Richmond River Historical Society
District History  


Downturn at the Dairy (Part 2)

by Margaret Henderson

Dairying Takes Off

In the 1880s there was an upsurge in the dairying industry in the Richmond River District. This was caused by several factors.

1. Farmers

There was an influx of experienced dairy farmers from the south, especially during the late 1870s. The dairying industry had been established on the South Coast of New South Wales for some time but farmers were dissatisfied, partly because many did not own their properties and land was expensive. Landowners were asking higher rents or sometimes a share of the farmer's income. Many of these farms had been set up originally on the English model of paternalism, with tenant farmers. These farmers saw the opening up of productive land on the North Coast as independence as well as profit.

2. Technology

There were several technological improvements.

i. Refrigeration
In 1873 Thomas Mort developed the first commercial refrigeration plant in Sydney. This was essential to any large-scale development of the dairying industry. The main butter market was overseas and, prior to this, it was impossible to keep butter at a stable temperature for a long period. Refrigerated holding areas, and ships equipped with refrigeration solved the problem.

ii. Separators
In 1882 two Danish cream separators arrived in New South Wales. Denmark was a dairying nation and this invention meant that milk no longer had to sit waiting for the cream to rise to the top so that it could be skimmed off. The machine saved a great amount of time and the cream was of a much better quality. The separators were expensive, however, and the ordinary farmer could not afford them. [

At this time many people were sceptical about the functioning of separators. It had been a long held belief that there was some magic involved in the milk and cream separating and it was not believed that a machine could undertake this job!]

In 1883 the Fresh Food and Ice Co. at Kiama introduced a cream separator into its factory. This was a private company and had been set up to purchase milk from farmers and produce dairy products, which was an improvement on the previous cottage industry where the farmer and his family produced the products.

By 1886 there were reported to be 45 Swedish Alpha Laval and several Danish separators in New South Wales. One of these was on the North Coast, at the Bexhill property of William Walmsley. Mr Walmsley held a Field Day and many farmers attended. They were impressed with the capabilities of the new machine.

The separators were very costly, however, and far beyond the means of most farmers. Because of this the more progressive farmers decided to form a cooperative.

3. Cooperatives

The third factor which changed the North Coast Dairying Industry in the 1880s began in 1884 when the Pioneer Butter Factory opened at Kiama, on the South Coast of New South Wales. This Factory was owned by the local dairy farmers on a cooperative basis. It competed with the already established Fresh Food and Ice Company, a private company, and was the beginning of the cooperative movement in the dairying industry of New South Wales.

On 18 June 1887 a meeting was held at Wollongbar on the North Coast. The aim of this meeting was to form a cooperative similar to the ones on the South Coast. During the meeting John Seccombe, one of the leading farmers in the District, stated that, if a factory was established it should have refrigeration as well as ice-making capabilities. On 28 August 1889 the first cooperative was established, on John Seccombe's land at Spring Hill, Wollongbar. Following quickly were the Unara Cooperative at Bexhill in October 1889, and the Rous Cooperative in December 1889.

[It is interesting to note that ice production was a by-product of the dairying industry on the North Coast. There were no ice-making factories already established so these butter factories had to produce their own ice in order to preserve their products. Surplus ice was sold to households for use in ice chests. This was a great step forward in keeping household food in a hot climate.]

In addition to the butter factories by 1893 there were many separating stations. These stations were situated throughout the district usually at villages so that farmers did not have so far to travel. After separation the cream was then taken in bulk to the nearest butter factory. Those farmers who were not in a cooperative had their cream taken to the N.S.W. Creamery Butter Co. Ltd., a private company which had been established in Lismore.

Farmers would take fresh milk to the separating stations twice a day. They would wait until the cream was separated and then return home with the skim milk, which they would feed to calves or pigs. This wasted much of the farmer's time but the skim milk was important to his livelihood. The waiting was popular with village businesses as, while the farmers waited, they often purchased items at the shops. Towns grew up quickly around a station if there was not one there already.

Part 1: The Pioneers; Land Boom; First Dairy; Early Problems
Part 3: Overcoming Problems
Part 4: Marketing; The Milk Zone War
Part 5: Defeat in Victory for the North; The End of an Era

The opening of an early separating station or creamery


Dairy cattle on the Richmond, early 1900s