He used to fly Spitfire aeroplanes as a hobby! I remember taking the P & L (profit and loss) statement to him at the end of the year and saying, “I’ve finished your profit and loss sir, but I need a stock-take figure to finish it off completely”. He said, “You tell me what the profit and loss figure is now and I’ll tell you what the stock-take figure will be”. Of course, only accountants will get the joke! Eventually Peter finished up at the accounting firm and moved across to work in the family business full time. At this stage, the company consisted of Peter’s grandfather, father, and uncle (Henry, Harry and Reg). While their operations were being conducted out of the Melbourne City Abattoirs, they still had their offices at ‘12 The Crescent’. In a symbolic act, signifying his inclusion and official welcome into the family business, Peter was given his own office. Peter’s first job at H. W. Greenham & Sons was paying the Stock Agents. The rule was that the agents had to have their cheque first thing every Monday morning, otherwise they were unable to buy at the following week’s sales. In addition, there was a real incentive to pay on time: the Stock Agents would give you a discount. If you paid on time, you got a penny discount on every pound of meat. 22
Stock Agents at this time seemed to have mastered the power of human motivation, wielding both a carrot and a stick. They offered you the tasty carrot of getting a discount if you paid on time, plus if you were overdue, they’d whack you with the metaphorical stick, and you wouldn’t have any animals for a week. As a result, it was safe to say, buyers (almost) always paid on time.
Every Friday afternoon I’d draw the Stock Agent's cheques and put them in the glovebox of my car. I was supposed to post them so they would get their cheque on the following Monday. But, of course, being a youngster and having other things on my mind, I can recall being spoken to most severely about leaving them in the glovebox over the weekend! I would occasionally forget to post them and I would have to explain to the Stock Agents that, as the old saying goes, “The cheque is in the mail!”
” Peter Greenham Snr.
EARLY CAREER PROGRESSION
t this stage, the Greenhams were mainly doing lambs and vealers - cows up to six months in age. The young calves would usually weigh around 250-300 pounds (or 110-130kg). The unit of measurement at this time was still pounds, until a change to the metric system was made nation-wide in 1970. Butcher shops in the domestic market would order between 25 to 40 pounds of meat each to fill their shop. The most commonly ordered breed at that time, was Southdown Sheep.
‘Our ‘early morning’ salesmen used to go to work at one in the morning to load up the five trucks that went out to the Butcher’s shops. I’d been working with the company for about six months at this stage, then a few of the blokes took long service leave. My role quickly changed… I had to become the person who had to get up at midnight, be at the abattoir at one o’clock, then select the lambs and the beef for each of the customers. We had five designated rounds of sellers and I had to pick out the best beef and lamb for Mr Mung or Mr Kerwood or Mr So-and-so or Mr Whoever-it-was. You got to know exactly what each one wanted, the weight and quality he wanted in his butcher shop. None of this was picked up from the tags on the carcass, it was all done by eye. In hindsight, I wonder why the hell didn’t we think of just putting tags on them with the weight! But you learned how to tell, just by the look, that a lamb would go thirty pounds or thirty-five pounds or whatever. No one ever thought to actually weigh them! We just used our best judgement and figured close enough was good enough.” The only exception to this ‘close enough is good enough’ rule, were the lambs designated for export. They had to have tags put on them. According to Peter, this was the worst job he ever had to do. At this young age, he was more interested in going out and chasing girls, but knew he’d always have to be at the sale yards ready to start at 1am, unable to finish up until after he’d done all of the dirty work, and balanced his numbers at the end of the shift.
I would have to hike back home after I clocked off at the yards, then have breakfast with my father and mother. Then I had to be back at the office by about 8.30am to ring all the butchers up and ask them how their meat was. And I learnt very quickly, “Never ask a shop butcher how his meat is, he’s always going to find something wrong with it!” But that was how it was back then. You had certain customers who were so fastidious. I particularly remember one Mr Wagstaff. Oh, he was so hard to please! I got to know his kids later because they went to Wesley (like me) and Geoff Wagstaff was a good golfer so our paths crossed often. That was a part of my life that gave me the basic grounding in the meat trade.”
Never ask a shop butcher how his meat is, he’s always going to find something wrong with it!”
Opposite: Footscray butcher 1953; Below: Southdown Ram.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
A SHIFT IN FOCUS: ‘BONING’
fter working out of the Melbourne City Abattoirs for a few years, Reg met a man by the name of Spooner. Mr Spooner owned the ‘Tom Piper’ company, which was a canner of many different sorts of products. As it turned out, ‘corned mutton’ was in high demand in England. The Tom Piper company was sending over canned corned mutton, and it was flying off the shelves! Given it was still within a decade of World War II, England was still anxiously rebuilding. Canned meats were one way of getting food into the country as they rebuilt their domestic supply, and this corned mutton turned out to be a favourite.
They desperately needed more of it! Mr Spooner said to my Uncle Reg, “Surely you’d be able to pull the bones out of some sheep for us and give us the mutton to make camp pie”. And, of course, Uncle Reg said, “Yes!”. This new line of work meant renting another little room toward the back of the Melbourne City Abattoirs. In addition to the lamb and vealers the Greenhams were doing for the domestic market, as well as the extra mutton they were exporting to London, this work for Tom Piper was the first true ‘boning’ work they had done. Some of the carcasses would be taken from their main room down to the back room and boned, then packaged up into trolleys that would be sent to Tom Piper to make their canned meat products. Eventually, in the 1990s, boning would become the Greenhams’ main business focus. This was their first foot in the door (more on this in Part IV). This foray into boning due to a chance encounter, turned out to be quite fruitful. Over time, the boning arm of the business expanded rather quickly. Soon Greenham’s had outgrown the facilities at the Melbourne City Abattoirs and needed to find additional space. They were able to lease part of Metropolitan Ice, which was the largest ice works in Melbourne at the time. Situated on the banks of the Yarra River, the Greenhams were now operating out of both facilities (Melbourne City Abattoirs and Metropolitan Ice) and expanding their workforce.
In addition to the four family members - Henry, Harry, Reg and Peter - they had an additional five or six staff, all boning mutton carcasses. After working with the Tom Piper company for a number of years, a man by the name of Henry Comber walked into the H. W. Greenhams & Sons offices at ‘12 The Crescent’ in Footscray. He was one of the Joint Managing Directors of P. E. Scrivener & Co in Sydney, and he was looking for meat.
Mr. Comber, or Henry as I got to call him, said, “We’ve just discovered that Australia can now sell boneless mutton to America”. So, he suggested, “Instead of doing your boneless mutton for Tom Piper, I'd like you to work with us. I can pay you more money to put it in boxes and ship it to America”.
And, of course we did!
Various print advertisements for British brand Tom Piper. Greenham supplied the mutton in its camp pie for a number of years.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
A NEW FOCUS: QUALITY ASSURANCE
nitially, the Greenhams were mostly doing lamb for local butchers, before moving onto commercial boning and sending meat to Tom Piper to be processed and canned. Now, their boneless mutton was being sent to America whole - not canned. One night, Henry Comber from P. E. Scrivener came to the Greenhams plant with a spotlight. In the dark of night, there was no hiding from his spotlight. Every little blemish, usually concealed in the shadows during the light of day, became as clear as the nose on your face. Every miniscule imperfection - a speck of dirt here, a stray hair there - even the occasional drop of faecal matter. It was just unbelievable to the Greenhams. Normally, if the meat was being sent to local butchers it would be cut down smaller and cleaned more thoroughly, or, if sent for canning it was washed at the Tom Piper facility before being processed. But now that meat was being sent whole to America, the Greenhams would have to step up their attention to detail. Comber said: “If this gets picked up by the Americans they will refuse to buy your mutton. You have to improve your hygiene so that we all stay in business”. This was a real eye opener for the Greenhams, and it spawned the start of Quality Assurance (QA).
If you had looked at the boning tables (we boned on wooden tables in those days) you would have seen cigarette burns marks. The boner would put his cigarette down and it would burn into the tabletop. Just unbelievable! Nobody even knew what hygiene was! Thinking back now, when we were doing the lambs at the Melbourne City Abattoirs, they were all wiped down with a wiper once we’d completed them. But the wiper was sitting in a bucket of lukewarm water… The amount of pathogens that would have been on that rag would have been unbelievable! But then again, in those days, ‘Mum’ always had the final word on quality control. She would cook everything so much that there was never any bacteria left on the meat. There were no hamburgers in those days, we just had ‘meat’. No one was eating ‘medium rare’, we just cooked everything through. So the housewife was the final ‘critical control point’ in making sure that there were no pathogens left on the meat.”
Once they’d cleaned up their act (pun intended), the Greenhams were back on track working toward doing trade with the American meat market. Comber soon found a way in through a customer on the West Coast of America called ‘High Grade’. High Grade’s head office in the US was in Seattle, with a satellite office in Australia. In addition to buying boneless mutton from the Greenhams, they also bought some intestines and caul fats to use for sausage casings, and other offal to use in their smallgoods. This opened up other revenue opportunities from what was usually considered to be waste at the meat plant. Eventually, the relationship with P. E. Scrivener ended, and the Greenhams started dealing with High Grade directly.
We were one of the first businesses, at that time, to provide boneless mutton to America. Most of the other companies who had connections with canned mutton were only working with England. I recall one of the Smorgons saying to me, “We’re not getting into providing boneless mutton to the American market because we’ve got our own cannery and we think boneless mutton to America is a fad and will not last!”. This was the real start of the Greenham export business (aside from the initial lamb exports to the UK). Whilst Greenham’s domestic wholesale meat business largely remained the same, the boning business flourished. As well as boning sheep, the Greenhams began boning beef too. Any beef they couldn’t sell to the domestic butcher market, they boned the forequarters to sell domestically. Once America relaxed their import laws, and allowed boneless beef to be imported too, things really took off!
We had the boning room at Metro Ice and we also had a boning room in the Melbourne City Abattoirs, but this was not enough. I can’t recall now just how it came about but I think Uncle Reg met a chap by the name of Murray Pitt. Mr Pitt had married into the J. A. Floyd family, and J. A. Floyd the Floyd’s Ice Works on the corner of Puckle Street and Ascot Vale Road. They had a little room there which they converted into a boning room for us. So we started to take beef from the City Abattoir and bone it at Floyd’s.”
It did last.
Right: A crowd of people selecting pre-packaged meats from a refrigeration unit in Myers meat in Melbourne 1953. Right bottom: H.W. Greenham & Sons Boning room, approximately 1970.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
FROM METRO ICE TO FROZEN FOOD INDUSTRIES
urray Pitt continued to grow his own business, and through J.A. Floyd family’s business, Floyd’s Iceworks, he met a man named Frank McEnroe. McEnroe, a boilermaker, started running the canteen at his local football games in Bendigo. McEnroe wanted to add Chinese Spring Rolls to his menu, but found them too flimsy and flaky for blokes to chomp down on while watching the footy. His solution was to develop his own range. He began selling what he called ‘Chicken Rolls’ (even though there was no chicken in them). They were predominantly filled with cabbage, barley, carrot, onion, celery and beef, and encased in a thick egg and flour deep-fried pastry tube. This sturdy package was eventually rebranded and became one of Australia’s culinary icons: the Chiko Roll. McEnroe was initially making his Chiko Rolls with an adapted sausage maker. But as demand grew he moved his production to a factory, eventually having them made at Floyd’s Iceworks. Murray Pitt and Frank McEnroe, through their ongoing business relationship, decided that the best decision was to merge their two companies. Together, they formed Frozen Food Industries Pty Ltd. One of Frozen Food Industries’s first tenants was the newly expanded H. W. Greenham & Sons. The Greenhams had a few boning rooms at Frozen Foods’ Ascot Vale Road plant, where the boning of both mutton and beef occurred.
As part of this arrangement, some of our mutton went to the Frozen Food Industries manufacturing plant in Tullamarine, where they made the world famous “Chiko Roll”. So those Chiko Rolls contained Greenham boneless meat! The production line was quite something - they had a bicycle wheel making the Chiko Rolls exactly the right length (about eight or nine inches long, I think). It was so antiquated but it was interesting to watch.”
Frozen Food Industries Pty Ltd went public in 1965. At its peak in the 1970s, there were over 40 million Chiko Rolls sold in Australia each year, as well as an additional 1 million being exported to Japan.
We continued with our boning room in the complex at Frozen Food Industries until we outgrew it. We made an agreement with the Pitt family that they would build a brand new (larger) boning room for us in Young Street, which ran off Ascot Vale Road. This boning room was designed by me: a table boning set up for 45 boners, that could bone six hundred cattle per day. We kept streamlining this process along the way and eventually we were packing the forequarters and trimmings for the American market while we kept the hindquarter cuts and supplied them to Campbell Soup Company in Shepparton. This arrangement went on for many years.”
Below: Chiko Roll founder Frank McEnroe formed Floyd's Iceworks with Murray Pitt in Ascot Vale.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
A TRIBUTE FROM FRED MCDONALD, OAM
And as a result we started a business relationship that still continues to this very day and he's never let us down once! Peter on Fred
Fred on Peter
When we were working in Moonee Ponds, I met a chap by the name of Fred McDonald. He came to our office one Friday and said, “I need to buy aeroplanes”. Now “aeroplanes” was another name for what we called “argentines” - the rump and loin of the animal. It’s the striploin, the T-bone and the long fillet all together in one piece. I was selling the butt meat and the chuck meat to America, so this “aeroplane” was the bit of the meat I was still looking to sell - and that’s what Fred was looking to buy! So it worked out well. We took him to our chiller and showed him what we had, and he said, “I can take all of those, even though they’re poor quality. But, I can’t afford to pay! However, if you put your trust in me, I guarantee I’ll pay you” So, against my better judgement, I said “OK Fred, they’re yours”. And as a result we started a business relationship that still continues to this very day - and he's never let us down once!”
Fred McDonald Managing Director, Homebush Export Meat Co
My company is Homebush Export Meat, and I started it in 1959. My son runs it now and they are also still very friendly with the Greenhams. Well I first met Peter in 1967, at Moonee Ponds. I'd come down from Sydney wanting to buy meat. Peter was the only one who served me. His father, Harry, wanted to serve another company called McPherson Brothers, not me, but Peter stood up for me. Peter was supplying America with a few different cuts of meat, and these were also pieces I wanted to buy, but I didn't have the money yet. Peter still sold me the meat on the promise of the money, so that was fantastic. He said that he’d send me a load of meat on a promise, but I had to pay for the first one before he sent me the second one (which I thought was fair enough). We were in really good stead, and we then kept getting meat from him from all the way back then until now. I used to come into town and pinch his car. Peter wouldn’t know I was coming to town, but he’d look out of the window at his office and the car would have disappeared from the car park. Whenever I was in Melbourne, we would go to the football, we were really good friends. He taught me how to live. I'd never spend money, but he really knew how to spend it! Taught me how to spend money on a bottle of wine and a good steak, believe me. We got along great. In fact, Peter is my eldest son Brett's godfather, and my second son Peter is named after him, so that's how close we were. It was a really great 55-year relationship from that initial load of meat that I bought. He was young, and so was I.”
The Newport Freezing Works Union Troubles The Beginning of Gilberston-Greenham The Union Battles Continue The End of GilbertsonGreenham
THE NEWPORT FREEZING WORKS
Eventually our Shepparton Campbell Soups supply contract finished when they changed their manufacturing methods. We began supplying those hindquarter cuts to our American market instead. This was when we really started to make some money!
Clockwise from right: Champion Rd Altona plant; Train Line drawing showing the freezing works stations; Harry was into horses and raced them.
