The first overlanded cattle were sold at the sites where they arrived, often in the Adelaide Hills or at “Bull’s Stockyard” on East Terrace which was a prominent landmark”. A public slaughter yard (mainly for cattle) commenced operating in the Adelaide Parklands near Thebarton in 1841. Nearby was Bagots boiling down works. “The Meat Game” explains in detail the development of saleyards, abattoirs and the related regulation which gave the Metropolitan Export Abattoirs Board (MEAB) a monopoly on all slaughtering for local Adelaide consumption and export out of the State. Mr Hughes had been similarly innovative when in the 1864-6 drought he established a canning plant at Booyoolee Station, Gladstone to avoid the glut of sheep in the market. He brought men from Scotland to run the plant and after the drought sold the plant to Dean and Laughton who re-erected it at Port Adelaide.
Beef slaughtering, processing and packaging has gone through a number of changes. As Adelaide was settled and grew each butcher purchased his own requirements at the local saleyards and after 1841 licenses were required to operate a slaughterhouse. Cattle were slaughtered at the public slaughter house but pigs and sheep at the butcher shops throughout the city and Port Adelaide. A saleyard was established in the parklands at the corner of West and North Terraces in 1884 but moved to Gepps Cross along with the abattoirs in 1913. United States Import duties were removed on meat in 1913 resulting in international companies such as Swift Beef Company, Borthwicks and William Anglis entering the market.
In 1955, following a court case to test the validity of the MEAB Act, (which eventually went to the Privy Council) it was changed to allow regional export abattoirs access to the Adelaide market. This saw a number of processing works on the periphery of Adelaide expanded, including Noarlunga, Lobethal, Murray Bridge and Naracoorte. Gepps Cross abattoirs was sold in 1997 and finally closed in 1999.
In 1981 the Meat Hygiene Act came into force allowing local and interstate local abattoirs, which met certain hygiene standards, to sell meat throughout the country.
Cattle were first overlanded in a speculative venture to meet the local demand for cattle for dairy products, draught, tallow and meat. Whether it was to provide beef products for the Victorian Goldfields, meat for the workers constructing the overland telegraph line or canned beef or for troops in the two world wars, markets influenced the fortunes of beef producers. With the development of canning, freezing and later chilled beef the industry could export its product overseas. Initially beef was exported to Britain but with their entry to the European Union the export markets moved to fill the “hamburger trade” in the USA. In recent times Asian markets including Korea and Japan opened up for chilled and frozen product.