During a steamy Brisbane summer in the early 1990s, my father planned an outing for his preteen children, an adventure that would punctuate an otherwise predictable cycle of sleepovers, movies, and trips to the swimming pool. At the time, Dad was a board member of the Queensland Abattoir Corporation, and his idea of entertainment was a guided tour of the nearby Cannon Hill abattoir. During our half-day outing to the ‘works’, we visited the cow and pig slaughter chains and the boning and meat-packing operations. In the cow-slaughter room, along a narrow passageway, I was momentarily separated from the group, surrounded by hulking carcasses suspended from a ceiling-mounted track line overhead. Jerked by a post-mortem, parasympathetic muscle spasm, a wayward bovine limb collected me. Perhaps it was at this point that I should have recognised my own inextricability with the Australian beef industry.
Years later, I somewhat unexpectedly found myself recording oral histories with retired meatworkers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The famed setting of Mary Durack’s nostalgic stories of pastoral entrepreneurialism, the Kimberley, from 1919 to 1985, was the location of one of Australia’s largest meatworks (also referred to as an ‘abattoir’). The tiny port town of Wyndham is now a shell of its former glory, and the retired meatworkers who remain were keen to retell the stories of its heyday. So, it was with considerable interest that I came to Joshua Specht’s history of the US beef industry: Red Meat Republic: A hoof-to-table history of how beef changed America.