We worked there at Frozen Food Industries until 1978 or '79 but I was always mad keen to own an abattoir. I had designed many for other people but I just couldn’t get it out of my system – I wanted… no, actually… NEEDED our own abattoir.”
Peter Greenham Snr.
The first operation Peter considered purchasing was the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Meat Works in Brooklyn. Despite Peter’s serious consideration, the deal never went through. This was fortuitous, as it soon went broke. Had the Greenhams had bought this facility, they would’ve gone broke too. Peter’s father, Harry, was onboard with the idea, believing it to be the next logical step in the expansion of the family business. Harry was prepared to let the Greenham team stick their necks out and take a chance. After surveying the market, the Greenhams got in touch with the Gilbertson family. The Gilbertsons had a number of abattoirs on the East Coast of Australia, and were known for establishing the successful and well-known Don Smallgoods. Is Don, Is Good. They brokered a deal for the Greenhams to purchase the Newport Freezing Works on Champion Road, Newport.
The date was November, 1979 – I remember because it was Melbourne Cup weekend. My mates from Kingston Heath and I all went down to Tasmania to play golf. That’s where I announced to everyone “I’ve just bought an abattoir!.” The Greenhams took over the abattoir in January 1980. The Newport Freezing works had old-style wooden freezer rooms originally designed for freezing lamb for export to the United Kingdom. Even though the Gilbertsons had already spent a lot of money on upgrading the old facility, it was still a bit of a wreck…
To be honest, it became the worst time of my life. We finally had the abattoir I had always wanted but it was old. I remember taking my wife down to have a look, and all she said was, “What have you done?” I also took my best meat man, Geoff Tancred, down for a look too and all he said was, “Good Lord, what have you done?” So it wasn't the most auspicious of starts… However, it was my baby.”
I also took my best meat man, Geoff Tancred, down for a look too and all he said was, “Good Lord, what have you done?”
perations officially commenced in April, 1980. It took a few months to get started due to negotiations with the Union dragging on with great difficulty. Even when operations were finally able to commence, the union battles didn’t cease. Wally Curran was Secretary of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) at that time. If his intention was to make life tough for abattoir owners, he did a great job. Peter hated going to work for the next four or five years. He’d park around the corner from the Newport Station, waiting to see how many of his employees would come walking down the road because they’d gone on strike. It caused him great grief at work, and this grief often followed him home.”I used to go home from work and just sit there like a zombie!”.
That was a really hard time for Dad because of the Unions. Wally Curran was a Union official at the time and he really put Dad under a lot of pressure and even made him lose a lot of money.
Dad finally did get the site up and running, but it wasn't going great… The 1980's were a really hard time to run plants. They had a stretch of bad droughts, so in the mid-80's they didn't have enough cattle. I was quite young at that time. Mum was a dress designer, and I remember Dad just sitting on the couch next to her sewing plaits on dresses. It was just mundane work. He used to come home and not want to eat. I think that was from about 1980 to 1983 - I was only seven or eight at the time. Dad was just in a mess. He had the new abattoir he’d always dreamed of, but he had the Union on his back trying to shut him down. It was just horrible.”
Even through these tough times, with all the headaches and chaos going on around him, Peter managed to grow the operation. The abattoir was processing 520 cows a day and about 7,500 sheep and lambs. There were three mutton chains: • one chain doing kosher meat for the Israeli Army,
Below: Israeli troops were fed with Greenham meat through the eighties. Bottom: The Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union pushed operators to the wall. Far right: Shorter Hours More Hours badge used in Melbourne from 1980-1989.
• another chain doing chilled lamb for the Middle East, • and the third chain doing domestic supply. It was an enormous operation. Peter would come to realise that it was too big and that smaller operations were the way to go, but at this time, a lesson still needed to be learnt.
Peter Greenham Jnr.
THE BEGINNING OF GILBERSTON-GREENHAM
Top and Bottom right: Union newspaper articles. Left: Book about Gilbertson's
ichael Webb was Peter’s accountant, friend, and mentor. Michael had initially been involved in the purchase of Newport, and was about to become even more involved. After combing through the financials, Michael came to Peter with a grim outlook. The labour strikes had been going for the entire existence of the Greenham’s operation at Newport; over four years. Michael reported with complete certainty that should the union strikes continue for much longer, the abattoir would go broke.
Peter Greenham Snr.
I felt like I was going to have a mental upheaval. So, Michael and I went back to the Gilberstons, George and Jack, and we said, “Look, Victoria is short of cattle and Victoria is short of lambs! There’s just not enough live stock. We’re having it tough, we know you’re having it tough. Let’s find a way of rationalising.”
Peter Greenham Jnr.
So, we rationalised it.” R. J. Gilbertson Pty. Ltd. had begun with two butcher shops in 1902. By 1928 it had seven retail shops across various Melbourne suburbs, like Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale. What followed was five decades of gradual, strong growth. By the late 1970s, they’d had a peak of 82 retail stores and 2,700 employees. In addition to their retail butchers, they’d got into the abattoir business. The Gilbertson business owned 11 farms across Victoria and South Australia, spanning from Echuca to Lucindale to St Albans, for a total of 25,646 acres (10,383 hectares). Their single-year record for processing was 2,724,000 sheep and lambs and 497,000 head of cattle. It was a big operation, and as Peter had established a good relationship with them over the years, the Gilbertsons agreed to form a partnership. The Greenhams would close the Newport facility and move their entire operation to the Gilbertson’s site on Kyle Road, Altona. This was the Gilbertsons’ biggest and best facility, their “Jewel in the Crown” as they called it. There was also an agreement that involved the eventual sale of the Newport site, and the distribution of the funds into the partnership. With the partnership agreement cemented, a new company was formed: Gilbertson-Greenham Pty Ltd.
Of this new Gilbertson-Greenham company, Jack Gilbertson was the Chairman of the Board, George Gilbertson was the Chief Executive, and Peter Greenham Senior was a Company Director. As a result, Gilberstons owned 60% of the shares, and Peter Greenham owned 40%.
This was from when I was 7 years old until about 13 or 14. That was a really big abattoir, one of the largest. In the 60's and 70's, Gilbertsons were huge, they were massive. They had farms everywhere and ran abattoirs up and down the East coast of Australia. Dad didn’t have anything to do with their other businesses, the Joint Venture just pertained to the Kyle Road plant at Altona. Dad was good at lamb and basically the deal was, “I'll shut my Newport abattoir and go in with you I'll take all my orders and then put them through you”. He operated with them for about six years because he had some very good orders and very good connections.” The Newport Freezing Works site on Champion Road was later sold to a developer. Today, it’s a shopping centre.
THE UNION BATTLES CONTINUE
here was no escaping the union troubles. In the mid-80s, Victorian meat workers had generous award conditions and were earning up to 30% more than those working the same jobs in other states. Despite this, the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) was not satisfied, and part of their action to improve conditions and pay for workers involved another series of strikes. There was a period of 50 consecutive days where operations were impacted by AMIEU strikes, either wholly or partially. As one newspaper reported, “The Gilbertson meatworks is the largest in Victoria and [was] targeted by the AMIEU”. Given they were slaughtering 1,000 head of cattle each day, this had a significant impact on the company’s operations. Some estimates suggested this strike action cost the Victorian mean industry over $47 million in the space of just a few months.
THE END OF GILBERTSON-GREENHAM
eter Greenham was effectively running the Gilbertsons’ Altona plant. Under the banner of the newly formed ‘Gilbertson-Greenham’ company, Peter was responsible for driving the day-to-day success of the plant. Peter had put in such a great effort to maximise the output of the Altona plant that the Gilbertsons believed he could be the one to keep their dynasty going. By this time, Jack Gilbertson had taken a step back from the company to allow space for future growth. George Gilbertson was installed as Chairman, and Peter as Chief Executive. At a Board Meeting in 1988, it was decided that a competitor analysis trip to New Zealand was required, and that head engineer, Norm King, would accompany Peter on a fact-finding mission. A meat company in New Zealand had devoted a lot of resources toward Research & Development. They had invented a new mechanical system for boning mutton: a machine that used something similar to piano wire to scrape over the bones to take the meat off. Norm and Peter weren’t overly impressed. It wasn’t quite the ‘genius new invention’ they’d expected to discover. Something else, however, did catch their eyes. Although they went to New Zealand to investigate the mechanical boning system, it was the “hot boning plant” that was a real revelation. Carcasses went straight into a boning room where the meat was removed from the bones “hot”, rather than via a chiller first.
This ‘hot boning plant’ impressed me no end! Norm and I came back to Australia and at the next Board Meeting I reported to the Gilbertsons: “The future of abattoirs is not these big, old plants doing cattle, pigs, sheep and lambs. It is small plants being species specific and being built where the cattle are, not bringing the cattle to the works”. I remember George and Jack Gilbertson using that same expression again about Kyle Road being the “Jewel in the Crown” and they would never go down that line! Whereas I said, “I believe that small boutique abattoirs are the way to go”.
The Gilbertsons still had many other plants running. Altona remained their Jewel in the Crown, but was just one part of their overall operation. The Japanese corporation Sumikin Bussan, a subsidiary of Itoman, was one of the biggest customers of the Gilbertsons. As they had formed partnerships with the Gilbertson at their other abattoirs, Sumikin Bussan had a vested interest in the future of the Gilbertson company, and as it stood, that future was somewhat murky. George Gilbertson had always seemed destined to take over from his father Jack when the time was right. But the addition of Peter Greenham to the board and his success in running the Altona site raised more questions than answers. What was the next move for the Gilbertsons? Who would be at the helm, steering the ship? What strategic direction would they take the company in? This uncertainty didn’t sit well with Sumikin Bussan. They didn’t want questions - they wanted answers. They didn’t want two visionaries wrestling for power, they wanted one clear leader with one clear strategy. In 1989, six years after the formation of this Gilbertson-Greenham partnership, there was a restructure. Itoman came in to further their strategic partnership by buying shares in the Altona plant. H.W. Greenham & Son Pty Ltd sold the bulk of its shares in R. J. Gilbertson Pty Ltd in the transaction. As part of this arrangement, a deal was made that Peter would stay on and continue leading the company for a period of six years. Peter would then reach retirement age, and it was assumed he’d then be ready to hang up the butcher’s apron. But Australia’s economic downturn put pressure on all companies, and these plans were fast tracked.
They (Itoman) made the decision that they didn’t want two people in the business, George Gilbertson and I, and that one of us had to go. So George says, “Well, my name’s Gilbertson so I’m staying. You'll have to go!” Thus the partnership ended, in around 1990, and I retired from the meat industry.”
Right: News article on the Gilbertson-Greenham Company split.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
So George says, “Well, my name’s Gilbertson so I’m staying. You'll have to go!” Thus the partnership ended.
HEBA AT TONGALA 1990's 2000's
No Company, No Job, No Income The Plan Finding the Location Finding the Funds Peter’s New Baby The Financial Controller The Challenges The Bull Plant A Tribute from Norm King Peter Greenham’s Foresight A Life in the Meat Industry A Tribute from Graeme Pretty
NO COMPANY, NO JOB, NO INCOME
eter found himself out of his company and out of work. He didn’t have much to do with his time. He spent a fair bit of time down at the golf club or drinking with his mates, but not a whole lot else. Without a job and without an income, all that remained were two employees on the books: Michael Webb as an auditor, and Franz Packer as an accountant. Norm King, Peter’s best meat man, had stayed on at Gilbertsons. They remained good friends and regularly caught up. They had taken that trip to New Zealand together back in 1988, and they both felt as though there was still something there to be explored. While they were underwhelmed by the mechanical-piano-wirescraper they’d gone over to see, they’d been mesmerised by the “hot boning” technique. Norm and Peter would catch up at their local pub, the Cricketers Arms in South Melbourne. They’d play around with the suds on the bar, drawing out little sudsy sketches of what they could remember. They’d map out how a hot boning abattoir could operate on the back of a coaster. Each time they met up, they’d try to improve on it, or make little tweaks to make it run more efficiently.
With my knowledge of lean cattle, I believed this was the only way you could process them cheaply. This way you would not get caught up in the method that all other meat companies were using, paying excessive labour costs. So Norm and I set about designing this plant with Michael Webb's assistance, and Franz Packer gave us some help along the way too. We were trying to figure out how we could build something small but effective, something that we could use to make an income and remain in the industry.”
he Gilbertsons had built a massive operation. Starting with just two butcher shops in 1902, and reaching seven in 1928, they went on to expand to 82 retail stores and 2,700 employees at their peak in the late 1970s. When Peter joined forces with them, creating the Gilbertson-Greenham partnership to operate their Altona plant, he’d invested a bunch of capital. The money he’d received from selling his Newport abattoir to the Gilbertsons in 1983 was effectively ploughed back into this new joint venture. Therefore, as the partnership dissolved, Peter’s accountant made sure he wasn’t being pushed out the door without fair compensation.
There were lots of other interesting things going on in those days but I’d have to say that buying the Newport Freezing Works from the Gilbertsons in 1979 was a mistake on my part. It nearly sent us broke! We were very lucky to get Gilbertsons to buy it back a few years later. When the partnership broke up and I left Gilbertson’s, I had already invested about $600,000 in it. Michael Webb said that if they pushed me out the door, they owed me that money. I said to George Gilbertson, “If I go, I want that money back!” Now, we’d lost a fortune through the GilbertsonGreenham company, and the broader Gilbertson company had lost a fortune themselves. In fact, they’d lost much more overall than we’d lost at Kyle Road. But they agreed to pay me out the money that we’d invested in it. So we ended up with a fairly healthy bank balance that we could do something with at a later stage.”
This hypothetical ‘later stage’ was about to present itself. Peter felt that he and Norm had finally cracked the code - they’d figured out how to make this thing work! They had devised a simple system: one container of meat per shift, two shifts a day, plus a cleaning crew each night. If they could get enough cattle to supply a morning shift and an afternoon shift, they could make a profitable business. To take this idea of simplicity a step further, basically everything went ‘in the box’. They didn’t need to separate out all of the different cuts of meat. The only parts they saved were the tenderloins and the cube rolls. Everything else was stripped off the carcass, put through the grinder, and frozen. Within two days of the animal’s arrival to the facility, the meat would be processed and shipped out. With the help of Norm, Michael, and Franz, Peter christened their new creation HEBA: High Efficiency Beef Abattoir.
Left top: The Cricketer's Club, Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. Left bottom: The coasters at the Cricketer's Club saw Peter Senior's first iterations of the HEBA system after parting ways with Gilbertson.
” Peter Greenham Snr.
FINDING THE LOCATION
he team felt like they’d achieve so much by getting their plans together, but there was still a long way to go. On paper they had a great system, but they didn’t have anywhere to put it yet. Peter looked far and wide, maintaining his opinion that the future of the meat industry was smaller, more efficient facilities, closer to the animals rather than big, sterile inner-city meat factories. This opinion got him more or less kicked out of Gilbertsons, because they still held faith in big inner city operations. Peter held onto this view however, hoping it would lead him and his family to success. Eventually, Peter narrowed his search to the Goulburn Valley. Peter’s system was based on lean cattle, and this region was his sweet spot. The Goulburn Valley was a region known for its dairy production, and old dairy cows that had been milked all their life. Old cows, that no one wanted anymore, were exactly what Pete was after. He could put them through his unique ‘hot boning’ process and extract value from them that no one else could. Peter had a shortlist of three potential locations in the Goulburn Valley. Some councils were more receptive than others. Some were so keen to get a big city businessman to set up in the area that they were willing to do him a really good deal. One location presented an offer too good to refuse: the council was willing to sell the land needed to set up an abattoir for one dollar. The benefit to the council was the promise of employment of local staff to run the facility, as well as an avenue for farmers to sell their produce. So that was that the token $1 was signed over, and Peter Greenham was ready to build his first HEBA at Tongala. The first ever hot boning plant in Australia.
the council was willing to sell the land needed to set up an abattoir for one dollar. 46
Above: Welcome sign to Tongala, historically known for its dairy industry.
