The passing of a great gentleman of seafood
Noel A. Gallagher • 7 December, 1929 - 25 July, 2016
Noel Ambrose Gallagher was born at Maclean, Clarence River, in northern New South Wales.
He was the son of a farmer who lost everything that he owned in the Great Depression, and it was only by winning a State Bursary, that he was able to get an education. Noel came from a family of eight and he leaves this world as a grandfather to 19 and a great-grandfather to eight. You can appreciate that he was a good Catholic.
Noel Gallagher had a wealth of experience in the management, processing and marketing of seafood, both in Australia and overseas. As you will see from this obituary, in many respects he was like the ‘father of the seafood marketers.’
Early in his career, he became the general manager of the Clarence River Fishermen's Cooperative, and later became the Director of the Queensland Fish Board.
From there he spent some ten years as a consultant to overseas companies and governments in Asia and the Indian Ocean basin. He was also involved in consultation on joint ventures with the Soviet Union and in New Zealand.
He finished his career with his own successful business in seafood merchandising, N. A. Gallagher and Sons Pty Ltd, trading as Seafood Traders of Australia of Brisbane, Queensland. Noel was an innovator and a very ethical operator mentoring many people in the industry. Two of those people were Norm Grant and Harry Peters AM.
Peters, who Managing Director of Marine Product Marketing Pty Ltd, said: “Noel was always the gentleman, was a good friend and mentor. As his selling agent for a number of years, what was most impressive was his passion for the industry which rubbed off on many and was a big factor in my getting involved in various industry forums. He paved the way for many species as well as engaged in what became a passion for him, fish names. His role with species such as Basa, Nile Perch and Orange Roughy should not be forgotten. His input into DNA testing of imported species was vital, to the point that he often provided the actual samples of product to CSIRO for the DNA bank. Noel established a firm place in the history of Seafood in Australia and his efforts must be recognized.”
Norm Grant, the Chairman of the Seafood Importers Association of Australasia (SIAA), commented: “Noel was my mentor, and my first contact with importers. I opened his Sydney office for him in the early 80's. He used to stay at our house rather than a hotel when in Sydney so we got to know him personally. SIAA made Noel a life member and even though he was no longer engaged in trade was always in touch about issues and offering advice.”
Even though he was strongly connected in his early life to domestic production, Gallagher became an unsung hero of imported seafood and particularly paved the way in many countries, often travelling to areas where others had not been.
Alan Snow, Project Manager for FRDC Fish Names Committee (FNC), said: “Noel Gallagher was one of the cornerstones of the FNC in its formative years and provided a lot of valuable information and insights into the imported seafood industry. He was an active member of the Fish Names Committee, never missing a meeting, until his retirement when he finally sold his business and went and purchased a motor home to become an older grey nomad.”
Snow continued: “Noel always argued the case for appropriate names for imported seafood products with a very calm demeanor. He always arrived with charts, books, and posters to justify his position on a name. He was articulate but also a thorough gentleman of the old school. One of his many achievements was the introduction of the name Basa in Australia. A name was proposed that Noel did not agree with so he went and spoke to his suppliers and members and arrived at the next meeting with a proposal for a name which went through the formal processes and was accepted. The rest is history.”
Don Tuma, a long term member of the FNC, mentioned that, “Noel was a good friend of mine and the first person I would contact for background details of imported seafood species, especially items from Myanmar which were often incorrectly identified, or invented names. Noel always had some interesting details accumulated from his long experience in the seafood business and he shared these along with his great sense of humor.”
When the ‘Australian Seafood Handbook – Imported Species’ was launched in 2003, Noel, as the most experienced industry member of the FNC, was given the role to talk about the background to the development of the book, and he said: “Used in tandem with the updated Australian Fish Names List, importers now have a powerful, world-class reference tool for seafood species identification which will trigger reforms in the seafood industry, primarily benefiting consumers.” He was rightly proud of what had been achieved.
Going back in his early life, Noel grew up on the lower Clarence River and, at the time, the area was supplying about one sixth of the fish that was consumed by the New South Wales community; he became fascinated with the industry. The Clarence River Fishermen's Cooperative Society (CRFCS) was where Noel cut his teeth in the industry, moving right through the organization from a role as sub-accountant when he was 18, and then graduating to manager's secretary at the age of 22, and finishing up as general manager of the Cooperative Society when he was about 27.
CRFCS under Noel’s influence built up a sizeable interstate market in Queensland, and was challenged by the Queensland Fish Board (QFB) about the activities of the Cooperative, which finished up in a High Court action against the QFB. Noel did his homework well and not only did he win in the High Court, but he impressed the Chairman of QFB to such an extent that he was offered a job by QFB as their General Manager at the young age of 31.
He went on to be a director of QFB and looked after the research and development as well as the management side. Noel had an entrepreneurial spirit and took the QFB into the export business as well as playing a strong hand in building what is now the Brisbane Metropolitan Fish Market.
Politics conspired against him and so when he was approached by the Development Bank of Singapore, he took up the opportunity engaging in a 10-year assignment in that country. The role was primarily to get companies, in which the bank was involved, out of trouble, creating guidelines that would lead them from disaster path into profit. Noel was very successful in that task and was given other assignments in Somalia, South Yemen, India, Vietnam (a very dangerous assignment during the war), the Philippines, Sarawak, and generally around the Indo-Pacific region, including one assignment to the Seychelles, which he enjoyed.
One of his last roles in Singapore was with Marissco Private Limited, which was a joint venture between the giant corporation Suribbnod of the USSR and a local Singapore company. It was at the time the biggest processing organization in Singapore and the region.
From there Noel took up an assignment with Future Challenge Limited in New Zealand, who also had a liaison with the Soviet Union in fishing, and he was tasked to establish that joint venture based in Dunedin. The job was bigger than just dealing with the fishery and involved processing and international marketing of the deep water species that were just coming into prominence in New Zealand. With all that knowledge he headed home to Brisbane and established his business and became the Australian agent for Fletcher Soviet bloc/Fletcher Challenge, and managed to build a sizeable business from those contacts.
Noel was a strong believer in training and promotion and often highlighted the inadequacy of industry budgets in that regard. I often had conversations with him about these issues. Noel advocated that everyone in retailing seafood needed to be trained, suggesting that no one be allowed a licence unless they come up to a certain standard of presentation and food safety. He felt it was a joint responsibility of the government and the industry. Without training, it is hard to get quality and consistency in the supply chain and he always highlighted the lack of literature being made available to the public. To be perfectly frank, Noel’s concepts are what have shaped my ideas and driven me in the quest to achieve this goal.
I chaired the FNC for many years and if I close my eyes I can still hear Noel say, “Point of order, Mister Chairman!” if ever I or the other members of the committee strayed from the task at hand. He was never nasty, but was always up for a good debate.
It was a great honor and privilege to have known Noel. I am already missing the annual call he used to give me at Christmastime telling me about his travels, asking about my family and catching up on what was happening in the industry.
The Australian seafood industry should be mightily proud of having had someone of Noel’s ilk in its midst. He will be fondly remembered and, no doubt, deeply missed by his family and friends.
R.I.P Noel Ambrose Gallagher
- Murdoch University's Oral History of the Australian Fishing Industry
- Seafood Australia Magazine Spring 2003
NOTE: Noel's funeral service will be conducted on Monday, 1August at 12:30 PM at St Bernard's Catholic Church in Upper Mt Gravatt, Queensland.