Sunday December 15, 2019, marks a sad day for the Southern Highlands when a local industry closed the gate after operating for 31 years and employing more than 2000 people during that time.
The Berrima District Meats at Moss Vale was an institution for so many people and families some came here from other parts of Australia and made the district their homes and are still living here.
I will add a brief history of how this industry started here.
In the years preceding the establishment of a government controlled, hygienic operated meat processing plant in the Berrima District, most of the meat that found its way into the family home came from the local butcher's privately owned (and primitive) killing yards such as, Flook's, Moss', Normans, Greason's and many more.
Around the end of the 1920s, meat was being killed at Berrima during a Sydney meat strike. As the meat was of a high standard there were negotiations to open an abattoir, this abattoir didn't survive and was auctioned off in 1933.
The private rooms of the Hotel Moss Vale was the venue and the date June 5, 1959, where a meeting of local businessmen and residents took place with the idea of establishing a local owned and operated abattoir. A month later and Berrima District Meats was registered.
The first day of operations was on May 6 with a kill of two steers, four calves, two pigs and 70 sheep. On Friday, May 31, 1963, the meatworks was officially opened by a Moss Vale resident, the Honorable Tom Lewis MLA (who later became the NSW Premier).
By October 1963 the staff had grown to 41, this increased to 60 plus casuals by January 1964 and kept on improving until it reached a record 250 employees.
In 1974 the founder, Jordie Moss passed away and his position as chairman was taken over by his brother Richard (Dick) Moss. The boning room was leased in 1963 to David and Joe Throsby of Charles David Pty Ltd, which also operated boning rooms at Newcastle, Gosford, Mudgee and Murray Bridge in SA at that stage. From 16 initial employees, the manager, Fred Marsay built this room to be the best and most efficient in the state, until a disagreement in 1967 caused them to leave and go to Mudgee leaving BDM to run the boning section themselves, which they did. In March 1973 Ken Greenwood leased the boning room.
The plant suffered some of its largest losses during 1974 due to industrial disputes, management battled on until September 19, 1977, when a takeover bid for BDM of $3.90 a share by Petersville Australia was successful. (They operated as Presto Smallgoods)
Halal killings started at BDM on July 24, 1975, this consisted of a Rabbi saying a prayer before each animal was slaughtered at a fee of $5 per head. With the stringent hygienic conditions required for this and a Swedish order it wasn't viable and ceased shortly after.
The Kangaroo and Buffalo meat substitution racket of 1981 caused the boning room to close on August 27,1981. This was mainly a Queensland and Victorian racket (and a few were in NSW). The scandal only lasted a short time but the ramifications lasted for years after.
In 1985 Metro Meats bought the meatworks and upgraded it. In May 1990 they were scaling down their meat operations and once again BDM was sold, this time to ICM Farm Products. The last time that pigs and sheep were killed at BDM was on May 23, 1990, and there were 501 pigs and 42 sheep.
ICM concentrated on just processing beef mainly on for the grain fed Japanese market. They sold a 21 per cent share to the large Japanese company Marubeni.
The company had four and a half good years but all that ended on Thursday December 15, 1994. Just 10 days short of Christmas, the Managing Director Peter McHugh decided that our beloved meatworks would close. Only a few of the staff were told of the impending doom. A few local businessmen tried in vain to raise the finances to re-open the works but whenever they arrived at the required price ICM would raise the price again, it was obvious that the company did not want it re-opened.
Many employees had spent their entire lives there, people like the engineer Arthur Stanley, one of the first there setting up the plant and the last to leave after it was closed. After 31 years the place was an institution and a way of life for thousands and 25 years on, I for one still miss the old place.