FINDING THE FUNDS
ow that they had an idea and a place to put it, they needed money to build it. Getting everything together cost over $150,000 - the plans, designs, financial models, projections, and research. They budgeted for the build to cost between $2m to $3 million… which was a few more million than they had in their pockets! Their solution was to take the proposal to the banks to get some funding. Most of the bankers they spoke to turned it down. They didn’t understand the idea as it had never before been done in Australia. The deal didn’t have any of the things that bankers usually liked to see - benchmarking, competitor analysis, industry reports, and so on. Eventually, NAB and ANZ came around and were willing to loan some funds. But it wasn’t enough. Even with the loans, there was still a significant shortfall from the cost projections. So Peter looked for funds from elsewhere. Turning to his friends and colleagues, he asked if anyone wanted to invest in his new project. First onboard was Geoff Tancred, a lifelong friend. Geoff’s father, Harry, played 14 rugby matches for New Zealand prior to starting a meat business with his brothers. They built Tancred Industries to be one of Australia’s largest wholesale butchering firms. Geoff was running Tancred Industries when Peter came to him for help, and he was willing to help his mate get his new company off the ground. Other early investors included Peter’s friend Mal Seccull, the site’s builder John Ord, and Peter’s accountant and mentor, Michael Webb. Construction got underway. But when the facility was only a little over half built, they were already encroaching on the limits of their forecasting. In order to finish the build, Peter would need more money.
Fred Herd had been a longtime supplier (and sometimes competitor) to Greenham over the years. Their business relationship dated back to the 1960s, when Fred was buying cattle for Peter when he was working out of Frozen Food Industries. The Herds were in beef and lamb, operating out of Geelong. The relationship was more than just four decades of business dealings. It was also four decades of friendship. They had never signed a contract on any of the deals they’d done in the past - everything was governed by the law of the handshake. When Peter Greenham asked for money to get his new facility completed, Fred didn’t see it as building up a competitor, he saw it as supporting his friend. Fred and his son Frank went to Tongala to see the operation they were building, and were amazed by the hot boning concept. As they drove away from the site visit, they quickly decided to become investors. This provided Peter with the final tranche of funding he needed to complete construction. HEBA at Tongala was finalised in early 1993, with operations beginning shortly after.
Above: Geoff Tancred. Right: Peter Snr, the engineers and the construction of Tongala abattoir in 1993.
It was all governed by the law of the handshake.
PETER’S NEW BABY
fter a few years out of the game, Peter loved the fact that he was back in business. He was stationed at ‘Head Office’ at a little house they used as an office on Albert Road in South Melbourne, but Peter couldn’t stay away from the action. He went up to Tongala every single week, just to watch how everything was running. He’d drive up on a Tuesday morning, spend the Tuesday afternoon shift at HEBA, stay Tuesday and Wednesday night, then head back to Melbourne on Thursday after the morning shift. Sometimes he’d tinker a little and try to make operational improvements and find inefficiencies, but largely he just wanted to be near the action. The early years were tough going. They were effectively a new entrant into the industry, and had to find a crack that they could squeeze through, a void they could fill. The United States had introduced a quota on Australian meat imports, and a quota was assigned on a proportional basis depending on how much you’d exported worldwide over the past couple of years. Given that Greenham had only just started up, they were allotted virtually zero.
The only way to get quota was to buy it. So the company was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This was eating away at the bottom line - they had to pay up just to be allowed to try to sell their produce. It was like paying an entry fee to get into the casino - just because you’re in the door doesn’t mean you’re going to make any money, but if you want any shot at winning big you need to buy your way in. This meant that Tongala was initially losing money. The team had created the perfect plan, but they couldn’t have predicted the impacts that the introduction of a quota would have on their business. The American market was precisely the market they needed though, so there was seemingly little choice but to buckle down and try to ride out the losses.
Right: The drive up the Hume from Melbourne to Tongala. Right bottom: The Tongala facility today. Below: Sketch of the Tongala facility.
Sometimes he’d tinker a little and try to make operational improvements and find efficiencies, but largely he just wanted to be near it.
THE FINANCIAL CONTROLLER
n 1994, about a year after Tongala opened, the Greenham team started to grow. The ‘head office’ staff had grown to four by this point, and they wanted to add a fifth. An ad was placed for a Financial Controller.
RIght: Once quota was secured, the HEBA system was prefectly suited for the United States' demand for hamburger meat.
One of the applicants had been working in the building industry, and was looking to make a career move. After a few rounds of interviews, they hired their new Financial Controller, Grant Ryan.
It was pretty tough. I joined the company about a year or 18 months after they opened Tongala. Going back to those early days, we didn't have any quota because we were a new entrant into the industry. In those days you earnt quota based on the amount of meat you sent. When we first came in, we got nothing. So we had to buy it.
It was a really difficult time. Those first few years were really difficult. We just had the one plant running, two shifts and just… it just couldn't get it to work. It was just a really bad time. We went through a really hard time in the mid-nineties, 94, 95, 96... really hard.”
We went through a really hard time in the midnineties, 94, 95, 96 ...really hard. 54
The first challenge was not having any quota. The second (and perhaps greater) challenge, was getting the new ‘hot boning’ process working. The plant was operational, but they still didn’t really have it worked out properly. Peter had the vision and had seen it working in New Zealand, but no one else really understood it. Being the first of its kind in Australia, there were no case studies to read through, and no one they could turn to for advice. All of the skilled workers, slaughterers and boners, had only been trained in the traditional cold boning methods. This hot boning procedure was totally different, so everyone was starting from scratch.
I remember when Peter brought a group of workers over from New Zealand where they had been doing the hot boning. He brought over key workers to train the people at his plant in how to do the correct technique. They were a bunch of cowboys!” With cold boning, you separate out the cuts of meat. The eye fillets, the scotch fillets, the rump, and so on. But not in this new ‘high efficiency’ system. Everything went into the box. Everything. It was no longer about identifying the different cuts, it was purely about volume.
All of the meat was designated for the hamburger industry, with the bulk of it being shipped to the United States. Despite these initial challenges, everyone held out hope. There were glimmers that this thing was going to work. If they could just get settled and streamline the process, if they could work out the right way to freeze the meat, there was a lot of potential.
You could see that it was going to work. If we got the quota thing sorted, and we got the process sorted, it would work and it would be really efficient. It had all the makings of a really good operation.” And a really good operation it was. In 1996, things started to take off. It ran like a production line consistent and predictable. The animal came in, the meat stripped off, ground, thrown in the box, and sent through to the freezer. It was frozen and ready to ship to the US the next day. Volume, volume, volume. Strip, grind, freeze, repeat. The kinks had been worked out, the operational hiccups had been cured, the glitches had been eliminated. Things started ticking over nicely.
THE BULL PLANT
Two plants, two shifts a day, four container loads of meat every single day since the mid-90s.
hings were going so nicely, in fact, that it was time to expand. In 1997, Greenham looked to double their daily output by building a second plant. Not just any plant, but another innovation Peter Greenham would bring to the Australian meat industry - a special-built facility, and a ‘first of its kind’ in Australia. All abattoirs around Australia were fine at processing cows, steers and yearlings. But none could handle a big bull. They were too large and too heavy. They’d either be dragging along the ground, or they’d break the chain. Most farmers therefore had no other choice but to effectively take their old bulls ‘around the back of the shed’ and dig a big hole. A gap in the market was identified. The Greenhams set about building Australia’s first ‘bull plant’. They built a chain that could handle 400kg, 500kg, even 600kg weight bulls. The heaviest they ever did was a tonne!
Dad built another plant in 97, which was called the ‘bull plant’. It was built primarily to do bulls, but it could also do cows. It had a much bigger knocking box and much higher ceilings, designed to be able to do the biggest bull that anyone could ever do. There were a lot of bulls around that couldn't get slaughtered because there was no chain big enough. So he built this big bull chain to be able to do them.”
The new ‘Bull Plant’ was a carbon copy of the ‘A Plant’, but on a much larger scale. The chain and kill floor were bigger, and soon farmers from around Australia were sending their old bulls to Tongala to get something in return instead of shooting them and burying them on their property. Things had come a long way since the early 90s. Peter was no longer pushing to convince a bank to lend him money, or scrambling to find investors to keep him afloat. Greenhams didn’t even need to borrow any money to build this second plant, as they were able to build it with the cash they’d generated through the business. The original plant was built with no plans of expansion, and it was built economically due to the capital constraints. So as the business expanded, the only real way to step up the operation was to build a second facility. The two plants sit on the same land and share the same amenities. They’re two separate abattoirs in two separate buildings, but about 20 metres apart and completely integrated. Aside from a few periods after droughts where animals were hard to come by, the two Tongala plants have been doing about 600 animals a day for the last 25 years. Two plants, two shifts a day, four container loads of meat every single day since the mid-90s.
” Peter Greenham Jnr.
A TRIBUTE FROM NORM KING
I started with Peter in 1983 and worked in his first abattoirs in Newport, before he went into a joint venture with Gilbertsons. I was his chief engineer at Greenhams, and I was with him during the transition into Gilbertson Greenham. I was chief engineer there also. One year I went to New Zealand with Peter, because I knew some people there that were doing some innovative things with abattoirs, and we went across to have a look at what they were doing. This was while Peter was still at GilbertsonGreenhams. We saw smaller abattoirs and reported to the board that the way in the past is not the way to do it now. We reported to the board that we should do smaller high-tech plants. Not the big old plants with a limited life. The board didn’t listen though, and that went nowhere. Peter told me later that he wanted to develop a small plant like what we had seen in New Zealand, with just a few modifications. We’d meet at the old Cricketers Arms and plan out how we’d go about it. We used to draw designs on the back of coasters while having about a hundred beers. We did that for about 12 months, just drawing on the back on whatever we found on the bar. I basically did the designs there for it. We then found the land, took the drawings and developed it from there.
We started off with a little high-tech abattoir, which was the first of its kind, and Peter just came out with fantastic ideas. All of his employees were stakeholders. If one of the old blokes hurt their leg and couldn’t work, they got paid regardless. He paid the farmers direct within seven days. A lot of new innovations and first-ofs. He was very successful at it, and he employed a lot of people over the time. I’d say 99% of the people he employed are so dedicated to him, they’d walk over water for him. He was fair, he’d never put himself above anyone. He could speak to anyone at any level, whether it be a politician or the guy who shovelled the shit. If he walked through the works, he would talk to everyone he’d come into contact with. He wasn’t false. You can tell when people are false, and he wasn’t like that. And young Peter’s been brought up the same way, and I’ve known young Peter since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Norm King Former Chief Engineer, H.W. Greenham & Sons
Peter Greenham Senior was one of the best people I have ever worked for, in my life. I’d do anything for him. He was something else, he was. Annie, Peter’s wife, was beautiful too. I’d honestly say working for them was the best time of my life.”
We used to draw designs on the back of coasters while having about a hundred beers. 57
PETER GREENHAM’S FORESIGHT
eter Greenham rode the rollercoaster of ups and downs in the meat industry - buying Newport Freezing Works of the Gilbertsons, then selling it back… forming a joint venture to operate the Gilbertson’s Altona facility, then dissolving the partnership… ‘retiring’ from the game… before coming back with a bang and unleashing a whole host of Australian firsts: • HEBA at Tongala was the first ever ‘hot boning’ plant in Australia • The ‘bull plant’ built a few years later was the only facility in Australia that could handle animals up to a tonne. These innovations came from a man who was clearly passionate about the industry. Peter cared so much and was so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the industry that he could see what was coming, spotting opportunities no one else could see.
FORESIGHT #1: THE TECHNIQUE On a fact finding mission to New Zealand, he’d spotted something that he thought could work in Australia. Even though this wasn’t the purpose of his visit (he was actually going to look at a new mechanical system they’d built), he was always curious and always had his eyes open to opportunities for improvement. He spent many weeks on the golf course and at the pub dreaming up ways to make this work. Whether it was doodling on the back of beer coasters, or sketching it out in suds, Peter was always looking for a way to make it work. The introduction of hot boning opened the doors to a simpler ‘production line’ style of meat processing. The beauty came from its simplicity; two shifts a day, and a container of meat per shift. The focus was on volume and speed - an animal was processed and in a box within 42 minutes, then frozen and put on a ship the next day.
FORESIGHT #2: THE LOCATION It was one thing to identify the hot boning technique as a possible production pathway, but it was another thing to find the right spot to put a plant. It wouldn’t just work anywhere. For the economics to all work out, it needed to be in the right spot, with access to the right cattle. Peter found this in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. At the time it was Australia’s third largest dairy production area, and these cows were perfect for the hot boning process - lean cows where the meat was quickly and easily stripped from the bones.
FORESIGHT #3: THE MARKET It was one thing to identify hot boning, and another to find the right spot for it, but it was something else entirely to commercialise it. It took special foresight to make the business viable. Peter saw that the American hamburger market was the perfect place to sell this hot boned meat, and identified that Australia's trade with America at the time was almost exclusively manufactured meat, going to the likes of Burger King or McDonalds. This meant Peter didn’t have to create an entirely new market for his company - the market was sitting there ready for the taking. He came in with a better product at a lower price, and once the quota issue was sorted, it worked well. He could see it all: the process, the location, the cows, the market. Once it got up and running, it all ran without a hitch.
FORESIGHT #4: THE BULLS On top of lining up these three key factors, Peter had the additional vision to surround himself with those as forward thinking as himself. Graeme Pretty, Peter's long-time friend and livestock manager, perceived a gap in the market. Farmers all around Australia had no choice but to simply get rid of their old bulls. Graeme made the suggestion to Peter, and after a brief period of pushback, they delved into the project together.
I turned to Peter one day, and I said, “Pete, why don't we do big bulls?” He said, “son, don’t be bloody silly.” About 6 months later Peter came back up to me and said, “look, I've been thinking about the bulls...” and he built the bull plant.” Creating a bull plant, the biggest in Australia, meant Peter had the bull market to himself. Building it right next door to the existing Tongala facility meant synergies between the two plants, and better economies of scale. It is however, important to go beyond simply having a good idea - there must be a way to commercialise it. That’s exactly what the Greenhams were able to do. They found an eager buyer in Costco, who were making their own hamburgers to sell in their stores. Due to the fatty nature of American beef, and their large-scale corn-fed factory farms, Australian bull meat was the perfect consistency for their hamburgers. In order for Costco to meet their character profile requirements (the right consistency, the right character, and the right mix of fat and protein), they mixed American meat with Australian bull meat. This created a commercial avenue for the bull meat. If there weren’t enough bulls in a day, it was easy to bring some cows from the A Plant next door to the Bull Plant so that there was no loss in efficiency. For almost 15 years, until the drought in 2010, both plants at Tongala consistently ran two shifts a day, every single day.
These innovations came from a man who was clearly passionate about the industry... ...he could see what was coming, spotting opportunities no one else could see.
” Greame Pretty
A LIFE IN THE MEAT INDUSTRY
one of this would’ve been possible without pure obsession. To be a business owner, a really successful one, it has to be more than just a job. Peter would always say, “this is more than just a hobby, this is my life”.
