Clint Donovan

published: 01 Nov 2016 in Personality profiles

STARTING off selling cattle for his father’s firm as a 13 year-old gave Clint Donovan the dream of one day making his career as an auctioneer. He’s achieved all that and more in the years since and is now a fixture on the rostrum at Magic Millions sales as well as working as bloodstock consultant for the company and representing the firm abroad.

AS THE 32nd Gold Coast Magic Millions yearling sale approaches Clint Donovan says he is as “happy as a kid in a lolly shop at Christmas.” The bloodstock consultant and auctioneer can’t wait to start selling the wonderful array of yearlings entered for the sale in 2017. 
  “With more and more breeders entrusting Magic Millions with their best yearlings the catalogue is absolutely outstanding,” says Clint, who has been an MM bloodstock consultant and auctioneer for the past two and a half years. 
“There is no denying the confidence and trust being placed in the company by Australian breeders has resulted in the 2017 offering being of mind-boggling proportions. 
  “As far as quality is concerned I feel the sale is going to be the strongest in the history of the company. And, if the market comes with us, I think it will be the biggest sale ever.”
  Clint believes much of the credit for this continuing escalation in the fortunes of Magic Millions is due to chief executive Vin Cox. 
“He has a wonderful management style that makes you feel like you are in a family business, the way I was in my earlier days with my mother and father. Vin gets everybody feeling that they are part of what’s happening.
  “Even though we are all sort of misfits and individuals we have blended into a driven team with the objective of making Magic Millions the best sales company in the world. I think that is, mainly, because of Vin’s leadership and from a personal point of view what he has done for me has been phenomenal. He has focused on lifting my profile, which has enabled me to open a lot more doors than I could have done otherwise.”
  Along the way two larger-than-life characters, cattleman and Turangga Farm principal Stuart Ramsey and New Zealand Bloodstock chairman Joe Walls, have also made important contributions to Clint’s career. Besides encouraging him to begin working for him at the South Grafton abattoir when he still had two years of high school remaining Stu’s connections opened the way for Clint to begin auctioneering at the Magic Millions.
  A few years after he did this Stu influenced Joe Walls, a legendary figure in the thoroughbred world, to give Clint the opportunity to be on the auctioneer’s rostrum at NZB’s sales. That resulted in Clint taking on a full-time position with the 
New Zealand company before he was approached by Vin Cox to fill his present role.
  The journey he has taken began in 1982 at Coutts Crossing, which is a rural village of little more than 1000 people on the Orara River in the Clarence Valley region of New South Wales. Clint grew up there on a property his parents, Ray and Helen Donovan, had, where they ran cattle and bred stock horses. They also worked together to develop Ray Donovan Stock and Station Agents in Armidale St, South Grafton, which is proudly proclaimed as being “a 100% family-owned business servicing livestock and property needs throughout the Clarence Valley and beyond”.
  With Ray and Helen’s background Clint was riding from the time he was four and before long he was helping his father mustering cattle, when not attending the Coutts Crossing primary school.  At the age of 12 he had risen to become 
the third generation of the family, the earlier ones were on his mother’s side, to be chosen as school captain.
  “I have a marvellous grandmother in Teddy Bowles and she is the life of the town,” he said. “She is a musician, former council member and that sort of thing and she has had a very positive influence on me.”
  Clint was enrolled at South Grafton High School on finishing at Coutts Crossing primary, but by that stage his interests were already beginning to be elsewhere. “With my folks having the stock and station agency they would have a clearing sale every second or third Saturday and I was generally tied up with that. They’d also have cattle sales as well. I can remember getting off the school bus when I was 13 or 14 hoping that the sale was still going so I could do some auctioneering, which Dad had been teaching me.”
  He also had an introduction to racing during those years with his parents always sponsoring an event at the Grafton Carnival in July. It was in 1998 that Stuart Ramsey became a directional force in the path Clint’s life has since taken.
  “Stu knew my father well and he had often seen me around. We were sitting around the kitchen table at home one night when there was a phone call from Stu. He had just bought the Grafton abattoir and was wondering what I was doing because he needed a young person to educate in his way of doing things and to become a trainee cattle buyer.
  “When I went in for an interview I was in my school shorts and Stu was screaming at someone down the phone line, which was quite intimidating for a boy as young as I was. Anyway the interview went okay and I started the next day. I was only 15 at the time and my mother wasn’t pleased because in her view I should have been finishing high school and then going on to university.”
  Although Clint arrived at the abattoir at 5.15 the morning following his interview Stu was already there even though he had to drive from Casino, which is about 100km away. His first day proved a shock to the system when he was consigned to the “gut house”.
  “That was just about the most awful day of my life,” he said. “When I’d finished Stu asked me how the day went. Being polite I said ‘good’ and he warned me that if I didn’t toe the line that would be where I’d end up.”
  It was during his time with Stuart Ramsey that Clint had his introduction to the Magic Millions. “I had a share with Stu and a few mates in a horse running in the maiden on Magic Millions day in 1999 and it finished last. Afterwards Stu took 
me to the sale and I was completely blown away by the atmosphere.
  “Until then I hadn’t even known something like the Magic Millions existed and had thought the highlight of my auctioneering career would be selling an Angus bull for $10,000. The image of that night at the sale was something that was quickly imprinted on my mind and it has stayed there ever since.”
