In the pantheon of stud stock auctioneers of the late 20th century few, if any, stood higher - physically or figuratively - than Dalgety's Peter Norrie. As the manager and chief auctioneer of Dalgety's NSW stud stock department for 25 years, Norrie became one of the most recognised and respected practitioners of his high-profile craft.
Starting out with the former New Zealand Loan in 1949, he became part of Dalgety when the latter merged with NZL in 1963, and remained with the company through its ensuing mergers until his retirement 40 years later. Although he worked with sheep as well as cattle, Norrie, who has died in Sydney aged 88, was best known for his command of the stud cattle scene - animals and their owners alike.
As one of his former proteges, Geoff Baker, put it in his eulogy at last week's funeral service, Norrie was "an excellent judge of cattle and people". His knowledge of genetics - especially within the Hereford breed, but also other breeds - gave him a voice of authority which, coupled with a commanding presence, made him a formidable force on the rostrum.
He was seen by some as brusque, but behind the somewhat patrician manner was a man with a keen sense of humour who inspired loyalty in his staff and lifelong friendship with his clients. Born in 1931 at Wauchope, where his father was a farmer at nearby Ellenborough, Norrie attended Hurlstone Agricultural High School where he excelled at cricket, boxing and rugby.
Shortly after leaving school he took the career step that would define his working life, when he joined the stud stock department of NZL in Sydney, managed at that time by Eric Oakes. He was just 23 when he was picked to accompany the company's Queensland stud stock manager, Charles Locke, on a bull-buying trip to the United States, where he gained invaluable early experience.
It was while working with NZL in Sydney that Norrie met his future bride, Margaret Newling, who was secretary to the store stock manger Max Swaddling. The couple wedded in 1958, after which Norrie was moved to Brisbane to start up a Queensland stud stock section, travelling widely around the state and gaining knowledge, contacts and skills.
A daughter, Lynette, was born to the couple in 1959 followed by a son, Jim, in 1962, and in 1964 - a year after the Dalgety-NZL merger - the Norries returned to Sydney, setting up home at St Ives. Norrie had been appointed stud stock manager NSW for the newly-merged company, replacing Dalgety's venerated but ageing stud stock chief, Dick Gaden.
He soon built a strong clientele, especially in the cattle industry where his knowledge of breeds, bloodlines and breeders established his reputation as more than "just" an auctioneer.
His knowledge was expanded by the many overseas trips he made, mostly to the UK and Canada, in search of likely AI sires and to study the latest technologies and up-and-coming breeds.
He sold at major multi-vendor sale venues around the state including Dalgety's annual three-day Gloucester bull sale and the big annual whiteface sales at Wodonga and Dubbo, plus a growing calendar of (predominantly Hereford) on-property sales.
It wasn't only with Herefords that he built his reputation, however. The late Wallace Munro of Weebollabolla at Moree was just one of his many Shorthorn clients, and among the mourners at his funeral was Rick Pisaturo, for whom Norrie conducted Australia's first Charolais sale at Mandalong Park, St Marys, in 1970.
For all stud stock auctioneers, the main event of the year in Norrie's day was the annual three-day Sydney Royal bull sales, the nation's premier bloodstock exchange, and an important "shop window" for the rival agency firms.
Norrie's memorable achievements there included the 1975 sale of the Hereford bull Hobartville Mason for a then-record breed price of $44,000, and the 1988 sale of the Poll Hereford bull Lynland Hytec for a venue record price of $100,000.
In the early 1970s Norrie put together a strong statewide stud stock team comprising Peter McCrohon in Tamworth, Geoff Baker at Wagga Wagga and John Fryer in Sydney.
Geoff Baker recalls that Norrie, as his boss, never made demands "as long as you kept kicking goals". Commenting on his boss's selling style, Baker said Norrie was at his best on a lethargic market, when he would rise to the challenge of injecting life into a disinterested gallery.
Baker recalls on one occasion arriving with Norrie for an on-property sale where buyers appeared to be abundant, and saying to his boss that "we're in for a good one here", only to have the voice of experience retort that "half of them are only here for the party afterwards!".
Not that Norrie was one to pass up a party. He and many a client were known to "put a fair bit of air into a bottle of scotch" (as he put it) on occasions when he stayed over before or after a sale.
After his retirement, Norrie did some real estate work and livestock consulting, as well as taking up bowls and spending time with his grandchildren. Peter Norrie is survived by his wife Margaret, son and daughter-in-law Jim and Christine, and five grand-children. His daughter Lynette died in 2003 from lymphoma.
- PETER AUSTIN