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otherwise ordinary products be discovered, anointed as ‘superfoods’ and then just as quickly disappear, only to be superceded by the next nutrition fad.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.
One of our key dairy producers is the Dairy Farmers’ Co-operative Milk Company Limited. It was formed by 65 stakeholders in 1900, many of them dairy farmers from the NSW south coast who modelled the organisation along true co-operative lines. Its original purpose was to assist dairy farmers market their milk and butter directly to city consumers, but Dairy Farmers’, as it soon became known, went on to do much more and became 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 (no milkwomen) each evening. Fresh milk had to be delivered daily as a lack of reliable domestic refrigeration meant it spoiled quickly.
In 1938-1939 the company built a 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 adjacent to it was a complex of buildings 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 on-site 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 unique look and I hope he got free milk for life for his delightfully quirky design.
Inside, behind the iconic glass 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’. The company stayed for over 30 years and in 1991, after they left the site, it was re-developed for its current occupant Regal Motors. This meant demolishing the entire milk distribution area, but thankfully saving the delightful Dairy Farmers’ administration 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 building still has its original front door complete with the heavy glass panels etched ‘D.F.M’. To Novocastrians, no matter who is there now, this part of the West End will always be ‘Dairy Farmer’s Corner’.
Currently the Dieticians 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 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. It’s simply marvellous!
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: http://www.dairyfarmers.com.au/our-story/our-history. One of the photos used in this post 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: http://milkmaidmarian.com
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 or 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: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.
This blog post was first published in January 2014.