He used to go down to the local pub and draw on a beer coaster – that was how the two of them designed the ‘perfect abattoir’ to do hot boning. He was 55 at the time and he sort of said, “I can't retire.” Throughout his whole career, he always wanted to do more. He was always looking for more opportunities to become more deeply involved in the industry. Thinking back on that time, there were a lot of other things happening around that period. I assumed the role of Chairman of the Victorian Branch of the Export Council of the Meat and Allied Trades Federation. I also had a seat on the Board of the Port of Melbourne Authority. There were lots of other interesting things going on in those days.” The most telling indication of Peter’s love and passion for the meat game, was the reason that HEBA came about. It wasn’t to make a lot of money, or to etch his name in the history books by building those Australian firsts. It was simply a way for him to get back into the industry. For a man who had spent his whole life in the meat business, a forced early retirement didn’t seem like an option. As he said, he was just looking for a way to remain in the industry.
Above: Peter Greenham Senior in his office at 222 Lorimer Street. Greenham's current head office
Peter Greenham Jnr.
Peter Greenham Snr.
A TRIBUTE FROM GRAEME PRETTY
I started in the industry in 1970, and I met Peter Greenham Senior probably about 1975. There was a merging of two-family companies, Gibertson and Greenham, and Peter Senior, ended up the boss there. That's where my involvement with Peter really flourished. We got to know each other through livestock, because I was in the yards at the Gilberstons. Peter's first love was livestock. He loved livestock, he loved engineering and he always believed that they really made an abattoir tick. Half the Gilbertson family sold out of the company, and not long after that, Peter Greenham said he was going to retire… which he was never going to do, because he was too young. But he took off from Gilbertson and so did I. A few years later, I was working a dairy farm and had just sold up when Peter called me. “What are you up to?” He said. “I’m looking for a job.” He said, “well, don't look for the job, put your belt on and come with me. I'm going to build an abattoir.” He'd come back from New Zealand and seen the abattoirs, and the hot boning. He drew out his plans for the abattoir on a coaster while having a beer and designed the abattoir he wanted to build. It worked out and we worked there. I think it's coming up to 30 years this year. We worked there together, side by side for many years. I turned to Peter one day, and I said, “Pete, why don't we do big bulls?” He said, “son, don’t be bloody silly.” About 6 months later Peter came back up to me and said, “look, I've been thinking about the bulls...” and he built the bull plant. It has been a great partnership, I really treasured it, and the Greenham family and my family have a great relationship. My mother worked for Greenham's, I’ve worked for them most of my life and I’m 71 this year. My son's been associated for about 27 years, and so was my younger daughter. We've got a long, long standing relationship with the Greenham family. I said to him once, “You’re like a googy egg. Hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” He said, “Bullshit, no I’m not.”
He was very, very thoughtful, man. Didn't want any kudos for what he did. He didn't blow his bags on anything and just went on. Anyone who didn’t like Peter Senior didn’t understand him. If you understood the man, you couldn’t help but like him. We started off with a little high-tech abattoir, which was the first of its kind, and Peter just came out with fantastic ideas. All of his employees were stakeholders. If one of the old blokes hurt their leg and couldn’t work, they got paid regardless. He paid the farmers direct within seven days. A lot of new innovations and first-ofs. He was very successful at it, and he employed a lot of people over the time. I’d say 99% of the people he employed are so dedicated to him, they’d walk over water for him. He was fair, he’d never put himself above anyone. He could speak to anyone at any level, whether it be a politician or the guy who shovelled the shit. If he walked through the works, he would talk to everyone he’d come into contact with. He wasn’t false. You can tell when people are false, and he wasn’t like that. And young Peter’s been brought up the same way, and I’ve known young Peter since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Greame Pretty Livestock Manager, H.W. Greenham & Sons
Peter Greenham Senior was one of the best people I have ever worked for, in my life. I’d do anything for him. He was something else, he was. Annie, Peter’s wife, was beautiful too. I’d honestly say working for them was the best time of my life.”
I’d honestly say working for them was the best time of my life. 61
Smithton, Tasmania Peter Greenham Junior’s Apprenticeship Growth of Smithton Marketing Meat The Graphic Designer: Lucy Greenham The Success of Cape Grim “Never Ever” Moe, Gippsland, Victoria A Tribute from Frank Herd
ith all of the kinks ironed out at Tongala and the operation running smoothly, attention was turned to future growth. A few opportunities presented themselves. The first, ironically, was linked to the Gilbertsons and Sumikin Bussan, the company that wanted Peter out in the first place. After Peter left the Gilbertsons in the late 1980s, they went through a tough period of their own. Due to a whole range of reasons, their cash flow was beginning to slow. Despite having many assets (they still owned farms and abattoirs) their cash reserves were drying up. Sumikin Bussan, the trading arm of the Japanese company Itoman, was still one of the Gilbertsons’ biggest customers. As Sumikin Bussan became strategically involved in Gilbertsons over the years, they became more financially involved too. Itoman gradually increased their shareholding in Gilbertsons Pty Ltd by buying more shares over the years. It served as a way of the Gilbertsons converting some of their assets into cash to continue their operations. It was also a way for Itoman to expand their influence over the direction of the company. Itoman continued to invest more and more, gradually watering down the shares owned by the Gilbertson family. There came a point where Itoman effectively said: “If you can’t put any more money in, we want to buy you out”. In 1996, the Gilbertsons sold their remaining shares to Itoman, and the name of the company was changed to Sumikin Bussan Australia and later SBA Foods. After operating for three or four years in the Australian meat industry, it soon became clear that SBA Foods wasn’t going to be successful in the Australian landscape. The Japanese business principles and work culture didn’t translate perfectly to Australia, and they were struggling to bridge the gap. They wanted to sell up. H. W. Greenham & Sons Pty Ltd was involved in the tender process, and were one of the last remaining bidders to buy SBA’s assets. This included their main facility at Altona (the former ‘jewel in the crown’), as well as operations in Longford (Tasmania) and King Island.
In the end, Peter Greenham decided to pull out of the process. Having worked at the Altona plant for six years, he had some inside knowledge that the other bidders didn’t. He was aware of some of the pitfalls, knowing the cleaning and construction costs that would be involved. The Greenham offer factored in a provision for clean up costs, but another bidder’s offer was unconditional so SBA sold to the other party. The second opportunity was for a site in Smithton, Tasmania. The Duck River plant was owned and operated by a company called Blue Ribbon Meat Products. The owner, Josef Chromy, had taken this company on quite a journey. Originally built in the 1940s as a pig processing plant, the company was floated on the stock exchange in the late 90s, which netted its owners a nice sum of money. After going public, however, the company was run by people who weren’t as experienced in the meat industry, and it was run into the ground. Josef Chromy then bought the company back at a significant discount to what he’d previously sold it for. Once Chromy had things back in order, he sold the company to a private equity firm. Within six weeks the private equity company went bust too! Josef Chromy had two nice bites of the cherry, and had by this time moved on to start Josef Chromy Wines in Tasmania. Therefore the opportunity was presented to the Greenhams to buy in and take over. In November 2001, the Greenhams purchased the assets off the liquidator. After a few months of renovations and upgrades, it began operating in March 2002. It wasn't a massive facility, and Greenham had to spend a fair bit of money on it to get it to the standard required to export its produce. The plant was processing 150 to 175 animals a day at the time.
Pete's idea was to turn into another Tongala. He just wanted to hot bone cows. And we started spending some money to fix the plant up. It was pretty old. It was a pig abattoir. So it had little rooms and little things everywhere and it was disjointed, like a rabbit warren. So we had to spend a fair bit of money to get it going. And then we got it going, and in a pretty short period of time, we all worked out that it's not another Tongala. There were just too many really good quality cattle down there.”
” Grant Ryan
The initial plan was to replicate the high-volume approach of Tongala, using the hot boning technique to make the process as efficient as possible. The plant had chillers, but the Greenhams weren’t even going to turn them on - they were just going to strip the meat hot and get it prepared for export. Very soon however, they realised that Tasmania didn’t have the same volume of old dairy cows that they needed to make the operation viable. It turned out that Greenhams was unintentionally stumbling on one of Australia’s great hidden secrets. Everyone had the idea that King Island had the best cattle in Australia, so anything with ‘King Island’ in the name was able to be sold at a healthy premium.
But the rest of Australian beef was largely undifferentiated. Now, however, it seemed like the Tasmanian cattle around this Smithton plant were producing much higher quality meat than they’d seen at Tongala. Somewhat by accident, Greenhams started discovering top-quality yearlings and steers. This North-West corner of Tasmania had some magnificent country and great farmland that was producing a better quality meat than most of Australia. When asked if they knew what they’d tapped into, Peter answered: “I don't think people really had in their head how good the Tassie cattle were… We certainly didn’t!”.
PETER GREENHAM JUNIOR’S APPRENTICESHIP
ike his father, and his father’s father before him, Peter Greenham Junior grew up in a meat family. As the next generation in a long line of meat workers, Peter Junior seemed destined to work in the industry. But an early proclivity for mathematics and an interest in robotics saw him start to take steps in a different direction.
I was always good with my hands and wanted to get into Mechatronics and stuff like that. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Monash University for 4 years. That was when I was 18 to 22. Then from age 22 to 24, I was doing work experience with Dad.” Peter Junior did what was essentially a two year “apprenticeship” after university, learning all of the different elements of the meat industry and developing the skills needed to run a business. Like his father, he spent six months working for an accountant. He also spent six months working for MC Herd in Geelong, before a further six months at Len’s Quality Meats, the butcher shop in Malvern Central shopping complex. Finally, he worked at Tongala.
After university, I did many different jobs to learn everything I could about the meat game. I remember I'd been living at Tongala and Dad said, “I want you to come to Melbourne and see me in the office. We're looking at buying an abattoir”. That was around the middle of 2001. Then towards the end of 2001, we purchased it and started operating in early 2002.” Peter Junior was handed the reins early. The previous manager hadn’t made an effective transition to the new Greenham management, so at age 24, Peter Junior was charged with running the new Smithton facility in Tasmania.
I got sent down there for pretty much three years to start with. I was only allowed back every second week for those first three years. Dad wanted me to understand the people. He said, “I don't want you to go down there during the week and come back on weekends”. He said, “You're going to spend some time with the people, understand the people and become a part of the farmers world”. So that was my starting block as far as understanding what high quality beef is, getting an understanding of what we can do and what we can't do. I hadn't known any of that because I'd only been in a hot boning plant. So I pretty much had to learn it all from scratch. The guys that were down there were very proficient, they'd been doing chilled beef for a long time, so they taught me everything.”
” Peter Greenham Jnr.
He said, ‘You're going to spend some time with the people, understand the people and become a part of the farmers world’.
GROWTH OF SMITHTON
ver time, the Greenhams spent a fair bit on money fixing up the facility. After initially thinking that they wouldn’t use the chillers at all, they soon found them to be vital. In fact, they had to improve the old ones as well as build additional ones.
We could see that we could operate down there efficiently. There were really high quality cattle down there, we just needed to get the operations humming along smoothly.” A step-change came when a new (and somewhat unlikely) customer came along. Sumikin Bussan had played quite a role in the Greenham story to this point, and this relationship is far from over. When Greenham’s offer to purchase SBA Foods was turned down, the company was sold to the Tasman Group. As part of the deal, the Australia processing arm of SBA Foods was sold to the Tasman Group, and a deal was put in place so that Sumikin Bussan would continue to buy meat from the Tasman Group to be sold into Japan. Sumikin Bussan had sold their plants, including Altona, Longford and King Island, and Tasman Group would sell them their meat. After six months or so, however, this deal seemed to fizzle out. Tasman Group wanted to sell their high quality Longford and King Island meat to other customers.
The Greenhams saw an opportunity. Sumikin Bussan was looking for meat, and the Greenhams were looking for customers! A deal was struck, and the Greenhams began selling meat out of Smithton to Japan.
We started doing Japanese trade around 2003 and we're still doing it. We're still dealing every day with Sumikin Bussan. They were buying full sets from Smithton. They were buying around 500 head a week of full sets. That was a lot of containers back then! That experience pretty much taught me the Japanese trade. I was doing all the sales and that taught me how to do all that business.” From the humble beginnings of 150 cattle per day, Smithton improved efficiencies, had capital upgrades and gained larger customers. The site grew and the businesses expanded. It initially had one chiller - since then, three more have been built by converting other old rooms into chillers so that there was more floor space for chilling. Today, Smithton has been built up to process 500 cattle per day.
“My earliest recollect at the age of about s to a conversation b complaining abou Left: Tasmania's stunning North West provides the backdrop for a key shift in the Greenham business model. Far left: The Greenham Tasmania facility as it is today.
Despite this less-than of a future in the me had the attributes in a Peter Greenham Jnr.
After operating ou Peter (Senior) bought 1979. He battled throu of livestock supply. Aft late 80s, he estab To
Fast forward to 2020, business to four site employees and thous
ith Peter Junior at the helm, the Smithton operation improved over time. Peter Junior brought the right mix of industry experience and freshness, meaning he could solidify the base before building innovative ideas on top. The biggest innovation Peter Junior brought to Greenhams was new ideas around ‘marketing’. The Greenhams had stumbled upon these quality cattle in the Northwest corner of Tasmania, but were not yet able to capitalise on the opportunity. The Greenhams were still treating their meat just like any other meat - processing the animal and shipping it off overseas. At that time, you just went to the butcher or the supermarket and bought ‘meat’. There was really just one type. Of course there were different animals and different cuts, but there was nothing much to distinguish one from another. The only success at ‘branding’ meat was King Island Beef, but no one else had been able to make it work. Peter Junior focused on finding a way to make Greenham meat stand out in the marketplace. He knew that the quality of meat they were producing was outstanding, but no one else did. As the 1960s marketing psychologist and marketing professor Steuart Henderson Britt said: “Doing business without marketing is like winking at a girl in the dark… You know what you are doing but nobody else does”. Peter Junior wanted to find a way of communicating just how good Tasmanian meat was - clean, green, no antibiotics, and no growth promotants.
I remember Pete came to a Board meeting one day and he said: “I want to start a brand”. Everyone around the table, me included, said “don't be an idiot - there's no brands in the meat industry”. Besides King Island Beef, there was no other brand for meat in Australia, it was just meat! But Pete said “no no no - we've got to have this brand, it's going to be this top quality brand, and we're going to sell around Australia around the world. We all said “ok you go off and play with it, see how you go.” The need for a brand came about because of the dwindling margins on full sets. ‘Full sets’ meaning one customer bought the whole animal. When Sumikin Bussan bought a full set, it meant that they had the ability to split up the cuts on their own and sell different cuts into different markets within Japan at different prices, adding their own margins on top. Sumikin Bussan had the relationships with the buyers in Japan, so at first it made sense that they would do the extra work and make that extra profit out of it. They sold it into restaurants in Japan under the name ‘Greenham Tasmania’ - they kept wanting to buy more, so Greenham kept selling them more. Eventually opportunities started to present themselves to take on some more of the value-add elements of selling meat. New relationships with Korean companies meant a demand for some certain cuts, and new relationships formed in the Australian domestic market were starting to demand other cuts. Rather than selling the whole animal, if Greenham had different buyers for different cuts, they could improve their profit margins.
When we started selling to Sumikin Bussan, pretty much the whole animal was going to Japan. But then we started breaking them up into cuts, and I reckon we were one of the first meat companies to do it. Because we had such high quality meat, we could actually get a lot more return by separating out the cuts and putting them in the right markets.”
