AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and the billionaire family behind the Reece plumbing empire are silent backers of Jumbuck Pastoral’s purchase of the NT’s iconic Wave Hill Station.
Wave Hill covers 1.25 million hectares in the Victoria River District, 750 kilometres south of Darwin, and was the site of a walk-off by Gurindji stockmen, which led to the Aboriginal Land Rights movement in the 1970s.
The sale of Wave Hill and its outstation Cattle Creek settled last week, after being in the hands of Western Grazing since 1992.
Under the transaction, the land was sold for $56 million, with the 40,000 head of cattle included reportedly bringing the total price to $104 million.
Jumbuck Pastoral is owned by the MacLachlan family from South Australia, and is one of Australia’s largest sheep and cattle producers, running 12 properties across SA, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and New South Wales.
The company received significant backing in the Wave Hill purchase from Bruce Wilson and his family, who alongside his brothers, own a controlling stake in the Reece Group.
The media-shy Wilson family was worth $2.5 billion in 2019 according to Forbes, and the Reece Group has a market valuation of $10.6 billion.
The two other minor parties in the deal were AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan — a second cousin of Jumbuck directors Jock and Callum MacLachlan — and Robert Frost, a Melbourne-based investor.
Jumbuck interested in Wave Hill for years
Jumbuck director Callum MacLachlan said the company had expressed an interest in buying Wave Hill two years ago.
“The underlying quality of the country and feed types, the diversity of the rangeland, consistent rainfall, the large run giving economy of scale efficiencies, and potential for development were all attractive,” Mr MacLachlan said.
“I had written Pam Deamer [owner of Western Grazing] two years earlier, asking if she would consider us if she was to sell [Wave Hill], thinking it was a massive long shot…and here we are.
Mr MacLachlan said being able to purchase 40,000 head of Brahman cattle alongside the land allowed the company to “hit the ground running.”
“But with cattle prices so high, we haven’t received any discount on the cattle we’ve bought,” he said.
“This is a long term play, and will balance out over time.
Conservative stocking rates expected after tough seasons
After tough wet seasons in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, when Wave Hill received well below its average annual rainfall, the station has received some good rains so far this wet.
But Mr MacLachlan said Jumbuck would look to stock the property fairly conservatively over the next few seasons.
“We plan on running reduced numbers there for some years — circa 35,000 head — to allow the country to recover and be nursed back to good health,” he said.
“It may take five years, perhaps 10 years, maybe longer.
“Mother nature will play a big part in the speed of the recovery, along with very thoughtful and considered management.”
Jumbuck also has plans to develop under-utilised country on Wave Hill with investments in water and fencing infrastructure.
Land valuer with Herron Todd White, Frank Peacocke, said the strong sale of Wave Hill showed the property market was likely still rising.
“There have been six sales in the Victoria River District since [the market started to lift in 2013] — and one of those was Killarney/Birrimba which Jumbuck bought in 2014 — and the prevailing values now are around 2.4 times higher than in 2013,” he said.
“With strong cattle prices and a fully stocked property, [Wave Hill] is a pretty attractive package.”
ABC Rural has contacted Gillon McLachlan and Reece for comment.