IN AN interview with The Land in June 1998, just three months before his family’s cherished “Jeogla” property at Armidale was auctioned at a receiver’s sale, Rick Wright made a pledge.
If the worst happened - as it duly did - and he was forced out of the industry that had been his life’s work and passion, then he promised he would “rattle the cage” as he went.
That “rattle” has now taken shape in the form of a 383-page book, Hold Fast, written and published by Rick Wright, to tell the story - as he sees it - of his family’s undoing.
The book is actually more than that: it’s also the story of his family’s “doing” - the early battles, the later growth, consolidation, innovations and achievements.
But pervading the book is the sense of lingering rage of a proud man dispossessed, and dispossessed - in his view - deliberately, unjustly and callously.
Rick Wright is a fifth-generation member of one of Australia’s best-known pastoral families, long associated with the Armidale district and Hereford cattle.
Other branches of the family survive and thrive on Armidale properties to this day, but Rick and his late uncle, David, of “Wallamumbi”, were both high-profile casualties of bank foreclosures.
“Jeogla” went under the hammer in September 1999 and sold immediately post-auction for $5.75 million, while “Wallamumbi” was sold privately two years later.
Both properties, along with their famous V1V and V2V cattle brands, were bought by Nutrimetics millionaires Bill and Imelda Roche (and are now back on the market as a 12,000 hectare aggregation, Jeogla and Wallamumbi Station).
Eight other properties owned variously by Rick and David (who formed separate companies after a partnership split in 1986) were also sold up by receivers acting for the bank.
Rick, who now lives with his wife Barbie on “Abbotsford”, his in-laws’ property at Wingen in the Upper Hunter, hopes people will read the book as a cautionary tale.
It’s an account of what can happen when a borrower falls out with his bank - in his case (and that of David), with the ANZ Bank, lenders to the Wrights for well over a century.
As he tells it, the saga that ended in his family being summarily evicted in June 1998 from “Jeogla” - the place of his birth and the resting-place of his parents’ ashes - could befall anyone.
All it takes is for a bank to decide it wants to replace one customer with a bigger and better one, and then by a series of well-oiled processes involving allied parties, the die is cast.
These processes, according to Rick, included unrealistic valuations of land and livestock, forced sales to meet arbitrary deadlines and the relentless racking up of legal costs.
Things started to go wrong when the planned sale of the Wrights’ “Broadmeadow” property in Queensland’s Central Highlands in 1996 to meet a debt reduction target was stymied by the High Court’s Wik decision on native title, which spooked buyers worried about future security of pastoral leases.
That precipitated a series of forced sales, of “Kindon” at Goondiwindi (jointly owned with David), “Warrabah” at Barraba, “Hernani” near Dorrigo and finally, “Jeogla” itself.
Some will dismiss Rick’s interpretation of events as conspiracy theory, but in his defence is a 1999 judgment in the NSW Supreme Court, upheld two years later by the Court of Appeal.
Those findings supported the Wrights’ contention that their cattle had been under-valued to the tune of more than $1 million by the bank’s receivers, raising questions to Rick about the validity of other valuations used to justify the bank’s actions.
Despite these judgments in their favour, the Wrights have received no satisfaction and are now pursuing other remedies, one being the wider exposure of the case through Rick’s book.
Although beautifully presented - a hard-cover publication, liberally illustrated - it must be said that the book is not an easy read, partly because of the litigious terrain it traverses.
This means much of the nuts-and-bolts narrative of the “Jeogla” Wrights’ battles with the bank, receivers and others has to be read “between the lines”.
It helps if you know the background.
Some of the author’s judgments and opinions will also raise a few hackles, as indeed did some of his outbursts as a controversial senior agri-politician through the 1990s.
But other parts of the book are eminently readable, such as those dealing with the Wright family’s history, the development of the Beefmaker breed and the family’s pioneering role in computer-aided livestock marketing.
The title of the book, Hold Fast, is borrowed from the coat of arms of the Macleod Clan, to which Rick claims ancestry through his mother’s family line.
It was chosen both to reject the author’s personal determination to keep fighting, and as a rallying call to others to be aware of the tenuous hold they might have over their presumed assets.
Rick says while ever a lender is able to divorce a client’s property for arbitrary valuation purposes from its related business assets – be they valuable breeding stock, water rights or mineral rights – nobody should feel secure.
“I fear for the future when agriculture can be abused
by self-serving interests beyond the farm gate,” he said.
“That’s another reason I wanted to write the book – to try to bridge the understanding gap that exists between agriculture and the city.”
In the case of the Rick and David Wright, however, the “understanding gap” that mattered was the one between them and their common bank, to which nobody else will ever be privy.
Hold Fast is being marketed direct by Rick Wright at $70 plus postage. Visit