Marvellous milk

Living in a time of food fashion can be very amusing; seeing otherwise ordinary products be discovered, anointed as ‘superfoods’ and then just as quickly disappear surpassed by the next nutrition fad. Quinoa, açai, amaranth and kale are some of the most recent food ‘superstars’ all of whom are currently enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. The reality is that the most highly nutritious foods are the tried and true staples of a good diet: vegetables, fruit, dairy products, nuts, legumes and lean meat.

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One of our key dairy producers is the Dairy Farmers’ Co-operative Milk Company Limited formed in 1900 by 65 stakeholders, many of them dairy farmers on the NSW south coast. They modelled the organisation along true co-operative lines and its purpose was to help dairy farmers market their milk and butter directly to consumers in the city.

Dairy Farmers’, as it was universally known, went on to be a market innovator. They were the first to introduce milk in bottles, replacing the jug customers traditionally left on their doorstep to be filled by the milkman each evening (yes they were only men). Fresh milk had to be delivered daily as a lack of good domestic refrigeration meant it spoiled quickly.

In 1938-1939 the company built distinctive premises in the West End, taking up a large block bounded by Hunter, Railway and Tighe streets. It was to house Dairy Farmers’ administration offices and the complex of buildings necessary for the receiving, handling, bottling and distribution of bulk milk. A large loading dock catered for the army of trucks constantly moving in and out of the site and a state-of-the-art bottling plant washed and sterilised 4,000 bottles daily, with power coming from two colonial type boilers.

The administration offices faced Hunter Street and the building’s façade featured an enormous milk bottle formed out of glass bricks relieved with coloured terracotta panels. This fanciful whimsy soon became the building’s defining feature. Reputedly Joseph Likely, who was a member of the Dairy Farmers staff, was responsible for the building’s look and hopefully he got free milk for life for his delightfully quirky design.

Inside, behind the iconic glass brick milk bottle, a staircase allows access to the top floor and to the building’s two clock faces, one on the western side of the building and the other on the eastern. Originally these clocks were decorated with an illuminated advertising slogan reading: ‘Dairy Farmers Milk. Precious as Time’. The whole Dairy Farmers’ complex became so well-known that this part of Newcastle West was described as ‘Dairy Farmers’ Corner’.

Dairy Farmers’ stayed for over 30 years and after they left the site in 1991 it was later re-developed for its current occupant, Regal Motors. This meant demolishing the whole milk distribution area, but thankfully saving the delightful Dairy Farmers’ building, complete with its iconic milk bottle. The Dairy Farmers’ sign is still at the top of the building, the two clocks can still be seen from Hunter Street (albeit without their advertising slogans) and the original front door of the building still carries the heavy glass panels etched with ‘D.F.M’ – and to Novocastrians this part of the West End is still ‘Dairy Farmer’s Corner’.

Currently the Dietitians Association of Australia recommends that we should ‘aim to have three serves of reduced or low fat dairy foods every day…’ and supermarket freezers give a dazzling choice of (cow’s) milk: regular, low fat, skim, semi-skim, A2, lactose-free and organic. So raise a glass to good old milk, not a food marketing fad, but one of our nutritional staples.

The old Dairy Farmers building is on the corner of Hunter, Railway and Tighe Streets, Newcastle West. More information on the history of Dairy Farmers can be found: One of the photos used in this blog post’s slideshow is from the Hunter Photo Bank (photo registration number 244000305) and is reproduced with their permission. The photographer is Grant White. A delightful blog about the day-to-day life of an Australian dairy farmer can be found at:


Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me:; 0413 250 155.


One response to “Marvellous milk

  1. Hello Kimberly! Another Newcastle West gem. Well-known, no doubt to Newie regulars who drive into work along Hunter Street. I think this story deserves to be publlished in the Newcastle Herald. It is so informative and interesting. Keep up the good work.

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