Connemara collapse hurts Wheatbelt towns
Connemara collapse hurts Wheatbelt towns

The business collapse of one of WA's biggest grain growing families has left a trail of financial pain and potential ruin across the Wheatbelt and south to Esperance.

A host of small businesses in towns such as Esperance, Lake Grace, Katanning, Newdegate, Pingrup, Kondinin and Wagin have been a left out of pocket by amounts ranging from a few thousand dollars up to $1.6 million.

The Joyce family's farming company Connemara Holdings, run by Dennis Joyce with his sons Ryan and Trystan, was forced into receivership earlier this year as the National Australia Bank tried to recover debts of more than $70 million on the strength of mortgages over land, equipment and crops.

The bank recovered a big chunk of the debt with the controversial $29 million sale of prime farmland at Lake Varley to Chinese interests last Friday as well as earlier sales of farms and farm equipment. Receivers McGrathNicol confirmed that unsecured creditors would receive no return from the sell-off.

The total debt to unsecured creditors in Connemara is almost $5.2 million. The big unsecured creditors include Elders Ltd and CSBP but many small family-run businesses, including transport companies, local stores, mechanical repair shops and rural suppliers have been left with debts ranging from $10,000 to $60,000.

Local authorities were also caught, with the Shire of Lake Grace owed more than $60,000 and the Shire of Kondinin more than $16,000. Esperance Rural Services copped the biggest hit - $1.6 million - but refused to comment on its dealings with Connemara.

Most business owners contacted by _WestBusines _ s were reluctant to talk about the debts. Some pointed the finger at Connemara, while others blamed NAB for extending too much credit to the family and then not doing enough to help them trade out of financial trouble.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said it was a sad situation for the small businesses caught out.

"I just wonder how some of them are going to survive. It doesn't sound like a lot of money but it is money right off the bottom line," Mr Park said.

"The $5 million is going to come out of the bush somewhere. They are really struggling as it is."

A business owner who did not want to be named said small enterprises had to show a degree of trust in local farmers when unpaid bills began to mount.

"You can say to your client 'you haven't paid your bill, I don't want to deal with you', but you can't say that to everyone. Everyone goes through tough patches and nine times out of 10 they are still farming 10 years down the track so you have got to be careful," he said.

Dennis Joyce is believed to be overseas and Ryan Joyce refused to comment to _WestBusiness _.

NAB said it could not comment on individual customers but defended its record of supporting farmers.

The West Australian

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