Port Augusta District office and Regional Centre

Port Augusta has provided a base for the Department of Agriculture to serve the northern pastoral areas of South Australia since 1952. The area covered by the District stretched north, west and east to the various state boundaries resulting in a district which covered three quarters of the State.

Prior to 1952 there was a departmental presence at Quorn (1937/38 Steve Reid was stationed at Quorn) primarily associated with the pleuro pneumonia eradication scheme and involved inspection of stock travelling south on the narrow gauge railway from Marree.

The decision to establish and then substantially increase the capability of the office reflected the growing importance of the pastoral zone from a production, market access and resource management perspective.

The early programs focused on animal disease management, eradication of the bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis, interception and eradication of fruit flies and animal pests and weed control.

As the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) drew to a successful end, the strong veterinary presence was reduced in favour of an animal advisory capacity.

Initially programs were managed from a divisional structure in Adelaide. Later, for the BTEC program, senior appointments were made in the Port Augusta Office, with strong linkages to the Animal Health Division in Adelaide.

In 1985, under an approach to provide stronger leadership and coordination at a regional level, a new structure was adopted with the appointment of a Chief Regional Officer and the integration of programs at a regional level.

The regional structure was maintained until around 1992 when the reestablishment of divisional leadership occurred.  Rural Solutions SA was established to coordinate the delivery of regional services on a commercial basis, and this model remains in existence as at 2020.

With the completion of the BTEC program and the establishment of stronger relationships between the Department of Agriculture and pastoralists, greater emphasis was placed on natural resource management (which was eventually transferred to NRM Boards under a new structure managed out of the environment area) and emergency management. The Office played an important role in drought response and locust and grasshopper control programs.

The number and role of staff working out of the Port Augusta Office is provided for various periods from the late 1970s to the present.

The following is a summary of the programs delivered out of the Office during this time.

Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC)

The aim to eradicate brucellosis and tuberculosis has been part of the role of the Port Augusta Office since its establishment in 1952. The program was lead from Adelaide with advisors based in the regions.

Dr Pat Harvey was appointed to the position of Chief Veterinary Officer in 1973 with a brief to reorganise the Animal Health Branch particularly to conduct the BTEC program. At the time all veterinary staff were based in Adelaide with only Animal Health Advisors located in the districts. The cattle pastoral areas, largely north of the dog fence, were served by visiting veterinarians from Adelaide who conducted testing in an ad hoc and inefficient way with little understanding of management issues. The relationship with pastoralists was poor and there was little effective cooperation.

At the time the pastoral industry was largely a cattle hunting operation with little control over the stock, there was generally poor fencing with inadequate subdivisions, cattle yards were unsuited for testing and limited in number and location, stock watering points were inadequate.

In the mid 1950s the BTEC program received a boost largely to maintain Australia's access for beef in the high priced American and European markets. With the trade implications the Commonwealth became increasingly involved and over time provided significant funds. A national approach to eradication was developed and approved by the Standing Committee on Agriculture.   Dr Harvey was Chairman of the national BTB Eradication Committee at this time.

The main eradication problems were in the extensive pastoral areas in Australia, Northern SA, the NT, the Kimberly and Queensland. Here the management issues had to be addressed and industry brought onside. In SA after a couple of false starts Marjorie Reid was recruited, an experienced PNG colleague, to run the program, and provided strong leadership from Adelaide. The veterinary service was regionalised with Dave Tabrett being recruited as the first RVO in Port Augusta in 1976, Dave set the ground work before returning to the NT as CVO and was replaced by Geoff Neumann, again a competent operator with a good understanding of the problems.

Geoff was supported, apart from veterinary staff, by five Stock Inspectors who came down from the NT, Garry Paige, Dale Coverdale, Mike Stanley, Graham Barry and Danny Thomas. Garry had been the senior Stock Inspector in Alice Springs, all could speak the language of pastoralists, understood them and gained their support. They were absolutely essential to the success of the eradication program.

In July 1975, Stock Inspector, Bob Powell, was replaced by Bill Giles who was the first Animal Health Adviser appointed to service the pastoral area. His task included discussing with pastoralists the implications of the impending tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication programs.

