After 50 years in the job, some things never change

WHEN Warrnambool stock agent and auctioneer Philip Keane started out in the trade, there were no women working in saleyards and there was lots of smoking, drinking and bullshit involved.

After clocking up 50 years in the role this month, Mr Keane said working with women was now a common occurrence, the smoking and drinking had declined but the bullshit was as bad and as entertaining as ever.

Mr Keane, 64, a partner in Saffin Kerr Brown Rodwells, said he still liked the cut and thrust of selling livestock after 50 years and planned to keep working for as long as he enjoyed it.

“I like the people that I do business with,” he said.

He valued his clients as friends and did his best to get the best price for their livestock, he said.

The camaraderie with workmates and the lively “to-ing and fro-ing between yourself and buyers” were other aspects of the job that had kept him at it for five decades. 

During that half a century, Mr Keane has worked at livestock selling centres at Warrnambool, Koroit, Newmarket in Melbourne, Hamilton, Camperdown, Tatura, Shepparton and Ballarat.

During one seven-year period, he and his family shifted house nine times.

His frequent work transfers led his mother to once quip that whenever a removalist’s van passed Mr Keane’s house, his chooks laid down and waited for their legs to be tied, expecting another move.

Mr Keane is a member of the large extended Keane clan who have a stronghold in Koroit and nearby areas. He also has the gift of the gab for which the district is well-known.

He started his career selling livestock in 1964 at the age of 14 in Koroit while his mother was in hospital.

When she returned home and asked why he was not at school, he told her he had taken the liberty during her absence to get a job with Koroit stock agent J.M. O’Brien and was no longer going to school. That step propelled him through numerous mergers and other changes of ownership by various stock agencies that employed him, among them Younghusbands and Elders.

He returned to the Warrnambool area as Elders’ branch manager nearly 30 years ago but left them after a few years to join the I. & C. Wilson stock agency.

After 23 years with Ian Wilson, followed by stints with other agencies, he arrived in his present position.

The industry veteran has naturally seen the cycle of good and bad times on the land numerous times.

“I was in Camperdown when if cows did not make a certain amount of money, they went straight to the pit,” he said.

“I was in Ballarat in the 1980s when a bloke sold 1000 sheep and we sent him a bill for cartage and yard fees because they only made 10 cents a head.”

Mr Keane said livestock production had not become any easier during his 50 years.

He was concerned producers were only getting the same prices they received about 20 years ago, while costs had doubled.

On the changes to his profession, Mr Keane said technology such as mobile phones and the end of weighing stock prior to sales had reduced the travelling and long hours required of stock agents in times gone by.

However, he was concerned that few young people were taking up the profession.

“The next generation of stock agents will be thin on the ground,” Mr Keane said.

ehimmelreich@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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