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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Atkinson, Robert Lamont (Monty) (1902–1986)

by Dawn May

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Robert Lamont (Monty) Atkinson (1902-1986), grazier and cattle-breeder, was born on 31 January 1902 at South Yarra, Melbourne, fourth of five children of Robert James Atkinson, a pastoralist from North Queensland, and his Victorian-born wife Constance Charlotte, née Lamont. Educated at The King’s School, Parramatta, New South Wales, `Monty’ helped to manage the family’s Queensland properties including Cashmere, near Mount Garnet, and Wairuna, west of Ingham. On 12 March 1934 at St John’s Church of England, Cairns, he married Ruth Dowse Collins. After his father’s death in 1939 he acquired Cashmere, where he established the Glenruth Poll Hereford cattle stud. Four years later he bought Mungalla station at Ingham. One of the first graziers in North Queensland to grow improved pastures, he also produced some outstanding thoroughbred horses at Mungalla. As a young man he had been a successful amateur jockey.

Early in the 1930s Atkinson bought two cross-bred bulls, descended from a Bos indicus (Zebu or Brahman) bull that had been brought to North Queensland from the Melbourne Zoological Gardens about 1912. Aiming to produce cattle better suited to the tropics than British breeds (Bos taurus), he mated the bulls with Shorthorn, Devon and Hereford cows and assessed the various cross-breeds. He decided that red cattle were better adapted than beasts of other colours to both the humid coastal districts and the dry interior. In 1941 he purchased some calves which had resulted from breeding experiments initiated by John Gilruth of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and continued crossing Shorthorns with Brahmans. By 1957 he had played a major role in producing a new breed which became known as the Drought-master. Generally red in colour, these cattle were highly resistant to ticks and tolerant of drought conditions and yielded a good quality beef carcass.

In 1952 Atkinson was founding president of the Australian Zebu-Cross Beef Cattle Breeders’ Association (later the Australian Tropical Beef Breeders’ Association). With Syd Staines in 1956 he took up a property at Gusap in the Markham Valley, New Guinea, and successfully grazed cattle there for several years. He was founding president (1962-63) and patron (1964-86) of the Droughtmaster Stud Breeders’ Society and, as a classifier for the breed, travelled great distances to advise cattlemen. In 1963 he purchased the historic Valley of Lagoons station from the estate of James Love.

Divorced in 1950, on 24 March 1951 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Townsville, Atkinson had married Edna Grace Lillian Grant. After retiring to Townsville in 1966, he acted as a consultant to the family enterprises, and published three books: Northern Pioneers (1979), Go West, Young Man (c.1981) and Bush Tales and Memoirs (1984). He retained his lifelong interest in horse-racing and was a life member of the Townsville Turf Club. Survived by his wife, and the elder daughter and two sons of his first marriage, he died on 2 July 1986 at Townsville and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 2002 the Droughtmaster breed was reputedly the second most numerous in northern Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McDonald, Cattle Country (1988)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, vol 98, 1987, p 1
  • Droughtmaster Digest, no 3, 1986, p 6
  • Townsville Bulletin, 7 July 1986, p 4.

Citation details

Dawn May, 'Atkinson, Robert Lamont (Monty) (1902–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 4 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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