60 years of Poll Hereford Success, breeding world-class cattle on the Darling Downs of Queensland
Story and photography by Jessica Rea
In every regional town there are familial names that are synonymous with the land. For the Clifton region of Queensland, one of those names is O’Leary.
The O’Leary family made their way to Clifton, south of Toowoomba, from Stanthorpe around 1863. First moving up through Warwick, then on to the then small township of Clifton and finally settling on what was then a sizable holding named Fontainbleau, west of Clifton, and surrounded by other large properties such as Talgai and Ellangowan.
Over time, the Fontainbleau property was broken up and divided between the generations of O’Leary family. An 1800 acre section was parcelled off and allocated to Matthew O’Leary and named Remolea. As with many of the properties in the area, the original Fontainbleau homestead and, by extension Remolea, was set up to raise sheep. And Matthew O’Leary did so, successfully, for many years. However, with the emergence of Lippia in the area, smothering other pasture grasses, and with part of Remolea being situated on a flood plain, over time it became clear that rearing sheep at Remolea may not be sustainable. And so, Matthew began to explore a move into the cattle market, building a commercial herd of purebred Herefords and Poll Herefords.
During these early years, Matthew’s three eldest children, Kevin, Helen and Hilary attended the Fontlea school, ‘Font’ for its position on the Fontainbleau property and ‘lea’ for O’Leary. This was a school made up of students all with the surname O’Leary. When the boys were old enough, they moved on to boarding school in Toowoomba, whilst their younger brother, Terry, was sent to school in Clifton after the closure of the old Fontlea school. A strong football player, the middle O’Leary brother, Hilary, held high hopes of pursuing a football career. However, by the mid 1960s the call of the family farm was strong and he returned to Remolea to work alongside his brother, Kevin, and father, Matthew.
The 1960’s was a time of change at Remolea. Matthew could see that sheep didn’t have longevity on his land, and as the land was broken up into smaller paddocks, a shift towards breeding commercial Herefords and Poll Herefords was made. A strong commercial herd gradually emerged, and a small number of unregistered bulls were sold on occasion. But it wasn’t until brothers Kevin and Hilary took a more active role in the farm, that an official Poll Hereford stud was established at Remolea in 1962.
Things started modestly for the Poll Hereford stud, with the brothers saving a few hundred dollars here and there through a hay contracting business, and using that money to invest in a cow or two for their breeding herd. As time passed, the stud herd at Remolea continued to grow, with Kevin and Hilary diligently working to make sure they produced high quality Poll Hereford bulls suitable for the Queensland market. By 1977, they were ready for the first Stud Bull Sale through the Warwick Sale Yards.
As they approached sale day, the farm was a hive of activity and their father, Matthew, continued his work on the farm happily into his 70s. A busy day was had by the whole family, preparing the bulls for the upcoming sale. As they all headed for bed, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but sadly Matthew was to pass away suddenly in his sleep that night. Mourning the death of their father, the brothers proceeded with the inaugural sale in his honour.
The O’Leary family would sell their bulls at Warwick for a further three years, before moving on to sales in Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Roma. They continued selling their stud bulls for the next 25 years at sales across Queensland and New South Wales, building a loyal customer base who returned year on year for their quality Remolea bulls. The awards for Remolea bulls naturally followed their growing popularity. They were awarded champion bull at the Glen Innes sale, as well as champion pen of three and champion pen of six. All prestigious awards, held in high regard by the family.
As time went on, the eldest of the O’Leary brothers, Kevin, decided it was time to move his family to Warwick. So Hilary put a call out to his younger brother, Terry, asking if he would like to return to the family farm and help him run the Poll Hereford stud. Terry had always loved the land. After school he embarked in a successful career in regional banking, moving to a number of regional locations including Goondiwindi, Taroom and Miles to name just a few. But the time was right to return to Remolea, and Terry fit right in to the operation.
Once again, the brothers continued with their recipe for success on-farm, looking for only the best genetics and breeding for their herd. Their reputation in the industry continued to move from strength to strength, aided by Hilary’s passion for the breed. For fourteen years, Hilary invested his time into the Australian Poll Hereford Society and subsequently the Hereford Society of Australia, being one of just a few to hold positions with both, including treasurer and chairman. Here he delved deep into trends within the industry and with the Hereford and Poll Hereford breeds, doing whatever he could to support other breeders. He noted growing popularity and emphasis placed on eye placement and pigmentation. But above all else, Hilary asserts that any bull must remain practical and produce practical offspring, to support commercial producers in their operations. A bull must throw offspring that are easy for a cow to calve on her own, and that display the calm temperament the O’Leary bulls are known for.
So calm in fact that for many years, Hilary and his son Pat toured Australia with one very famous bull indeed, Hereford Hank. Hank attended many an exhibition, a favourite of his being Hyde Park in Sydney, where a young Pat would pop a stock saddle on his back and ride him around, cracking whips from his back. Hank handled himself as well as any stockhorse would and had a growing fan base of city folk who would come up for a cuddle and a photo with a very patient Hank.
And it seems that the calm and kind temperament of Hank has run through the O’Leary herd for many more years. In fact, they proved quite the willing models for our photos to accompany this story. The O’Leary family take pride in each and every one of their bulls that they put forward for sale. Today the family produce an average of 50 bulls per sale, held annually on property at Remolea for the past ten years. Holding a sale on farm is testament to the loyal customer base the O’Learys have built over the years and the popularity of their Poll Hereford bulls. A quick ride around the paddock with Hilary and Terry shows the passion they have for all of their animals and the knowledge they have to share.
Today, at Remolea they run a breeding herd of 250 stud females selecting the top 50 bulls to be put through to the sale at two years old. Each year a letter is selected to dictate the names of the bulls. In 2023 that letter is S leading to some spectacular names such as Sargent, Stockman and Scotch to name just a few. Each year Hilary’s wife, Dot, will sit down with an atlas and a dictionary and set about selecting the best 50 names she can. Not an easy job.
Each July, the O’Leary family welcome prospective buyers to Remolea, ready for the annual bull sale. With the advent of online technologies such as Auctions Plus, the sale has gone from strength to strength. When once upon a time, the pool of buyers was set at a 100km radius of Remolea, today buyers come from as far away as Emerald, Wilcannia and even Western Australia, to pick up a top-quality bull. In 2023 the top priced bull, lot number one Remolea Scone, sold for an impressive $21,000.
For 60 years, the O’Leary family have poured their heart and soul into their Poll Hereford stud. Their work ethic and passion for the land is well known in their local town and across the industry. Today, Remolea Poll Herefords look to the next generation of the O’Leary family to continue to produce high quality Poll Hereford Bulls, continuing the work of the generations that have come before them.