Voice of Real Australia: Why community connection is so important

A time when people could be packed in like sardines ringside at the saleyards. Photo: Lucy Kinbacher
A time when people could be packed in like sardines ringside at the saleyards. Photo: Lucy Kinbacher

He sits by the saleyard ring in the same seat every week.

His face weathered from years of toiling the land.

Next to him is his walking stick and thermos filled with coffee.

He has a notebook in his hand with pen at the ready - and he's taking notes on everything that comes into the ring.

It's a pen of Braford weaner steers (300 kilograms) selling to a top of 580 cents a kilogram.

But he isn't buying anything today. The thing is he never does.

He can feel the pulse of this market better than anyone and his catalogue of market reports might even be better than the auctioneer.

He's not a religious man but just like any worshipper, he makes the pilgrimage to his 'pew seat' every week because going to Thursday's sale is his version of Church.

It's the same time, same seat every week as though it's reserved just for him. He never sits alone and always has someone popping over to say g'day.

For him it's the social outing. It's his one day in the week where he gets to talk with his mates about how long the prices can hold, the weather and 'geez that was a nice line'.

It's the same story in every saleyard across the state. Each one has their own regular who comes week in, week out.

But today those seats are empty as coronavirus restrictions have put a stop to that across NSW. As we all know due to the lockdown, only buyers can attend the sales.

It makes you realise the social value of our saleyards and that they are more than just a cattle market place. Beyond the saleyard ring, the social value of saleyards is being felt more than ever. Once jam packed stands are reduced to socially distanced spaces.

Heather Ellis, who has been commissioned by the Australian Livestock Markets Association to conduct research into the social value of saleyards, said what they had found so far was that the pandemic had highlighted how yards brought people to together.

"Whether it's drought, fire, floods or this pandemic, saleyards are a community in each of their own and as human beings we crave that sense of belonging," Ms Ellis said.

"In rural and regional Australia this is one of the things that connects people, where they can network, have a yarn or touch base and learn what's happening in the industry."

Ms Ellis said when the dairy industry was struggling people would meet at the saleyards where they could start the conversation and kick-start action for movements.

When asked what was the biggest thing they noticed at saleyards, she said people would say it was a place for inter-generational connection.

"On the bigger sale days, what people are noticing was three generations of the one family at the saleyards as it's an opportunity for them to connect," she said.

And while there is already strong evidence that saleyards are an economic boost to regional communities, she said it was also a "business transaction" to catch up socially.

"Even if you don't buy anything or have something to sell, it fits into well-being," she said.

"And if you don't have people going to the saleyards, you don't have the opportunity for employment because even the hairdressers and petrol stations notice they are busier on saleyard days let alone the coffee shops."

Back at Thursday's sale, the cockie's seat is empty for now. But he and his knowledge of the industry will be back.

It will be like he had never left. It will be the same time, same place but maybe with one difference - a mask. And this time we will never second guess the value of being able to attend the local sale, just because.

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