Communications with pastoralists was a major issue at this time with few having any immediate communications other than by the flying doctor radio. Improving the communications was a major role for Giles. He established “Northern Cattlemen’s News” which has had numerous name and role changes, today is named “Across the Outback” and is a valued publication for all government agencies needing to regularly communicate with pastoralists.

Until this time the inspector was the sole operator in the district and the office was a single room upstairs above the post office (see Fruit Fly team below). Chief Veterinary Officer, Pat Harvey, resolved to move the TB testing teams to Port Augusta. This involved renting additional accommodation which was a disused butcher’s shop and house north of the main highway. In 1977 Geoff Neumann was appointed Regional Veterinary officer and in charge of all Port Augusta staff with the prime task of eradicating Brucellosis and Tuberculosis. A large team of vets and stock inspectors followed and a huge investment of industry, State and Commonwealth funds saw both diseases eradicated from the pastoral area. A major achievement.

An industry liaison committee was formed which gave a voice to the pastoralists and enabled progress to be made. Individual property programs, agreed to by both management and the Department, formed the basis of the eradication programs indeed without them eradication would not have been possible Eventually tax concessions were introduced for eradication related expenditure and later concessional finance became available for some property improvements related to eradication.

There is a very good account of BTB eradication in the pastoral; area of South Australia in Robert Lehane 1996 Beating the Odds in a Big Country, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood Vic, pp 150–164.

Other stock disease programs

Pleuro Pneumonia Eradication: 1952 to circa 1970

Pleuro pneumonia was introduced into SA early in the colonies history.  A vaccine was developed in the mid 1870s and was taken up more by the dairy industry than beef cattle.

In 1924 and again in 1932 the movement of beef cattle south of a line through Quorn contained the spread of the disease. Occasional outbreaks were recorded in the 1940s and with the introduction of the Cattle Compensation Act in 1972 and rigorous testing Australia was declared free of the disease in 1973.

Sheep Lice early BTB: 1960 to 1977

The Stock Inspector (Bob Powell) during this period travelled widely across the District resolving animal disease issues such as Marree Disease and carrying out the regulations under the Stock Diseases Act. A large proportion of time was spent inspecting stock from stations quarantined for sheep lice. Eradication in the pastoral area was all but impossible. However where stock were travelling interstate or to market they had to be certified clear of lice. This involved visiting the property, examining the sheep and issuing a certificate to allow them to leave the property.

During this period the initial attempts at TB control were being undertaken to establish protocols and practical means to isolate clean tested cattle. The testing involved teams based in Adelaide travelling directly to the properties, testing and returning to Adelaide.


Jim McColl, was appointed as the Director of Agriculture in 1975. One of his early priorities was to implement the recommendation of the Calaghan Review, titled "A Review of the Department of Agriculture in the Light of Changed and Changing Needs".  One of the recommendations of this review was the establishment of a fully regionalised structure across the agency.

Five regions were established and in 1985 Garry MacPhie was appointed Chief Regional Officer for the Northern region, based at Pt Augusta. This coincided with the expansion of roles from purely regulatory (BTB and Fruit Fly) to include extension in both sheep and beef cattle. As the BTB program wound down the emphasis on extension services increased.

By that time the office had moved into the old State Bank building – a rather grand two storey place but with the necessary space for increasing staff numbers.

By this time the pastoral country had attracted the interest of the Landcare initiative and there was a subsequent expansion for the Department into this role. The development of regionally based extension services were underway.

Natural Resources Management, Landcare and Emergency Mangement

The 1990s

The 1990s were a period of change for the Department which saw the regional structure change to a centrally managed service delivery structure and later to the purchaser provider model. Under the purchaser provider model services were purchased by the departments purchasers from the newly formed PIRSA Rural Solutions or from private providers. PIRSA Rural Solutions was a commercial consulting business formed from the department’s Extension Services.

These changes had a direct affect on the regions and regional presence.

In late 1992 the Service Delivery Model was implemented.

At Port Augusta this resulted in Garry MacPhie being appointed to the position of Service Delivery Manager, Mid North Based at Clare and Jim Cawthorne being appointed to the position of Service Delivery Manager at Port Augusta.