” Grant Ryan
This new approach to selling meat called for a new approach in marketing. ‘Meat’ was no longer just ‘meat’ - with such high quality cuts, Greenham needed a way to stand out from the crowd. And so, Greenham’s first brand was born: Cape Grim.
After that first Board meeting where we nearly laughed him out of the room, Pete came back and presented to us again. He had this Cape Grim brand name and he had the logo. And again we all sort of said “OK Pete, you go and play with it - have your little fun, have your little game, have your own project…”, but we didn’t have a whole lot of faith that it would pay off in the end. But he's been proven 100% correct. It was brilliant. It just took off. It really became the biggest name in the meat industry in Australia in a really short space of time. And then he developed other brands.
Now there wouldn't be a meat processor that hasn't got 10 brands. Every one of them. Every meat processor has got 10 different brands. And back in 2007; there was just one. There was one brand. So that's all him. You've got to put all that to him. The marketing and the foresight just to see... like his old man. Just like back in 1992 when Peter Senior had the foresight to see hot boning, Pete Junior had the foresight to see ‘brand’. Do everything to protect the brand. Don't dilute it with rubbish meat. Only take your best 5% and put it in Cape Grim. He said: “people will walk into a butcher shop and they'll ask for Cape Grim”. We laughed at him and said that's never ever going to happen - people would never go in and ask for a brand. Ever.
Below: The Greenham's connection the Melbourn'e West goes back to 1969 when Henry Senior moved to Footscray. Today the Greenham brands sit among a number of heavyweight national brands as a Western Bulldogs sponsor.
” Peter Greenham Jnr.
But it's amazing, he's just been proven to be so correct.”
THE GRAPHIC DESIGNER: LUCY GREENHAM
hen Peter Junior started moving toward higher quality, niche-market meats and other products, he needed higher quality branding to go with it. The new approach to marketing needed a higher quality finish to represent the brand. The right person for the job was of course a Greenham: Peter Junior’s sister Lucy. After beginning her career as an industrial designer, Lucy Greenham worked for Playgro designing children's toys. Nearing the end of her time at Playgro, Lucy was doing more graphic design. Then in the early 2000s, she was running her own graphic design business: Art For Lucy. Lucy designed the first ever logo for Cape Grim. For almost 10 years, Lucy did all of the graphic design and created all of the advertising materials for Greenhams: logos for the Cape Grim and Pure Black brands, plus christmas cards, flyers, advertising, and everything in between. Lucy was able to elevate the brand with a higher quality look and feel. Eventually, Cape Grim became so successful that an entirely new approach to marketing was required. Lucy had started a career shift, taking herself back to TAFE to study building and construction in carpentry, so she no longer had the ability to commit full-time to marketing and design for the Greenham company. Today, Lucy works as a renovator/designer, doing mostly cosmetic renovations and building decks.
The right person for the job was of course a Greenham: Peter Junior’s sister Lucy.
THE SUCCESS OF CAPE GRIM
ape Grim started to get a great name across the Australian domestic market. This meant Greenham was able to start increasing the price. The virtuous cycle of more demand > higher prices > better quality meat > more demand continued to work in the company’s favour. On top of that, there were a few key moments that helped improve the Cape Grim name.
Clayton Wright, Managing Director at Clover Valley Meat Company, got in contact with famous chef Neil Perry. Perry’s brother was a butcher and was supplying the renowned Rockpool restaurants with beef from New South Wales. Wright secured a meeting with Perry, where he told him “your grain fed steaks are great, but to be honest, your grass fed isn’t that good”. Perry told Wright that if he could find better grass fed beef, then he would look at it. Wright called all of his contacts in the meat industry and asked them where the best place to buy grass fed beef was. Time and time again, the answer came back: the Northwest tip of Tasmania. Looking for plants in the area, he came across Greenhams. When Wright enquired, looking for a supplier of dry aged meats to one of Australia’s premier dining institutions, Greenhams were happy to oblige.
So, that's what featuring on MasterChef can do for you!”
That was about a year after the Melbourne Rockpool restaurant first opened. Our beef has been on the menu at Rockpool ever since that day. We eventually started doing business directly with Neil and we've been dealing directly with Neil for about 15 years. He then built his Sydney restaurant, then the Perth restaurant. Now he's got all these other restaurants too. It's been good business for us.” After getting into one of Australia's top restaurants, the next serendipitous spark came in the form of exposure to the general public. A television cooking show did a series of episodes on Tasmania, driving around the island, visiting the top food spots, and cooking special recipes. The eventual winner of the show made an Asian Style Beef Cheek, using the special Cape Grim Beef Cheeks. This cooking show was none other than the record-breaking MasterChef. Giving the brand name exposure to millions of everyday Australians was like strapping a pair of jet boosters to its back and sending it flying high into the sky.
I remember those cheeks took off like a rocket - we haven't packed a frozen cheek since! Normally all the cheeks get frozen and sent overseas because they're not worth much money. But, ever since that MasterChef episode, Cape Grim beef cheeks have become synonymous with high quality. We get the best price in the market and we're always sold out of them.
Right: Cape Grim clifftop signage. Right bottom: View from the South of Cape Grim. Below: Cattle for one of Greenhams' Altair Grassfed Wagyu Beef Brand.
” Peter Greenham Jnr.
we haven't packed a frozen cheek since!
he Cape Grim brand was a great success for the company, and Peter Junior’s next initiative was no different. The Greenhams had been shipping produce to America for decades, but it was mostly lower-quality meat used for hamburgers and the like. Now the palettes of American meat eaters were becoming more refined. Factory-style farming in America works well for mass producing grain fed beef, but as a result, you end up with fatty, marbly, gristly meat.
Their table meat over there is really bloody horrible. If you've ever had it, it's just like eating pure fat. But Americans started getting this taste for Grass Fed, because it was leaner, and had a grass flavour rather than a fat flavour to it.”
Identifying this trend, Peter developed a new marketing approach: the ‘Never Ever’ program. Never ever had antibiotics, never ever had hormones, never ever had growth promotants, never ever had any of the dodgy stuff that many factory farms do to plump their meat. The Tasmanian cattle the Greenhams had access to through the Smithton plant fit this mould perfectly, and American’s really started to take a shine to this clean, green, Greenham Meat.
Right: A marketer's dream: Tasmania's North West. Below: Greenham's Altair Grass-fed wagyu rib-eye steak. Left: Greenham's Never Ever program.
Peter Greenham Jnr.
Never ever had antibiotics, never ever had hormones, never ever had growth promotants. never ever had any of the dodgy stuff...
MOE, GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA
he demand generated through the Cape Grim brand and the ‘Never Ever’ program led to the birth of new brands and the opening of new markets. But with so much demand, the two plants (Tongala and Smithton) were operating at their maximum. If Greenhams wanted to supply more customers, they needed to expand. It was time for another facility.
How Gippsland really came about was that Pete Junior was running out of meat. He had built the business up so much that the 500 head a day (we were doing in Tasmania) just wasn't producing enough meat for the customer base that he'd built. Mostly because of the ‘Never Ever’ program that he built - the US just wanted more and more. We just could not supply the volumes they wanted. So we either had to tear down Smithton and rebuild a bigger plant, or build another plant at Smithton, or do something to Tongala... eventually we decided on buying or building another plant in an entirely different area.” After some initial searching, they found a location in Gippsland. Tabro Meats owned two abattoirs - one in Lance Creek, and one in Moe. In 2015, a Chinese company bought the Moe plant. Unfortunately for them, the day they bought it happened to be the absolute peak of the economic cycle in the meat industry, and within weeks everyone in the meat game started to feel the impact of the latest drought. After three sensational years, this Chinese company landed right in the middle of a really tough period. In fact, the Chinese couldn’t believe how bad the year was, and they took Tabro to court. They thought that they must have cooked the books somehow. The Chinese company must’ve been thinking: “there’s no way your last three years were as good as you say they were - we’ve been losing millions of dollars and we just can’t get this to work that way you say you did”. In the end, the facility barely ran. It wasn’t financially viable to be reviving an abattoir at that time, so it was cheaper for them to not run it at all. Aside from the half-adozen cattle that needed to be processed each year to maintain the licences, the facility was silent.
In October 2017, Greenhams was able to buy the plant at a great price. Over the span of a few weeks, Greenham spent a bunch of money on upgrades and improvements, getting it ready to start operations again in November 2017. Similar to the growth of the Smithton plant, when Greenham first took over the Moe facility, it was doing 150 cattle a day. Through making key improvements to the operations over the span of a few years, by the end of 2020 it was up to 400 a day. With current plans for renovations and some new additions to the building in the works, like a new chiller, this will eventually get up to 500 per day in the next 12 months.
Below left: Overhead image of Greenham Gippsland facility. Below: Bass Strait Beef.
” Grant Ryan
A TRIBUTE FROM FRANK HERD
The thing that really sticks out about Peter from a business perspective is that his mindset was incredibly simple. That’s not to say that he was “simple minded” at all, in fact it takes great intelligence to make something simple. I think there’s a quote: “any fool can make things bigger and more complicated, but it takes a genius with a lot of courage to go in the other direction”. Like most people in business, I tend to overcomplicate the way I think. But Peter had a really great ability to FOCUS and bring it back to the underlying issue. He was incredibly simple in the way he ran his business. His principle was always: “the more you complicate a business, the more chance you have of getting it wrong - the simpler you run a business, the more chances of getting it right”. And I believe in that. So if you ask me the one thing, the one influence he's had on me, that would be it. That, plus his honesty and integrity. They would be the standout qualities for me. I model myself on those two attributes that Peter had. Our families have done business together for decades now. My father (Fred Herd) and Peter Senior started it out back in the 1960’s, then I came on board to join my father, then Young Peter came on board to join his father. Over the decades, the Herds and the Greenhams have done millions and millions of dollars of business and there was never a single contract. Everything was built on a handshake. It takes great trust, honesty and integrity on all sides to be able to hold that up. The trust and loyalty between Peter Senior and my father was incredible. That doesn’t mean they never had a blue - bloody oath they did! But even when there were differences, there was always trust and honesty in the mix too. In life and in business, it's about WHO you deal with not WHAT you deal with. Peter Senior was one of those great blokes to deal with. You were never in doubt of where you stood. He put his integrity in front of the dollar every single time. Too many people put the dollar in front of everything, but not Peter. He never compromised his integrity for the sake of a dollar. He was an incredible man who taught me a lot. I saw him as a business associate, a friend, and a mentor. He meant a hell of a lot to me, and I’ll continue to model my life and my career on what I learnt from him.”
Frank Herd Managing Director, M.C. Herd Group of Companies
The more you complicate a business, the more chance you have of getting it wrong - the simpler you run a business, the more chances of getting it right. 81
tongala 2.0 customers Moving Up The Supply Chain GREENHAM FAMILY TREE
Over the years, decades and centuries, the Greenham business has evolved. • William Henry Senior taking a mob of cattle up to Bendigo to sell to the hopeful gold miners • Henry William Senior setting up an abattoir and export factory in Byron Bay • Henry, Harry and Reg working out of the Melbourne City Abattoirs • Peter Senior buying his first abattoir in Newport • Building Australia’s first hot boning facility at Tongala • Peter Junior creating beef brands. At the time of writing, Greenhams is going through another evolution. The next 12-18 months could represent the largest capital investment and the biggest diversification project the company has ever gone through. The original plant at Tongala is approaching its 30th anniversary, and is in need of an upgrade. In a ‘changing of the guard’, Peter Greenham (Junior) is preparing the company for the future, readying it for the next few decades of growth. The High Efficiency Beef Abattoir (HEBA) built at Tongala was the perfect plant for the 90s. It was a simple operation that ran smoothly. Animals came in, meat was stripped into a box, and it was sent off to the American hamburger market. It was quick, it was efficient, and it was (mostly) headache free. But times have changed. The industry has evolved, so Tongala needs to evolve too. The area, Northern Victoria, looks very different now to what it did three decades ago. When HEBA was first built, the region was a big dairy area. These types of cows - old, skinny, light cows - were exactly what the HEBA system needed. However, in 2021, the dairy industry in the area is about 30% of what it used to be. Water prices in the Goulburn Valley have skyrocketed, and many dairy farmers had to sell up or change gears. The area is now home to a lot of mixed farming - grain farming and grain fed beef cattle. Because the old dairy cows that Tongala needs have been harder to come by, the plant has been relying on buying cattle from Queensland or the Northern Territory for the last five to eight years. It has been fine as a stopgap, but it’s not a long term solution.
The high efficiency system works best when there are lots of the right type of cattle around. When there were lots of local farmers on the books, the HEBA system ran smoothly. Tongala is specialised to one specific process, and what gets it through tough times is having access to exactly what it needs, keeping down costs through a constant stream of supply. However, with changes to the area and the lack of the ‘right’ kind of cows, Tongala has struggled in recent times. Over the past few years, the plant has been going through rolling shut downs. Seasonally opening and closing the plant has been a way of avoiding the big losses that come with the downturns. But closing and opening a plant is tough on the people involved, both the employees and the farmers (and the business owners, of course). The more you open and close a plant, the harder it is to keep everyone aligned and maintain a profitable business. So again, temporary closures have been a short-term band-aid, however this also isn’t a long term solution. The options were clear: close down the plant, or evolve. Peter Junior has chosen the latter. This means shifting away from the high-efficiency hot boning method to more of a ‘high quality’ focus. Rather than going towards lower quality meat with the high processing approach, Tongala will shift toward developing the ability to do a wider range of things. In the past, the focus was on one method and one method only. In the future, Tongala will have the flexibility and adaptability to move with the trends. Refurbishing the plant will give it the capability to do all sorts of cows and focus more on the value-add elements. Rather than having the dichotomy of the really high quality brands coming out of Moe and Smithton, and the lower quality production meat coming out of Tongala, Greenham will now focus all facilities on the higher-end meats. Instead of clinging to the past, this new move brings the plant more in line with today’s world and prepares it to adapt to tomorrow’s. Instead of hanging on to the ideal of what types of animals used to be in the Tongala area (then buying animals from the other side of the country to try to plug the gaps), the new plant will be built for the animals that are in the area today and what types of animals are expected in the future.
2021 AND BEYOND
Like the ancient stoic philosophers used to say, you’ll be far better off by changing yourself to fit the world, rather than trying to change the world to fit you.
Once the board approves the plans, it will probably be one of the quickest abattoirs that’s ever been built! We have to have it completed by June 2022. We’re building it with much higher chillers and much higher rails. The animals are getting bigger, so you’ve really got to design for everything from 250kg animal to 1000kg animal. Plus we need to have enough room in the different areas to pack all of the different offals. Fat is worth a lot of money now, so you need to be able to keep every skerrick of fat that comes off the animal. Even the bones can be worth something now! The plans have been approved by council. It’s an ambitious project, but Greenham management thinks we can do it and the builder thinks we can do it, so we’re going to do it! As soon as we get board approval, it will be go go go.”
The options were clear: close down the plant, or evolve.
Below: North West Tasmania producer Les Porteus Property.
