Australia has grown up on sheep’s back. However, the humble canned corned beef was also part of meaningful growth in the Australian nestling meat export industry.
Britain was meat hungry at the time and was buying enormous amounts of this acclaimed product. The canned corned beef was often known as bully beef. According to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering canned meat was produced as early as 1846 in Australia. The possibilities of exporting tinned meat were deliberately explored soon after. Bully beef was being packed and sealed on a ‘hands-on’ assembly line at the Lakes Creek Meatworks in Rockhampton. Australian canned beef became very famous.
By 1866, boiled mutton was exported to England. It is on record that in 1874 sales of canned meat helped the Australian balance of trade. In 1871, Queensland-based meatworks, Lake Creek adopted the new technology in producing tinned beef and then frozen beef from the 1880s. It started exporting chilled beef to Europe in the 1930s. The Central Queensland Meat Preserving Company was formed, reflecting its primary core business in the 1870s. The meat processing plant was so dominant for the economy in the region that Lakes Creek was a company town. The company had built group housing for its employees and this continued for 30 years or so.
Canned corned beef with hard-tack biscuits was the staple for the Diggers at Gallipoli. During World War II, the joint supply airplanes in New Guinea were dubbed ‘bully beef’ bombers. ‘Bully’ formed a regular part of the British serviceman’s active service diet. Soldiers often traded the excess bully beef with the stores or with local civilians.
The Rockhampton works produced many thousands of tins daily. Labels included Hereford or Devon for non-pork-based luncheon meat and Hamper. They also produced fresh and frozen meat for export and domestic butchery. There was no waste. Queensland Annual recorded that Queensland abattoirs did not waste any part of the animal. What was not able to be consumed was processed into fertilisers and other by-products. Certain parts were also used for cosmetic manufacturing.
The beef industry was well and truly in the bush in 1949 whether it was feast or famine, riches or ruins. The endless cattle lands in Queensland show a variety of moods for the Beef State. The cattle also vary as per the seasons, from perfect animal to bony looking that may be clinging for survival. However, rain brings the grass and the scrawny animals normally recover and fatten for the market. In 1949, the Queensland herd was low because of the demands in Australia helping to feed the allied forces in World War II. Nevertheless, peacetime saw optimism. Queensland’s beef-raising space was increased into thousands of miles to the west.
By now the city dwellers were getting good meat. However, they were seldom fortunate enough to eat what the cattlemen were enjoying. The animals that were slaughtered on the station provides meat that connoisseurs dream about. Hence, one of the best treats in the west was to eat a steak from freshly slaughtered cattle. Normally, prime cut cooked in open campfire.