About this blog

This blog is about the history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and neighbouring areas, such as Pakenham, Cranbourne and Garfield, and any other historical subjects I feel like writing about. It's my own original research and writing and if you live in the area you may have read some of the stories before in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society newsletter or the Koo-Wee-Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, or the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator.
Heather Arnold.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

100 years ago this week - Milk trains and the Dairy industry

From the Bunyip Free Press of March 5, 1914 comes this report about the extension of the milk train from Pakenham to Bunyip. At a time when nearly all produce went by rail this was obviously a boon to the dairy farmers east of Pakenham and dairy farming played an important role in the economy of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp.

In 1888 the Victorian Parliament allocated money to establish creameries, cheese and butter factories in the Colony and by the 1890s there were over 140 such factories in Victoria, including a number in the Koo-Wee-Rup area. Up until around 1930 this area could sustain several factories for a number of reasons. Firstly, dairy cattle numbers were at their peak in the 1920s. It is estimated that the Parishes of Koo-Wee-Rup, Koo-Wee-Rup East and Yallock had 12,000 dairy cattle in early 1920s. Secondly, most farmers were still using horse and cart for transport, so local factories were necessary. Lastly, the factories had slightly different purposes in that whole milk could be was received at Iona and Cora Lynn, whilst farms with a separator could deposit cream at Drouin, Lang Lang or Bayles.

Here’s a look at some of the factories in the local area. In 1892, John Henry Smethurst constructed a factory on his property Glen Avis in Yannathan. Smethurst was a pioneer in the use of machines. His dairy had a four horse-power boiler and a three horse-power Tangye engine which worked a 90 gallon separator and 200lb butter churn. He milked 75 cows at Yannathan and also had another cheese factory on his other property Lang Lang Park, at Athlone, where he milked 260 cows.

Yallock Southern Creamery, which was situated on the corner of the Yallock Creek and the No.5 Yallock drain, opened in 1897 as a Co-Operative, closed in 1898, re-opened 1899 and eventually sold to the owners of the Lang Lang Butter Factory. A butter factory had operated in Lang Lang for a few years before it closed in February 1893. It re-opened around 1895 with Charles Wood (or his company Wood & Co) being listed as the owners until 1926, when it was sold to Southern State Produce. In 1928 it was  purchased by Ivan Stedman, a butter merchant. It closed in 1940. The Factory was a major employer in Lang Lang. Farm pick-ups were initially done by horse and cart, but the 1930s the Factory had a fleet of trucks which collected from farms as far away as Phillip Island.

Yannathan Butter Factory was established in 1900 or 1905 (depending on sources) and was purchased by Ivan Stedman at the same he purchased the Lang Lang Factory. From 1929 the Cranbourne Shire Rate books lists the Yannathan factory as the “old Butter Factory” so I assume it was closed at this time. Yannathan, Catani and Bayles dairy farmers could also send their milk to Melbourne on the train, after the Strezlecki Railway line opened in 1922, and in 1923 the milk train carried over 1000 gallons of milk per day from those stations.

Incidently, Ivan Stedman (1895-1979) was a champion swimmer and led the Australian team at the opening ceremony of the Antwerp Olympics in 1920. He won a silver medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay team at those Olympics and also competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. This is an achievement, made even more remarkable, by the fact that Ivan spent over three years in the A.I.F. during the First World War and was wounded at Passchendaele.

At Iona, a Creamery run by the Fresh Food and Frozen Storage Company, was opened in 1897 and by 1900 it had 500 suppliers. The Creamery operated until around 1907. In 1906 Drouin Co-Operative Butter Factory established a factory in Iona on the corner of Little Road and the Main Drain. It closed in October 1928 and was demolished in 1930. Another butter factory, operated by Holdenson and Neilson, operated in Iona from 1912 or 1917 (depending on sources) and was taken over by the Drouin Co-Operative Butter Factory in April 1921. At one stage the Fresh Food and Frozen Storage Company operated 70 butteries and creameries in Victoria. Holdenson and Nielson operated at least 20 and in the early 1890s they produced over 2 million pounds of butter, most of it being exported.


Bayles Butter Factory 1923
Photograph: Bayles Fauna Reserve collection

The Drouin Co-Operative Butter Factory established a factory at Cora Lynn in 1910. This was extended in 1930s, partially to compensate for Iona closing down. In 1932 the factory had around 500 regular suppliers, however it was closed in the late 1940s. Drouin Co-Operative Butter Factory took over the Bayles Butter Factory in 1944, which had been established in 1922. It was re-built and enlarged in 1966 and operated until January 1980. This gave Drouin access to the Melbourne market as Bayles had a City distribution licence.

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