” Peter Greenham Jnr.
ongala has always had a good reputation, ever since Peter Senior first opened the facility in the 1990s. The plant developed a great reputation for consistency: consistency in suppliability and consistency in quality. As such, it has always had many great customers that were willing to buy meat every week. The problem of the business model at Tongala, however, was that they were ultimately producing a commodity, and a commodity business is cutthroat. The price you get for your produce is the price that the next closest abattoir is willing to take. If you were charging 2 cents more per kilo, you wouldn’t get the business. And ultimately, it’s a low barrier to entry any abattoir can set up with this methodology and start competing with you on price alone. Australia is struggling to compete with the likes of Brazil and Argentina in this type of meat. The South Americans are able to produce similar quality meat at cheaper prices, so Australia is starting to lose some of its share of the pie on a global scale. The antidote to commoditisation of meat? Claims, Quality, Brands. Stories. By working directly with big customers and clients, a brand can create something bespoke, something that the customer really wants. If a brand can cater to specific demands, it can charge a premium over-and-above market rates. If a business has profit margins that are so tight in the commodity game, it will struggle to fight through the tough times - so developing a strong customer base that is willing to pay more for a higher quality, will give a business the added benefit of being able to ride out the storms that inevitably come.
It’s really risk VS return. Or more accurately, work VS return. It’s a much harder business to go down the ‘branding’ path. I suppose Dad developed Tongala when he was age 55 and built it up through his 60s. So he had a different way of selling than I had. He was coming toward the latter stages of his career, so he wanted things to be easier.”
I was willing to take the harder path - the one that required more work and might not pan out every single time, but there was more reward in it if you got it right. I was always looking 5 years ahead, whereas he wanted a simple business that worked right now. He thought I was trying to complicate things by adding claims on it and trying to work with customers to make it how they wanted it, but it’s worked out over the long run.
Right: Developed in 2019, Altair grass-fed Wagyu is one of many in a growing stable of Greenham brands.
The commodity side of it is great when the cattle are there and everything is up and running, but it gets very hard when you’re competing with so many different people, especially during the tough times. The margins aren’t there when you need them to be. So while it was harder work in the beginning, it’s starting to pay dividends now.”
Peter Greenham Jnr.
Claims, Quality, Brands. Stories.
2021 AND BEYOND
MOVING UP THE SUPPLY CHAIN
nce the Tongala upgrades have been completed, that will be it for the processing arm of the Greenham business. But that doesn’t mean the end of growth and expansion of the business - Peter Junior has new plans for growth.
With the three sites running at maximum capacity, I don’t want to expand our processing operations. But I do want to expand by going into land and value-added types of things. That’s where I think the direction of the company will be next: value adding with our brands, going into more of the retail space with branded products, and also going into being able to run our own cattle and have more of that area covered. It’s always been my goal to kill 2,000 cattle a day. With the upgrades to Tongala, that’s what we’ll be able to do. So instead of spending more money on meat processing, we will be investing in land and cattle. We’ll never have enough cattle to run all of our plants, but it will be nice to have a backstop at different times of the year by owning our own cattle.” Owning the cattle means that you can maintain a little more control, as it gives you a greater ability to ride the ebbs and flows of the price of cattle and the price of meat. There are dual benefits: it is both a strategic investment for the processing arm of the business in the short term, as well as being an investment in assets for the long term capital growth of the land.
It’s also a fantastic story and a juicy marketing angle: to be able to say that you own your own cattle puts you on a different level to most meat processors. This meant Greenham could get to a place where they’ve overseen the entire end-to-end process: breeding the cattle, raising the cattle, feeding the cattle, and ultimately processing and branding the meat. There aren’t many out there who can claim they have this kind of ownership over the whole process, and it will be an amazing story to tell.
I spoke with Dad before he passed away. I said: “do you want to know what I want to do in the future?”. And he goes… “not really…”. He knew exactly what I was going to say about wanting to change Tongala. But I said: “no no, it’s nothing about Tongala Dad… I want to get into buying land, growing cattle”. Land is an asset that generally really never loses value, and it’s a very saleable asset. It’s not like buying an abattoir where you just keep pouring money into improving it and it’s worth less money land is something where you buy it and pour money into it and it goes up in value. It will be nice to be able to pour money into something that isn’t worth less money down the track!”
Right: Cape Grim cattle in the North West of Tasmania.
Peter Greenham Jnr.
2021 AND BEYOND
to be able to say that you’ve had control of the meat for its whole life, even on that small scale, is powerful.
GREENHAM FAMILY TREE Charles Greenham
Henry "Harry" William Greenham (Junior)
William Henry Greenham (Senior)
William Henry Greenham (Junior)
Henry William Greenham (Senior)
GERTRUDE (AMY) GREENHAM
Peter William Greenham (Peter Junior)
Harry Greenham 90
Doris Annie GOlding
Peter Henry Greenham (Peter Senior)
Mary Ann Coleman
Child #8, a daughter who died young
ollowing on from Iris's initial family tree (on page 14), we've been able to fill in some of the gaps. Here is the Greenham family tree, to the best of our knowledge. As the story continues to go, the family continues to grow.
Peter Greenham, Junior Grant Ryan Graeme Pretty Fred McDonald Norm King Frank Herd Tom Maguire Joe Gamils Garry Johnson Paul Burchill John Westacott Peter Greenham, Snr. Obituary
PETER GREENHAM, JUNIOR
The reason Dad got out of Gilbertsons was because he foresaw the downfall of those big abattoirs in the middle of the city. He said: “Unions get hold of you! The labour… it's not like country people, they're like city people. They've got lots of options. There is plenty of labour around, but the quality of the labour is not as good as you get out in the rural areas”. In the city, you’re nowhere near the cattle. Cities were getting bigger and it was getting harder to get cattle into the cities. That really came to fruition COVID-19. All the city plants are getting COVID and getting viruses. In the rural areas, we've been virtually COVID free. Also the plant size. We think a Plant Manager can quite comfortably manage an abattoir between 500 and 1000 head. You go any bigger than 1000 head and it starts getting very, very hard to control. You start putting on too many staff and your efficiency goes down the drain. To get your efficiencies then, you run multiple smaller plants rather than one big one. You've got one Head Office and you put your systems in place! That's what Dad has taught me: bigger is not always better. He also said: “You've gotta be the farmer's friend… You've always gotta err on the side of the farmer. You've got to pay quick! You've got to pay your suppliers faster than anyone else in the industry.
You've got to support the community. That's another big thing he taught me – supporting the community where you operate. If you're a good corporate citizen you're supporting the community. If you're supporting the local footy club, the local bowls club and such, people talk! They say: “I'll sell my cattle to them because they're doing the right thing by the community”. We support those who support us! They're the main things that Dad has really been a stickler on. That has allowed us to get cattle, where other people haven't been able to get cattle! Dad was able to spot the trends: • Bigger isn't always better. • The city might not be the best place to operate any more. • The workers are better out in the country and you're closer to the cattle. So that was his “future trend forecasting”. I guess, in the same vein, we looked to the future and thought: “Okay, the manufacturing side is one way to do it, but now it's evolving to more premium high cost, but high margin brand-based”. People were looking for those nuances, looking for ‘natural’, looking for ‘organic’. So we’re still constantly evolving for the future.
Dad obviously taught me a lot about life and about family. 94
When we started to “brand” meat there weren't very many brands around. You could count the “brands” on one hand! People just used the name of their company, like Greenham or O'Connors or whatever. There were no real “niche brands” out there like there are in cheese and milk and all the rest of it. Meat was just meat! But now meat is not just meat! The price of meat is what you tell the people it's worth. Like anything that is a “commodity” versus “niche”, you need to have a value proposition. You need to have a story behind your product. That's what I really realised about 15 years ago. If you're ever going to get a premium over your opposition for meat, you need to have a value proposition. You need to have a story otherwise, you are just another meat producer. Just another abattoir! That's where the “Cape Grim” story came from. Cape Grim still gets a big premium over the market. We still get a 10%, sometimes even 20% premium, over some items throughout the market! We get more than anyone else because we've got the product. We get to sell it in front of anyone else because of the name. Right up to the end, Dad was very close to the business. He loved the business and he loved working, so he did whatever he could for as long as he could. He had a holiday house in Portsea and a holiday house in Mission Beach, and he had his little office in both of them. Every morning we had to fax him the figures and he’d do his own little report. It’s crazy that we still had to have a fax in the office. Faxes went out of fashion 20 years ago, we must’ve been one of the last businesses to have a fax so that we could send Dad the figures! He liked to see it in his hand - he didn’t believe anything he saw on a screen so he needed to be holding the bit of paper with the figures on it.
Besides business, Dad obviously taught me a lot about life and about family. Mum was always very very supportive of dad throughout the whole life of the business, and Dad was very supportive of Mum. Every Monday night I would go to Mum & Dad’s place for dinner, and Monday was the day we got the company Profit & Loss statements for the week. Mum knew that every Monday was P&L day, so she’d always call out: “can I still go to Fig to buy a new dress!?”. Fig was a nice dress shop in Toorak, and Dad would always say, “yes Annie, you can go to Fig and buy a new dress this week”, even if the numbers didn’t look so good… It was a running joke we had between the three of us.
Peter Greenham, Jnr. Managing Director of H.W. Greenham & Sons, Pty Ltd
Mum got diagnosed with Alzheimers about 10 years ago - her brother died of Alzheimers and her mother died of Alzheimers, so it does run in the family. A couple of months before Dad died, we had to move her into a home. I see her every couple of weeks, but she’s a shadow of her former self. Dad mostly looked after her for the last 10 years, and it was only over the last couple of years that we got carers in to help Dad, but he still did most of the care for her. Dad was just amazing with her. I remember even from when we were young they’d say “you’ll never put us in a home”. So Dad did everything he possibly could to keep her out of a home, until he was no longer physically able to look after her himself. I remember when Dad, my sister Lucy and I decided it was time to take her to a home, Dad just couldn’t handle it he broke down. I took her that day with one of the carers and Dad didn’t like the idea of seeing her in there with other people that had gone so far down hill. But he was so good. It would’ve been so frustrating because she’d ask the same question 30 times every hour, but he kept on answering her, never got upset, he was just amazing. He used to cook dinner every night right through to the end, and he looked after her all day every day. He was a hard man at work, but the soft side really came out when he was around mum.”
One of the biggest lessons I learned from Peter Senior was INTEGRITY. If he said he was going to do something, he’d do it. He'd never go back on his word. He never tried to break a deal he'd done. If he did a deal, it was a deal. That was it. Even if he bought meat at $2kg and overnight it dropped to a dollar, he wouldn't go back and say “Oh, you know, the prices dropped so I’m going to pay less”... he just wouldn't do it. He was the absolute definition of integrity. Another was HONESTY. He never tried to cheat anybody. He insisted that nobody in the company tried to cheat anybody, especially with farmers. Don't ever cheat farmers. Don't cheat them on weights, don't cheat them on anything, just pay them what we owe them and don’t try to sneak a little bit off them for any reason. So HONESTY, INTEGRITY, and... he’s still probably the SMARTEST person I've ever met. I've met a lot of smart people, but he is still the smartest person I’ve ever known. I can remember going through pretty complex financial models with him, and he'd be ahead of me. I'd be explaining to him how it worked and he'd be three pages ahead. He'd say “yep, let's go to this bit - I've got all that”. He had the sharpest mind. And he could evaluate really complex problems and bring it back to really simple terms. He'd put everything in really simple terms and then see the answer, see a solution. I might think that I had something really complex that I couldn’t wrap my head around, but he could break it down into its smallest components and come up with a simple solution, and you’d just have to say “that makes sense” because in two minutes he’d solved the problem you’d been working on for two weeks. He was a very clever man. Quite extraordinary.”
I've met a lot of smart people, but he is still the smartest person I’ve ever known.
Grant Ryan Finance Director of H.W. Greenham & Sons, Pty Ltd
I started in the industry in 1970, and I met Peter Greenham Senior probably about 1975. There was a merging of two-family companies in the 80s, Gibertson and Greenham, and Peter Senior ended up the boss of the new joint venture. That's where my involvement with Peter really flourished. We got to know each other through livestock, because I was in the yards at the Gilberstons. Peter's first love was livestock. He loved engineering, but he really loved livestock and he always believed that they really made an abattoir tick. If you didn't buy your cattle at the right place, priced the best, you couldn't make money on the other end. If you didn't keep the abattoir running well you wouldn't make any money either. Peter Senior was always right on the money. Together we built a friendship which flourished for nearly 50 years until Peter's passing. Which was very, very sad, you know. I spent more time of my life with Peter Greenham than I did with my own father. I think it was much, much more than an employeeemployer relationship. It was a friendship. A mateship. I miss the things we used to do, and I still miss him. I'll never forget him; he's left a big hole in my life. I started at the yards back in 1970. My younger brother was a butcher at the butcher shop in front of Gilberstons, and I was doing a building apprenticeship at the same time. I'd just about finished my apprenticeship, and I was sitting down, having a beer with him, talking about wages and income. I was about to get married, and he was earning more money than I was! My younger brother! So, I said, “bloody hell mate, get me a job there!” He got me a job, and my first job was washing the yards for 10 or 12 months. From there I moved to working on the ramp on the race chasing the cattle up to the kill floor, then to cleaning up after the butchers. Then I got back into the yards again and started to do a little bit of droving. Within a couple of years, I ended up being the supervisor. I think I did that for 15 years, before working in buying at Newmarket then managing a farm for several years. I then went back to working in the abattoir and buying a few cattle for several years. In the last 80s, half the Gilbertson family sold out of the company. Not long after that, Peter Greenham said he was going to retire... which he was never going to do, because he was too young. But he took off from Gilbertson and so did I. I was working in dairy farming, and had just sold up and begun looking for a new job when Peter called me. “What are you up to?” He said. “I’m looking for a job,” I responded.
He said, “well, you can stop looking. Put your belt on and come with me. I'm going to build an abattoir.” He'd come back from New Zealand and seen the abattoirs, and the hot boning. He drew out his plans for the abattoir on a coaster while having a beer and designed the abattoir he wanted to build. It worked out and we worked there. I think it's coming up to 30 years soon since it was built!
Graeme Pretty Livestock Manager, H.W. Greenham & Sons
We worked there together, side by side for many years. I turned to Peter one day, and I said, “Pete, why don't we do big bulls?” He said, “son, don’t be bloody silly.” About 6 months later Peter came back up to me and said, “look, I've been thinking about the bulls...” and he built the bull plant. It has been a great partnership. I really treasured it. The Greenham family and my family have a great relationship. My mother worked for Greenhams back in the early days, and I’ve worked for them most of my life (I’m 71 this year). My son's been associated for about 27 years, and so was my younger daughter. We've got a long, long standing relationship with the Greenham family. Peter Senior was always true to his word, and as loyal as anybody could be. If you went to war and Peter Greenham watched your back, you’d never be attacked from behind. He was a very, very staunch old-fashioned person. He was a strict businessman, and he handled situations impeccably. He was wise very, very smart. He was the greatest mentor in my life. I believe some of the better attributes I have are from him. All my best attributes in the business sense are from the lessons I learned from Peter Senior. Honesty, integrity, and being true to yourself. If you can't be true to yourself, who are you? If you’re true to yourself, everything else will work itself out as you go along. I know several people that had business dealing with Peter Senior. I’m talking handshake deals, buying cattle out of the northern country. I’m talking about millions of dollars in handshake deals. People have come to me since and said, “you know what? I should have a picture of that man hanging on my wall. He was something special.” I said to him once, “You’re like a googy egg. Hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” He said, “Bullshit, no I’m not!”, but anyone who was close to him knows it to be true. He was very, very thoughtful, man. Didn't want any kudos for what he did. He didn't blow his bags on anything and just went on. Anyone who didn’t like Peter Senior didn’t understand him. If you understood the man, you couldn’t help but like him.” 97
FRED MCDONALD, OAM
My company is Homebush Export Meat, and I started it in 1959. My son runs it now and they are also still very friendly with the Greenhams. I first met Peter in 1967, at Moonee Ponds. I'd come down from Sydney wanting to buy meat. Peter was the only one who would serve me. His father, Harry, wanted to serve another company called McPherson Brothers, not me, but Peter stood up for me. Peter was supplying America with a few different cuts of meat, and these were also pieces I wanted to buy, but I didn't have the money yet. Peter still sold me the meat on the promise of the money, so that was fantastic. He said that he’d send me a load of meat on a promise, but I had to pay for the first one before he sent me the second one, which I thought was fair enough. We were in really good stead, and we then kept getting meat from him from all the way back then until now. I used to come into town and pinch his car. Peter wouldn’t know I was coming to town, but he’d look out of the window at his office and the car would have disappeared from the car park. Whenever I was in Melbourne, we would go to the football, we were really good friends. He taught me how to live. I'd never spend money, but he really knew how to spend it! Taught me how to spend money on a bottle of wine and a good steak, believe me.
