Written by Ross Ainsworth
Presented by Terry Underwood OAM
Stephen Hugh Ellison was born in 1940 in the Yorkshire Dales, England. At 16 he was awarded a Scholarship to attend the Lancashire Agricultural College where he obtained his National Diploma in Agriculture with honours. Arriving in Australia in 1961, Steve played rugby league in Sydney with the likes of Langlands and Gasnier before starting as a jackaroo in North Queensland, where he met and married Daphne Rose in 1964.
Rising rapidly through the ranks he fulfilled a number of managerial positions in the Mareeba Cape York area until 1976 when he moved to Winton to manage a large scale sheep and cattle station.
In 1980, Richard Trivett from GRM International interviewed and employed Steve to work with the Sabah Department of veterinary Services to manage its Cattle and Buffalo Breeding Project on the Sook plains in Sabah.
In 1983 Steve was sent from Sabah to Johor in southern Malaysia where he was responsible for the establishment of an importing and distribution depot for Sahiwal Cross dairy heifers near a small village called Sesik (pronounced Sea sick). Jungle was cleared with fences and yards built and pastures planted. One morning Steve arrived at the fence line to find wild elephants pulling out the newly placed fence posts and hurling them into the bush. He also regularly found tiger tracks in freshly turned dirt. Once word got out that Steve was an outstanding horseman, he was invited to join the Sultan of Johore’s polo team where he played with a 2 goal handicap.
GRM next sent Steve to manage a very large sheep, goat, and camel station for the Nawab of Kalabagh, a feudal lord in the Punjab, Northwest Pakistan. The property was located on the western banks of the Indus River not far from the Afghan border. Steve’s job was to produce fat sheep, goats and camels then drove them on horseback to the border and smuggle them across to sell to the Taliban who were at that time fighting the Russians. And get paid. The Nawab’s property included an Arabian horse stud. The horse book went back for 900 years! One of Steve’s many special abilities is his capacity to learn foreign languages very quickly. He was forced to pick up the local Pakistani language of Pashto in record time as he needed to negotiate the cross-border sales with the Taliban fighters in person.
In mid 1984 GRM International sent him back to Sabah as manager of the Desa Cattle project on the Sook plains. The project had developed approximately 3,500 ha of improved pastures for the fattening of imported feeder steers from the Australian properties. The project included the establishment of a logging operation and sawmill to utilise the timber as the jungle was cleared. In addition to the Beef Fattening Project, Desa Cattle, on the instruction of the Chief Minister, had taken over the Veterinary Department projects, in Jan 1983, that Steve had managed in 1980.
Desa ran one of the first purpose-built livestock carriers, the “MV Desa”, built in Labuan and launched in July 1980, commencing a bi-monthly service loading cattle from the Desa properties of Camfield, Montejinni and Legune in Wyndham to discharge ports in Tawau, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Muara in Brunei and Bintulu in Sarawak. Desa Cattle developed and managed the receival depots in each port as well as the abattoirs, processing and retailing outlets. This was the first and the most successful totally integrated foreign investment in Northern Territory and the business model was subsequently copied by the governments of Brunei and Sarawak
In 1988 Steve and family moved to Singapore as Southeast Asian marketing manager for Austrex. This role involved travelling throughout Asia to meet potential customers and develop live export contracts which would then be fulfilled by the Austrex operations across Australia and New Zealand. While in Singapore, all 3 Ellison sons Andrew, Willy and young Steve played in the local rugby union competition and at international level for the Singapore national team. Steve is a certified referee for international level rugby union and has refereed matches around the world.
Steve’s next posting was to Thailand in 1990 where he headed up the Austrex project to import and distribute grey brahman heifers to Thailand and neighbouring countries. When asked how good his Thai language was, he replied “good enough to negotiate a million-dollar contact”. Other languages picked up along the way include fluent Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, Urdu (another Pakistani/Indian language) as well as useful conversational capacity in Mandarin, Tagalog (Filipino) Lao, Khmer (Cambodia), Burmese and others.
In 1993 Steve and family moved to Darwin to manage the Austrex office during one of the busiest periods in the Australian live export trade with a full range of species and types of livestock sent to all corners of Asia. The trade was so busy that Austrex employed a young and enthusiastic offsider to assist Steve named Alister Trier. Steve showed great judgement when he employed Darwin based live export veterinarian and noted author, Dr Ross Ainsworth to conduct all of Austrex’s export health protocols. Son Willy also joined Austrex during this period.
In 2004 Steve and Willy resigned from Austrex and established their own live export company called Wyndham International Pty Ltd.
While in Somalia on a project looking at livestock for export Steve was shot at by a local warlord gang. During the skirmish his driver and guide was shot and killed leaving him to extract himself from the situation alone.
Steve’s professional qualities, integrity, and exceptional breadth of knowledge of all aspects of the livestock trade were recognised when he was employed as the Australian representative and personal advisor to Husodo Angkosubroto, the billionaire owner of Great Giant Pineapple and Livestock company in Sumatera, one of Indonesia’s largest agribusinesses and livestock importers. Steve advised this company for about 5 years until his retirement.
Steve is a Life member of the NTLEA and a former Chairman.
He is a Life Member of the QLEA.
He has served the Australian livestock export industry as a Board Member of ALEC and a Director of Livecorp.
In 2021 the Australian Brahman Breeders Association recognised Steve for his work in Live Export and his support of the Brahman Breeders Association at their 75th Anniversary dinner at Rockhampton during BEEF 2021.
Time constraints this evening mean that this is only an extremely brief summary of a truly amazing life which includes among many other things an outstanding contribution to the cattle industry of northern Australia and Asia.