Life Member Award – Mr Rohan Sullivan

By Tracey Hayes

Life Member Award – Mr Rohan Sullivan

Life Memberships are awarded to long-standing members of the NTCA who have contributed to the Association positively at Branch and or Executive level for an extended period. Life members have often contributed in a range of positions or interest areas and have made a significant contribution to advancing and protecting the interests of members at a regional, Territory, national or international level.

The person receiving Life Membership this evening has certainly lived up to this, he has made significant contribution to our amazing Association, he has represented Northern Territory producers on many levels, and he truly encompasses the values of the NTCA. In a moment I will share with you just some of the highlights and history of this year’s awardee.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate and award a truly deserving member of our Association with Life Membership, Mr Rohan Sullivan.

Before I welcome you to the stage Rohan, I would like to take a moment to share with our guests some of the incredible highlights we have compiled for this evening. 

Tortilla Flats

Rohan McDonald Sullivan has been part of the NT Cattle industry since he was in nappies (9 months old) in 1964 when his parents Jim and Barb took up a Commonwealth Government Pilot Scheme farm to grow cattle on improved pasture at Tortilla Flats on the Adelaide River.

He has always been a keen and insightful observer with a long memory. He can remember standing in knee-high Townsville stylo that his parents had painstakingly developed on that bare block. Mind you, that’s knee-high as an 8 year old?

He can remember the fungal disease Anthracnose that decimated the stylo, the subsequent drastic reduction in cattle numbers, the financial hardship and frugality, the government wanting to wind up the pilot farms; and the brave and highly principled stand by his parents to retain the lease for their family of five kids; and then the beef slump of 1974 thrown in for good measure.

St Phillips /UNE

Somehow the parents managed to school Rohan at St Phillips in Alice Springs, where he met kids from the Central Australian Stations. He then studied Rural Science at UNE in Armidale (following I think the obligatory stint on a Barkly station). He travelled the 3500km trip in a falcon ute equipped with the biggest box of heavy metal music cassettes ever seen. At Uni he was lucky enough to meet Sal.


After graduation he became an Animal Production Officer with the DPI in Katherine and Sal followed north to become a Soil Conservation Officer in Darwin. Sal got a transfer to Katherine, but before she got there Rohan became the Station Manager and researcher at Kidman Springs. Sal eventually tracked him down and they have been together ever since.

Rohan was a good manager and a better researcher. He had the rare knack for interpreting data and putting it in a practical context. Between 1985 and 90 Rohan should be credited with the development of the Kidman Springs “Best-Bet Breeder Management” system, pulling together all the good outcomes of previous research and experience into a grazing system based on stocking rate, supplementation, vaccination for botulism, and weaning (All of which seems hum-drum now but was quite game-changing in an industry that had recovered from the 1970s beef slump to spend the next 20 years managing for the BTEC). The Best-Bet System reduced breeder mortality from the industry norms of 12-14% down to 2%, and lifted weaning rates from 50% to 80%. It was a system which was ripe for adoption as the BTEC wound down and the Live Export market started to grow. It is a system that has stood the test of time and helped to create incalculable wealth in the northern industry.

Also in the mid-80s the Sullivan family, still up for a challenge, purchased another bare block near Mataranka, “Cave Creek”, where the clan still resides.

Before moving permanently to Cave Creek Rohan transferred back to Katherine as head of the Beef Extension Program and did a productive stint as Regional Director from 1999.

Cave Creek & Birdum

Between breeding 5 of their own, Rohan and Sal leased more grazing country around Cave Creek and purchased Birdum Creek near Larrimah in about 2003.


Rohan became an active NTCA member in the Katherine branch after finishing with DPI and became

The Alternate Executive member for 2004 and 2005,
Branch Chair for the years 2006-2008, and
NTCA President from 2009 -2012
It is typical of his modesty and self-deprecating nature that following his Presidency he went back to being Branch Secretary for a number of years,  and subsequently served for an extended period as our
NFF representative from 2015 to 2020.
Rohan and his family have been active participants in the Real Jobs Program and Indonesian Student Program

Rohan was President in 2011 when the Live Export Crisis unfolded. Other Presidents had overseen some tough times but surely there had been no tougher gig than being the person in charge of our response to, and recovery from, this crisis.

With the knowledge, experience and principles learnt from the times that he was in the stylo on the Adelaide River levees in nappies, through his parents formidable battles with the Canberra bureaucracy, volatile seasons and cattle markets, his networks across industry, local and interstate education, and his logical and scientific thinking, Rohan took it on successfully in his normal “salt-of–the-earth”, approach. Importantly Super Sally Sullivan was always at his side.

It was as if he had studied for this examination all his life, and luckily for us all he came through with distinction.

Rohan has been a historically significant contributor to the NTCA over 20 years, and to our Territory industry more generally over a much longer period.

We could continue to talk about Rohan’s achievements and significant contributions all night but I would now like to welcome Rohan to the stage to receive his Life Membership.

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