A story that has got nothing to do with meat is that I was at Peter’s house one night playing cards with a few gents. There was one fellow there by the name of Mal Seccull, who was a very good friend of Peter’s. The next week they played cards again, but I wasn’t there. That night, Mal Seccull announced that he’d just bought a horse, and he offered everyone at the table a share in this horse. I would’ve bought a share if I was there… but I wasn’t! The horse turned out to be Manikato. Manikato won the Golden Slipper, it was only the second horse in Australia to win $1m in prize money, and all up it won 20 races that would be called ‘Group 1s’ today including the Blue Diamond and the Caulfield Guineas. It won “Horse of the Year” in 1979 and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Gee I’m kicking myself that I missed that game of cards… that was the wrong day not to go. Peter’s catchphrase was “Can’t is not a word”. In his eyes, if you wanted to do something, you did it! If you ever said to him “you can’t do that”, he’d shoot back with “can’t is not a word”. He always found a way. We got along great. In fact, Peter is my eldest son Brett's godfather, and my second son Peter is named after him, so that's how close we were. It was a really great 55-year relationship from that initial load of meat that I bought. He was young, and so was I.”
in his eyes, if you wanted to do something, you did it!... He always found a way. 98
Fred McDonald, OAM M.C. Herd Group of Companies
I started with Peter in 1983 and worked in his first abattoirs in Newport, before he went into a joint venture with Gilbertsons. I was his chief engineer at Greenhams, and I was with him during the transition into Gilbertson-Greenham. I was chief engineer there also. One year I went with Peter to New Zealand, because I knew some people there that were doing some innovative things with abattoirs. We went across to have a look at what they were doing. This was while Peter was still at GilbertsonGreenham. We saw smaller abattoirs and reported to the board that the way we’d done things in the past was not the way to do it now. We reported to the board that we should do smaller, high-tech plants - not the big old plants with a limited life. The board didn’t listen though, and that went nowhere. Peter told me later that he wanted to develop a small plant like what we had seen in New Zealand, with just a few modifications. We’d meet at the old Cricketers Arms in South Melbourne and plan out how we’d go about it. We used to draw designs on the back of coasters while having about a hundred beers. We did that for about 12 months, just drawing on the back of whatever we found on the bar. I basically did all the designs there! We then found the land, took the drawings, and developed it from there. After Tongala, and after I’d stopped working at Gilbertsons, Peter offered me easy jobs. But I said “no, I don’t want to get paid for nothing, I want to work!” And he said, “I’ll give you a bloody job, then.” So I started working for Peter designing his office block in Port Melbourne. I put together a team of engineers and we all got to work. I then had to put another team together for the big freezer store at the back of the office, and we had the thing built. Peter had his first ever brand new office block. He was one of the best people I have ever worked for, in my life. I’d do anything for him. We started off with a little high-tech abattoir, which was the first of its kind, and he (Peter) just came out with fantastic ideas. All of his employees were stakeholders. If one of the old blokes hurt their leg, they didn’t have to work, they got paid regardless. He paid the farmers direct within seven days. He made a lot of new innovations and “first-ofs”.
He was very successful and he employed a lot of people over the time. I’d say 99% of the people he employed are so dedicated to him, they’d walk over water for him. He was fair, he’d never put himself above anyone. He could speak to anyone at any level, be it a politician or the guy who shovelled the shit. If he walked through the works, he would talk to everyone he’d come into contact with. He wasn’t false. You can tell when people are false, and he wasn’t like that. I’ve known young Peter since he was knee-high to a grasshopper and he’s been brought up the same way.
Norm King Former Chief Engineer, H.W. Greenham & Sons
Young Peter will have the same attitude as his father, and that’s great. It is so rare to have a company like that these days, one that just gets on and gets to it. We would fly by the seat of our pants a lot, but that was part of why it worked. Peter always looked after my wife and I. He meant so much to me, I’ll tell you. I’d do anything for him. So would a lot of other people. Like Sharpie, Peter Sharpe the stock buyer. Him and Peter would have arguments like you wouldn’t believe! But then we’d go off to the pub and have a couple of beers, and then it would be all good. Peter was just a fair dinkum person. The way he brought his kids up… Lucy and young Pete had such a good grounding, you know? And I believe that was through Peter Senior. He was very well respected in the business, and it was an absolute pleasure to work for him. After I stopped working with him I always stayed in contact with him. I live in Tasmania now, but even right up until now, he and I would still have phone calls, and catch-up. He gave me the working opportunity to express myself and really do things. The Gilbertsons were good too, but I never had the same relationship with anyone else as I did with Peter. He was something else, he was. Annie, Peter’s wife was beautiful too. I’d honestly say working for them was the best time of my life.”
What were the lessons I learned from Peter Senior? Well… there were a few bad habits I picked up from Peter on our fishing trips together… In all honesty, the thing that really sticks out from a business perspective is that his mindset was incredibly simple. That’s not to say that he was “simple minded” at all, in fact it takes great intelligence to make something simple. I think there’s a quote: “any fool can make things bigger and more complicated, but it takes a genius with a lot of courage to go in the other direction”. Like most people in business, I tend to overcomplicate the way I think. But Peter had a really great ability to FOCUS and bring it back to the underlying issue. He was incredibly simple in the way he ran his business. His principle was always: “the more you complicate a business, the more chance you have of getting it wrong the simpler you run a business, the more chances of getting it right”. And I believe in that. So if you ask me the one thing, the one influence he's had on me, that would be it. That, plus his honesty and integrity. They would be the standout qualities for me. I model myself on those two attributes that Peter had. Our families have done business together for decades now. My father (Fred Herd) and Peter Senior started it out back in the 1960’s, then I came on board to join my father, then Young Peter came on board to join his father. Over the decades, the Herds and the Greenhams have done millions and millions of dollars of business and there was never a single contract. Everything was built on a handshake. It takes great trust, honesty and integrity on all sides to be able to hold that up. The trust and loyalty between Peter Senior and my father was incredible. That doesn’t mean they never had a blue - bloody oath they did! But even when there were differences, there was always trust and honesty in the mix too. In life and in business, it's about WHO you deal with not WHAT you deal with. Peter Senior was one of those great blokes to deal with. You were never in doubt of where you stood. He put his integrity in front of the dollar every single time. Too many people put the dollar in front of everything, but not Peter. He never compromised his integrity for the sake of a dollar.
If it hasn’t been mentioned yet, it needs to be mentioned now: Peter was an incredibly generous man. His generosity toward the Footscray football club, the Western Bulldogs, is in the seven figures. He gave to plenty of charities throughout his life, and even more on his death. Whenever there was a bushfire appeal or a drought relief fund, Pete would always be leading the way and rallying those around him to do the same. He was incredibly generous to the National Galleries as well he wasn’t your typical artsy sort of bloke, but he really valued the importance of art in our society. And beyond all of these more ‘public’ offerings, there are so many below the surface he helps that you’d never know about. He was always helping friends out if they were in need. If a mate fell on hard times, he’d be there to lend a hand and no one else would even know about it.
Frank Herd Managing Director, MC Herd
He was an incredible man who taught me a lot. I saw him as a business associate, a friend, and a mentor. He meant a hell of a lot to me, and I’ll continue to model my life and my career on what I learnt from him.”
…there were a few bad habits I picked up from Peter on our fishing trips together…
Before working at Greenham, I got to know Peter Senior in his role on the Meat & Allied Trades Federation of Australia, which later became the National Meat Association of Australia. I was an employee of that organisation - it was my first job in the meat industry. My first job out of university was working for the Victorian Farmers Federation, then I moved across to the National Meat Association. I met Peter really early in my career, and I credit him as the reason I’m still in the meat industry today. I worked with him for a long time as part of my role at the association, then I spent many years at competitors of Greenham, before eventually coming to work for Greenham myself (joining as the General Manager of Operations in early 2020). For many years, Peter was chair of the Association’s Export Council, and he was a man that was just totally passionate about the industry. He gave endless amounts of his time for the betterment of the industry. He was a real leader in terms of what businesses were doing to drive improvements in food safety. He always wanted to do the right thing himself, and he made sure everybody else was doing the right thing too so that they didn’t tarnish the good name of the industry. There were lots of threats around access to US markets and other international markets because some companies were found to have some contamination and little outbreaks. They were putting their own companies at risk, but they were also potentially dragging the whole Aussie market down with them. Peter wanted to make sure that he did everything he had to do to protect his business - from bringing in new technologies, to walking around the sites himself to keep an eye on how things were being done, and everything in between. He also did a lot of work around quotas - you needed quota to be able to export into the US market and Peter worked to ensure that quota was distributed fairly and equitably among all meat exporters. He led a group of Australian small businesses in a charge against the big multinationals. One international business leader labelled them “The Koalas” because they were acting like an endangered species. This was meant to be a derogatory remark in a way, but Peter owned the label and used it as fuel in the fight. This bunch of Aussie underdogs took on the big corporations… and won. These rules are still governing access to the USA market.
When I was finishing University in the late 1990s, the industry was a really tough place for a young person to come into. The quota saga was an ongoing debate, a battle worth tens of millions of dollars (if not hundreds) between some seriously influential people. As a young person trying to get a foothold on their career, it felt like I was under fire from all angles. But Peter was really the one bloke who seemed to look out for me.
Tom Maguire Group General Manager Operations, H.W. Greenham & Sons
The one thing that stands out about Peter is that he was 150% true to his word. He would make tough decisions, and he’d stick by what he said. When people in the industry were throwing rocks and stones, and chose to target me as the freshfaced newbie thinking I’d crumble under the pressure, Peter was always rock solid in supporting me. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone else who can match his level of integrity. His decisions may not have always been completely right in hindsight, but geez when he made a commitment to you, he stuck by you no matter what. That’s rare. There’s many people I credit with supporting me throughout my career, but he’s really one of the major reasons why I’m still in this industry today. When you’re young and you see someone that’s just so passionate about something, you figure out pretty quickly that this must be a pretty cool area to work in. You realise that there’s something special about this place. Peter was a man that worked 24/7, 365 days a year, because he absolutely loved it. He was one of my real mentors in life and shaped who I am today. A few things I learned from him: • Integrity is everything • Always get to the root cause of something • Stand up for what you believe in • Put your politics on top of your table (play the issues, don’t play the politics) • Authenticity: don’t compromise your values • Be humble, don’t boast (he always just referred to himself as “the butcher from Footscray”, letting his actions speak louder than his words) • If you believe in something, get after it! He had a huge impact on the industry, and a huge impact on me.”
My initial involvement with Greenham was when I was working for the Louis Dreyfus Company and I facilitated a deal Peter Greenham Snr. did with Costco in the United States. I helped put a deal together where we were sending bull meat into the Costco grinding facility. Meat was sent by Greenham in standard 60-pound boxes and Costco made mostly hamburger patties but also hot dogs and such, that would be sold as Costco branded meat throughout their retail stores. We kicked that off in the mid-1990s, and that relationship between myself, Greenham, and Costco still continues to this day. In the US, meat is generally sold off what is known as the Urner Barry or “yellow sheet”, which is one of the systems used for pricing meat. For this manufactured, standard ‘ground beef’ type of minced meat, it’s predominantly a bidding type of system - each day the buyers would send their bids in for the price of their meat that day, then it was up to the packer if they wanted to sell at that price or not. But Peter wanted something more consistent. Peter said: “Listen, I don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re always haggling over price”. He wanted to develop a fair way of having a consistent flow of meat between Greenham and Costco.
everyone loved to see him he was such a character! He had his own personality and everyone who met him loved him.
What I helped come up with was a formulation or valuation based on the “yellow sheet” price. We’d take that standard quoting mechanism and run it through this formulation, and that would be the agreed price for the meat. Some weeks the price might be above the Urner Barry yellow sheet, some weeks it might be below, but over the course of the year it all balances out and it’s a fair system for both parties. In fact, even though Louis Dreyfus Company got out of the meat importing business, I went out on my own and created JG Beef Sales, and still to this day we use that same basic pricing formula. Over 25 years later, the relationship is still strong. For Peter Senior, the reasoning for establishing this relationship was twofold. Firstly, he wanted a simpler business. In the beginning, when he first entered the US market, we were sending him bids each night and haggling over prices. Eventually he said: “can you hook me up with a customer where we can build a strong, trusting relationship, so that we don’t have to do this every day”. And Costco was the perfect customer for that. Secondly, he wanted to know where his meat was going. He took great pride in his meat. To him, it was more than just the money. If you sold your meat to an importer like Louis Dreyfus, it could go anywhere - it could be onsold half a dozen times before it eventually ends up in a customer’s plant. But Peter wanted to know who was getting his meat so that he could make sure they were happy with it. By having this long-term relationship with a good customer, you’ll always hear if something is wrong with your meat - then you can do something about it before it’s too late!
That relationship has been strong for over two and a half decades now. Peter Senior developed the most efficient meat plant in Australia, so Greenham meat has a great name over here, and, dare I say it… it’s easy to sell. Peter Junior was able to then leverage the relationship and get into some of the “Never Ever”, antibiotic-free types of meat he was doing. Senior was a little slow to see where things were headed, but Junior noticed that there was a movement toward people becoming more health-conscious and demanding a different type of meat. So that foot in the door at Costco was an important one for springboarding this new product line. Of course, the typical ground beef is still the biggest seller over here in the US, and it probably always will be, but this “Never Ever” stuff has definitely taken some market share.
Joe Gamils President of JG Beef Sales, Inc
As a businessman, everybody who ever met Peter Senior respected him. He called a spade a spade, let me tell you that! So while he wasn’t always an easy guy to get along with, he was certainly an extremely honourable guy. He was a loyal guy. If you were loyal to him, he’d be loyal to you forever. But if he thought you were a shithead (excuse my language) you would be out the door. When he was travelling and was able to come across to America, everyone loved to see him - he was such a character! He had his own personality and everyone who met him loved him. As a person, I miss Senior dearly. We used to talk just about every night. Even to the point where he’d track me down! He had all of my different phone numbers for the places I could be contacted. Sometimes my wife and I would be eating dinner and I’d hear my office phone ring. Then I’d hear the kitchen phone ring. Then I’d hear the cell phone ring. We knew it was Peter! He was a dear friend. I feel very honoured and lucky that I had that much time with him and was able to be associated with him and the Greenham company.”