This model remained in place until mid 1995.

From 1993 to 1995 the thrust and energy, initiated earlier, with the major programs continued to increase.

During this time Landcare was the major focus of the team at Port Augusta. Developing and working with Landcare Groups was the major activity across the Out Back. Allied to this was research on grazing pressure, the impact of rabbits and weed control.

In addition to the Landcare focus work on the eradication of BTB and programs for the control of wild dogs continued.

The Fruit Fly Program was still active and focussed on maintaining bait stations in key areas.

Port Augusta office also had an input into the revision of the Kangaroo Management Plan for SA, a staff member was part of the Police Division Counter Disaster Committee and a deputy member of the Pastoral Board.

In late 1995 Jim Cawthorne was appointed Regional Manager for Eyre Region based in Port Lincoln.

Port Augusta office became a satellite of the Mid North Region and continued with the major programs already in place.

IN 1998 the extension services of the Department transitioned into PIRSA Rural Solutions ...a commercial fee for service business within the Department. Management of technical services was provided by Business Managers (including previous Regional Mangers) some of whom were regionally based.

Under the new structure services provided by staff were managed by their technical business manager from that managers’ home base... regional management ceased to exist.

2000 to 2007

With the launch of the Central North East Farm Assistance Program (CNEFAP) in 2000  Jim Cawthorne returned to Port Augusta to manage the service delivery component of the Program. CNEFAP, a $4m Commonwealth funded program over 4 years , included financial assistance, strategies for diversification and drought proofing initiatives.

CNEFAP and Landcare were the major programs in the early 2000s.

However, with the creation of Natural Resource Management Boards in line with community ownership of caring for the land the functions of the Landcare program transitioned to the NRM Boards. Some of the staff went across to the NRM Boards, some transferred to other duties and others who were contract employees left.

With the windup of the CNEFAP program in 2005 and the transfer of one staff member to Adelaide and the move of another to outside employment numbers in the office were further reduced.

An initiative born on 2001 to coordinate the environment, economic and social levels of regional management to provide a single voice to government and the region developed over time to culminate in the formation of Out Back SA. Port Augusta Office played a significant role in developing this initiative.

The wild dog control program continued but with transfer of the officer to Adelaide was run from Adelaide.

The local rabbit control program escalated following the release of Calici Virus which devastated rabbit populations. Following a brief evaluation at local level the local rabbit control program scaled down and became part of the overall vertebrate pest program at State level.

The BTB was completed and a Livestock Officer with animal health responsibilities was appointed.

The  Fruit Fly program based on bait stations continued.

From 2000 until late 2007 Jim Cawthorne a Business Manager with PIRSA Rural Solutions was based at Port Augusta in this time he managed the service delivery of Emergency Response Services, Livestock Services, Revegetation Services and others for various lengths of time.

With the retirement of Jim Cawthorne in late 2007 services managed by him were allocated elsewhere.

2007 to date

By 2010 numbers at the Port Augusta Office had declined to one – the Livestock  / Animal Health Officer.

The Office is now the base for the Out Back Areas Community Development Trust and the Livestock/ Animal Health Officer.

Fruit fly and week control

Fruit Fly Inspection Role

A role which has continued in parallel to the animal health role has been the fruit fly inspection team whose task it was to travel out to Pimba and return on the Indian Pacific train inspecting luggage etc for fruit which may have carried fruit fly. Their duties also included checking caravan parks and traffic travelling from Western Australia. They also occupied a room above the post office but neither groups were provided with any administrative staff.

Weed Control Role

A periodic role carried out by local and head office staff was to survey influxes of weeds such as Noogoora Burr. This came into South Australia on flooding northern rivers from Queensland and New South Wales.

Stock Inspectors had, as one of their responsibilities, to note and report on noxious weeds carried on livestock. This was particularly important where stock were being transferred to WA where they would be rejected at the border if declared weeds were found on the stock.

Prepared by Don Plowman with contributions from Pat Harvey, Geoff Neumann and Jim Cawthorne.
May 2020

Page Last Reviewed: 05 May 2020
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