  However, after three years working for Stu, in which he had made a habit of trying to be first to arrive and last to leave, Clint decided to try his hand as a jackeroo. He fulfilled what he describes as a “lifelong dream” by joining the Australian Agricultural Company, which has a history dating back to 1824. He was consigned to Headingly Station in the Queensland Gulf country close to the Northern Territory border where company has around 40,000 head of Santa Gertrudis cattle and a holding spreading over nearly 4000 square miles.
  “That experience was quite an eye opener for a young kid from the coast. I rode a lot of wild horses while I was up there. I was second in what they call the Station Buckjump and rode at the Mount Isa rodeo, which was all great fun.”
  After 12 months with the AA Company he headed for Roma, which is 470km west of Brisbane and is the nation’s largest cattle selling centre. “I wanted to further my auctioneering skills so I spent three years with Elders as an auctioneer, which was wonderful experience.” 
  On visiting his parents at Easter of 2004 Clint learned that his father needed help with running of the stock and station agency so he returned home later that year. “Dad had seen a significant amount of growth in the business and wanted to keep the agency within the family. After I came back to Grafton to work for Mum and Dad I rang Stu and said I would love to become involved in what was happening at the Magic Millions.
  “So Stu made a phone call to Paul Knight and low and behold I got a bid spotting job at the Gold Coast. Then I did some selling at the monthly sale and then, probably 10 or 12 years ago now, I had a run selling mares at the June sale. It has just gone from there and I was selling at the Magic Millions while I was still working with Mum and Dad.”
  In 2007 Stuart Ramsey brought Joe Walls into play by suggesting he watch Clint’s performance in the auctioneers’ box. Impressed, Joe Walls asked the Magic Millions then chief executive David Chester whether he would mind if Clint was invited to be an auctioneer at New Zealand Bloodstock sales at Karaka. “I was pretty chuffed about that,” he said. “As well as working with my folks I was doing Magic Millions auctions and NZB auctions, which was good stuff.”
  By that stage he was becoming “desperate” to be involved full-time in the thoroughbred industry. Before long everything fell into place when an opening occurred at NZ Bloodstock, which he accepted, even though that meant leaving behind his work with Magic Millions and the family’s stock and station agency. That evolved into Clint spending a year in Auckland and the next two years in Cambridge.
  “I was really impressed with the way the New Zealanders embraced me,” he said. “The Chitticks, the Hogans and Schicks of the world were all wonderfully accommodating because they took me in as one of their own. Of course working alongside Joe Walls was fantastic too because he is a tremendous auctioneer and without doubt the best I have stood beside.
  “Like Stu Ramsey, Joe became a serious mentor of mine and I am still able talk to them both on a regular basis, which is great. Added to my enjoyment of the three years I had in New Zealand was that Karaka is an incredible selling venue and, from an auctioneer’s point of view, I will probably never sell in a better complex.
  “When you are on the rostrum it feels as though you can almost reach out and touch the bidders. Being so close to them gives you a wonderful ability to be able to read their body language so I loved selling at Karaka.”
  However, family responsibilities led to him returning across the Tasman to the Gold Coast where he settled in as an NZB representative in Australia. He had fallen in love with his wife Telena, who, when they met, owned a coffee shop in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. They soon had two children, Willow, who is five, and Tucker, four, and it had become impractical for Telena and the children to be living in Queensland while Clint was based in Cambridge.
  “Coming back to Magic Millions was always part of my plan. By then Vin Cox had come on board as chief executive of Magic Millions and discussions started. I’ve been great mates with bloodstock manager Barry Bowditch since the early days at Magic Millions, so it all made perfect sense.”
  This resulted in the announcement in late July 2014 that Clint was joining the company. 
“Since its inception in 1986 the business has only headed in one direction and I am looking forward to working with management in continuing that success,” Clint said in a media release at the time. “I am really looking forward to being back on the rostrum, where it all started, and I’m very excited to be working with Magic Millions vendors and breeders throughout Australia and New Zealand.”
  While his passion remains auctioneering he is finding his expanded role at the company highly satisfying. “Achieving results in the sale ring for high quality yearlings and race mares attracted into the catalogue is very rewarding. Equally rewarding is the role of encouraging new buyers to attend Magic Millions sales.
  “I am also finding it is an incredible honour to be able to walk on to magnificent stud farms and be considered enough of a judge to be able to assess the potential of $1m yearlings. Besides that, it is exceptional privilege for me to be working alongside Barry Bowditch, who is a very, very good operator, so its all great.”
  With Vin Cox providing the opportunities to further expand his horizons Clint has twice represented the Magic Millions on overseas trips in the past 12 months. The first of these was in December last year when he attended the Tattersalls sale at Newmarket and those of Arqana at Deauville. Then this year he was at Newmarket when the Tagula horse Limato (IRE) won the prestigious Darley July Cup.
  “I have really enjoyed both those trips, especially being at the July Cup meeting,” he said. “It’s a showcase week for English racing and it was great to be there and to be able to put the Magic Millions brand on show. I was rubbing shoulders with sheikhs and high profile personalities from all over the place . . . it was a long way from Coutts Crossing I can tell you.” n