I met Peter when I was about 15 or 16. There was a social club at the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Footscray. Peter was a little bit older than me, but he was a part of this church social club called ‘The Ramblers’. Peter went to all the outings and dances… I’m not sure how many times he went to church though! But that’s where I met him. We used to do a bit of surfing as well, so I’d often meet up with him down in Lorne. Peter’s nickname was Splinter because he was tall and thin, and used to ride these big surfboards - I think it was an 18-foot plywood board that he made himself. Although Peter was in a different age group, I used to see quite a bit of him back then. We fell out of touch for a short while but then reconnected at the football. We were both in the President’s Club at the doggies, so we always used to see each other at the footy. Anne, his wife, would always be at the footy, and sometimes Peter Junior would come along and sit with us. Then we formed a little coterie club called The Coach’s Club, and Peter and I were two of the founding members. He’s been a generous member of that group since its inception. There was also another special group of four that donated a substantial amount to the club every year when they were struggling financially: myself, Peter, the President Peter Gordon, and the number one ticket holder Alan Johnstone. We used to meet with the coach and the club leaders every year to discuss on-field and off-field matters at the club.
Peter was really mad about the footy, and he absolutely loved the Doggies. I remember him hounding the Bulldogs coach about winning a premiership. When we’d have a meeting with the coach (not the current coach, one of the former coaches), he used to tell us about everything that was going on at the club - the development of the young talent, the rise of the women’s side, the strength of the reserves team. But Peter cut him off and said: “I only want to know one thing when are we going to win a bloody premiership?!”. It had been a long time between drinks - since 1954. When we eventually did, a few years later under a different coach, I was sitting with Peter and his wife Anne. Myself and Alan Jonhstone went out onto the ground after the 2016 Premiership - Peter was invited too, but he chose to stay by Anne’s side. Peter was always very loving and attentive to Anne.
Garry Johnson Sponsor & Coterie Member, Western Bulldogs Footscray Football Club
In terms of Peter’s personality, the best way to describe him was “different”. He was an interesting sort of a character, but he was a genuine friend to me. I’ll never forget the day when my wife passed away. I was in a haze of grieving, feeling quite lost and lonely. The day after the funeral, Peter said to me, “come to the football with me at Ballarat, and back to my place to have dinner.” Peter cooked a steak and looked after me, which was just a really nice gesture.”
Peter’s nickname was Splinter because he was tall and thin, and used to ride these big surfboards... 104
The first impression I had of Peter was that he was very confident. As I got to know him more, that confidence could sometimes lead him to brashness, which maybe put people off, but I think those people just didn’t understand him. He had a big and bold personality. At times he could be outspoken and dissident, and really blast off; but he could admit when he was wrong, and I think that’s why I became so close to him. Peter was the sort to take a punt on a person. They advertised in the papers for a supervisor, and I was invited out for an interview while they were building Tongala. Peter was always a bit wary of people from the government, and as he was going to be exporting meat from that site, he came under the federal industry rules. I was employed at the time by the government department who watched out for that. As I was a slaughterman prior to that though, Peter took a bit of a punt. Both Peter and I had in common a hate for bureaucracy, and I was caught up in it. Where I was before Peter, I was strangled by bureaucracy, so when I started working with Peter it was like a breath of fresh air! He didn’t have management layers around him, it was just him. I could speak with him directly. When you worked with Peter, you spoke to Peter. What a relief! Despite both being a bit wary of each other in the beginning, we were both committed to getting his project up and running. We were wary, but willing to give each other a chance. While I was working there, different government bodies would try to rail-road him at times, meat inspectors and so on… but you couldn’t argue with Peter, or bully him, or pressure him. He always stood up for him and the people around him. I remember when Peter brought a group of workers over from New Zealand where they had been doing the hot boning. He brought over key workers to train the people at his plant in how to do the correct technique. They were a bunch of cowboys. They were teaching them the processing, which was good, but they didn’t have great hygiene rules. I saw this and knew that we would run into some trouble sooner or later. This was pretty early on in the piece, and Peter was under great financial strain at this time. I said to him that we were going to get pulled up by the department if the poor hygiene continued. But it wasn’t until we had a visit from a vet that Peter implemented the changes that had to be made. I then transitioned into a Quality Assurance role, to protect the hygiene and health of the plant. I implemented different processes; first writing up a quality manual that described how best to do things. It covered everything from the time the animals are received at the plant, to the time the meat leaves.
I wrote every step in between: “This is how we do this. These are the problems that may occur. This is how we handle such problems should they occur.” I also told Peter, we can’t just have people come on and start working anymore. We have to train them. To his credit, he said, ‘okay, give it a go’. So, before we put people on the job, we trained them. We used to run classes; I'd run the classes. We got to the point where we won an Australia-wide training award, which was a real achievement. Peter was quietly very pleased about that.
Paul Burchill Former Quality Assurance Manager, H.W. Greenham & Sons
We ended up as the top-rated plant, at least in Victoria, for quality. Once Peter could see that it only made things better, not worse, and it wasn’t a burden, he embraced it. He became a champion for quality within the meat processing centre within Victoria and Australia-wide. He was on all the panels that represented meat processing in Australia. Despite my coming in and making these big changes, Peter always backed me up. He had a probing, reasoning mind. I said to him once, ‘Peter, you really should have been a barrister’. He could ask anyone any question, and he was so good at getting people around to his side and at keeping a conversation going. He was very articulate and could always think two steps ahead. He had a great sense of humour, and he didn’t suffer fools. I also spoke to Anne a lot while I was working there. We used to sit together at the Greenham annual dinner, and Anne told me a lot about those early years. She spoke of how they went around and met with a lot of the local councils together, where they were considering locating the abattoir. They would meet the council representatives and tell them their plan and see how much aid they could get from the council. Anne was crucial to those trips. Anne was the person who understood the financial stress they were under when Peter began at Tongala. The ‘quota’ that was brought in, for importing into the American market, right at the time Peter was beginning the abattoir, put on endless stress. They got through it though, and Anne was instrumental. Peter cared so much for the company. After I left Tongala, I continued to work for Peter as a consultant, and would usually go into the office about once a week. On a couple of occasions, I went in, and he was working on something in a folder, but would put it away when I came in. One time as I came in, he told me that it was his work in regard to the history of the company, his involvement… he was writing it himself very carefully, in long-hand. I’m sure he’d be glad to see the project he started all coming together, the Greenham story forever immortalised in the written word.” 105
My friendship with Peter goes back to the mid 1950s. I was a year or two ahead of him at school at Wesley, and we later met through the Lorne Surf Club. I was playing football for Footscray at the time, and he was a madly dedicated Footscray supporter, so I appointed him as manager of my personal fan club. He didn’t do a very good job, we ended up with only two supporters in the fan club (he and I), so we quickly disbanded the ‘John Westacott Fan Club’ and focused on being great mates instead.
But when I heard that grinding, I didn’t even bring it up. He was extremely committed and dedicated to the industry, and acknowledged by all as one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. To break away from the Gilbertons and do what he did with Tongala at the age of 56 or so was a phenomenal performance. I went up to Tongala a couple of times and could barely believe what he’d achieved up there. At an age when most blokes were settling into a comfortable retirement, he seemed to be just getting started!
He was a board rider down at Lorne, and he wore these briefs that were so brief you didn’t know if they were on or off half the time, they were almost skin colour! We called him “Spider” because he looked like a creepy-crawly with his long skinny limbs as he paddled his board out. When he was courting Annie in the early days of their blossoming relationship, we all used to meet up together and go out for dinners in Lorne.
We did some shocking things to each other, always playing practical jokes. I have to give him the trophy for having the best prank. He rang me up to invite me to come and watch the footy - he’d booked us two reserved seats in the stands. I’d just retired from football, and about two weeks before, I’d been written up in a magazine about my football career and what I was now up to in business. It was quite a good article, if I do say so myself. Anyway, he put an ad in the Footscray paper saying that I wanted to buy every copy of the magazine that I could get my hands on, and announced that I’d be sitting in Row 5 Seat 4 on Saturday at the game and that I was willing to pay cash for anyone who brought me a magazine! Well I ended up with about 20 little kids coming up to me throughout the day asking me to buy the magazine off them!! After the first couple, Peter was in absolute hysterics. I’m sure I followed up with something almost as good to get back at him, but that one takes the prize for the greatest prank of the lot.
He built his own house down in Lorne on Belvedere Terrace. A very good house it was too! There aren’t too many people that could build their own house these days - he was very, very practical. Harry, his father, put him through the spheres of practicality in the meat business - he always knew how everything worked and knew how to fix anything that went wrong. He was pretty knowledgeable about every piece of machinery they had in the abattoir, and he was very good with his hands. When we got a little bit older and couldn’t get out the back at Lorne anymore, we gave up surfing and got into golf. He was a mad golfer at Kingston Heath. Michael Webb, Peter’s “bean counter”, used to team up with Peter, and I would team up with my mate John Griffiths. We’d play 2 vs 2 every second Sunday, and the losers had to pay for dinner. Needless to say, John and I feasted very, very well as guests of Mr Greenham and Mr Webb! Peter and I used to meet up for a meal and a drink at Royal South Yarra. I could always tell what sort of a day or a week he was having because he often grinded his teeth. If things weren’t going too well, I could hear this grinding and jaw movement, so I knew not to talk about work! Not that we ever spoke about work that much, but it was always just a simple “yes”, “no”, “good”, or “bad”.
Peter was the personification of “loyalty”. He really valued friendship and he was all about loyalty. He was very ethical, he took you at your word, and he did not tolerate fools. He had a tight-knit group of mates that he kept in touch with for decades, and he really valued loyalty in both his mates and his staff. He loved his fishing, he loved his golf, and he loved his family.”
John Westacott Close friend of Peter & Anne Greenham
PETER GREENHAM, SNR. OBITUARY
Peter Greenham had the attributes and the background to succeed in a tough business.
With a foundation in accounting, and the tutelage of his father and extended family Mr Greenham developed his entrepreneurial skills which saw the family meat processing business grow to the point where it operates in several states and employs hundreds of people.
He had a passion for the industry that was undiminished in his mature years. At the age of 55, when many of his mates were retiring he decided to forge ahead with a business expansion and develop smaller and more nimble plants which would become the future for the beef industry. He established the processing plant at Tongala in 1993.
Mr Greenham, businessman, father, husband and grandfather, died at his South Yarra home from cancer on August 16, at the age of 83.
The Greenham family took over the Tasmanian Smithton abattoir in 2002 and launched Cape Grim Beef in 2007.
His tall frame and bearing (which contributed to his 'spider' nickname) commanded attention when he walked into a room and his cheeky sense of humour tended to engage listeners.
The brand has grown to include customers throughout Australia and overseas.
He developed a reputation for being tough minded but fair and his application to the business won the respect of his staff. Peter Henry Greenham was born on December 18, 1936 at Footscray, the son of meat exporter, Harry Greenham and his wife, Amy. An only child, he attended Wesley College in Prahran until he was called on to join his father's business. The family business was established in the 1860s as H.W. Greenham and Sons. “They didn't bring me straight into the business I was sent to work for a firm of chartered accountants,” Peter later recalled. “I did two or three years of accounting and auditing. I got to understand what proper accounting was all about, quite different to what I learnt at school!” He went on to work for his father, Harry and his uncle Reg at the Melbourne City Abattoirs in the 1950s, then Frozen Food Industries, supplying meat for Chiko Rolls in the 1960s, before buying his first facility, Newport Abattoir in the late 1970s. The father of Peter (Jnr) and Lucy, he was also grandfather to Amelia and Harry. Peter Greenham (Jnr), now managing director of the family company, recalled the hardworking butcher from Footscray who married the Brighton dress designer.
Geoff Adams Country News, www.countrynews.com.au
In 2017, the business purchased the Moe Meatworks. Mr Greenham and his wife Anne (nee Stooke) were supporters of many charitable organisations and their major sponsorships included the National Gallery of Victoria. He never forgot the communities in which his business operated and as well as donating to rural relief funds, he was well known for his support of young agricultural students through the Goulburn Valley Greenham scholarship, which has been offered through TAFE in recent years. “It’s very important that younger people see a future for themselves in the industry,” Mr Greenham said when presenting one of the awards. “We have built our business on servicing the dairy sector and we want to see it prosper to help build strong regional communities and local economies.” The couple were also supporters of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. The team wore black armbands on the day he passed away when they played their round 12 game against Adelaide. Another of his passions was fishing and his unrealised goal was to snag a one metre Barramundi in one of his fishing expeditions up north. His son has promised to fulfill the mission one day. His funeral was held on August 21 at Nelson Brothers, Footscray. He was interred at Altona Memorial Park.”
In 1966 I was working as Chief Inspector for an insurance company called ‘Pearl Insurance’ in Melbourne. We looked after the Greenham account back when they had their boning room out in Moonee Ponds. I was personally looking after the account, and I was pretty young and naïve in those days. The Greenhams were on the way up, with their business going very well. I was dealing mostly with Reg (Peter Senior’s uncle). They were exporting to the states, and they bought a farm near Nagambie called Poplar Vale. Reg would call me up and ask what I was doing that day… I’d say, “Going to work, Reg”, and he’d say, “no, you’re coming to work with me.” So I’d call up my boss and say, “Mr. Greenham wants me to go for the day” and my boss would reply, “look, whatever Mr. Greenham wants you to do, you do it - drop everything and go.” It was a lucrative account for the company. My job was to drive Reg’s Rolls Royce up to the farm, have a look around the farm, have a cup of tea with the manager's wife, then go into the pub for lunch with a few of the guys from up there. Really, my job was just to get Mr Greenham and his car home safely. So, we would have a few beers, and at about four o'clock, I’d drive the Roller back to Toorak and park it in Reg’s garage, then make my own way home.
When I first got the job, I remember Peter said to me, “you’re my insurance broker…until you stuff up!”.
So I looked after the Greenhams from a company perspective from 1966 onwards. Initially I was dealing mainly with Reg and Harry, then later they brought Peter Senior into the company. He started becoming more and more involved, and I’ll never forget the first day I met him. Peter's always had this propensity to just sit in his office and yell out to people. This one day, I remember, I was out in the office there talking to some people and apparently Peter yelled out, “Gary, before you go, I want to see you”. I didn't hear him, so I walked out to get into my car, and the next thing I know, he’s banging on the window of my car! He goes, “didn't you hear me yell out that I wanted to see you?” I said, “no, I actually didn't, and if you really wanted to see me, why didn't you get off your ass and come see me?” He said, “fair enough, I'll cop that”. We became very, very good friends after that, and had a wonderful relationship. It seems like those who challenged him ended up being closest to him. If he got on top of you, he’d ride you to death… but I guess back then I still had a bit of spunk about me.
When I first got the job, I remember Peter said to me, “you’re my insurance broker… until you stuff up!”. Anyway, after all these years, I never did stuff up. We had a very, very good, fruitful relationship for several years, both a business relationship and a personal friendship. Above and beyond the insurance caper, Peter trusted me implicitly. His wife Annie has severe Alzheimer's, and if Peter had someone going to the house to do some work, he would ask me to go to South Yarra and sit with Annie for the day. I would just make sure these people get the job done, you know, without Annie worrying about why they were there. I would just go and sit there most of the day while the work men were there, keeping her happy. There were all of these little odd jobs I did for him over the years, whether it was selling a car or assessing a new sprinkler system, things that weren’t usually part of the job description of an insurance broker. Whenever Peter said “jump”, I’d ask “how high?”.
Gary Seymour Close friend of Peter & Anne Greenham
I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with our current broker, an American firm, and I told some of the anecdotal stories about Peter over lunch. They just couldn’t believe that someone could have a relationship like ours that lasted so long. It just doesn’t happen nowadays. Unheard of.