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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

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Dairying

Roly: [Changing over to bulk milk] eliminated the cream runs from then on. All our milk went to the Lismore Butter Factory. They separated the milk and used what they needed for butter, and the rest went into just household bottles of milk and so forth.

How were those decisions made in your family to do that big shift?

Roly: Oh, that just came over naturally. Well, the thing is, it was at that time the Nimbin District, the dairying district, was going through a very hard era.

Fay: While you were sending the cream, there were a lot of dairies closing down.

Roly: Yes. They changed over to beef cattle, because they had to—

Fay: Norco started taking bulk milk. Thompsons -they just milked their cows, and then took their milk round to the homes. There was no pasteurised milk. Pasteurised milk never came in until the 1950s, 1960s even, in Lismore.

Roly: Do you mean they delivered in the old horse and cart around Nimbin and they’d put the billies out?

Fay: Yes, they’d put the billies out for their milk. Well, see, when Roles’ brother Des left the farm he bought a milk run in Lismore, and he was delivering milk, but I think he only delivered pasteurised milk, or did he deliver whole milk? It was whole milk, but I can’t remember whether it was pasteurised.

Roly: I would be, I think.

Fay: But there was no light milk. I don’t know whether you could even buy skim milk. There was only full-cream milk. That was all you could buy.

Roly: The skim milk, that was what you fed to the pigs. You buy this light milk today. That’s what we used to feed to the pigs on those days, depending on the cream that we’d take off the milk. Things have certainly changed.

Fay: Out of the 300 suppliers to the Nimbin factory, it had already come down quite a bit that there were only nine that went over to bulk milk in Nimbin in ‘73/’74.

And so what allowed you to do that rather than, say, go into beef?

Fay: Well, we had the Guernsey stud going. We were one of the main producers, like, even for cream at Norco, we used to top the number of cans that went in, and at the time we were already going into milk, but because it was only an unsealed road up there at the time in ’73, we put our name down and everything, but Norco said no, they wouldn’t bring the trucks out to get the milk. The road had to be sealed.

In May ’73 they rang and said, ‘We want your milk in here in a week.’ They came out, installed – because we’d bought this vat – they installed the vat and we said, ‘But the road’s not done,’ and they said, ‘We can’t wait for the road.’ They had no milk to pasteurise at the time, and we were the largest producing dairy, and we were still separating. So within a week we were sending whole milk to Lismore.

That was in ’73. Then we got the big flood in ’74, and the road slipped below us, and they couldn’t get the trucks over. They said there’s no way they would bring a semi-trailer over it, so Andrews had just bought the house and ten acres from us, we didn’t have a truck at the current time. They’d brought a lot of their stuff up in an old truck, so we borrowed their old truck, and Norco supplied us with more cream cans, plus what we already had, and we used to fill all the cream cans up with milk, carry them across to the tanker, two of them. They had to do that twice to get all the milk from the dairy into the tanker. It all went down in cream cans – that was the only to get it there, because the tanker couldn’t get up.

Just below [what is now the] Green’s property the land slipped.

Roly: We had to carry all the milk. The 10 gallons of milk had to be hand held onto the back of the truck as far as I could bring the truck down, take it over to the milk tanker, and they’d pump the milk out of the 10 gallon cans into the tanker. Then they’d take it from there to Lismore in the milk tanker. It was the only way to get it into Lismore.

Fay: That was until they managed to repair the road enough that the milk tanker could get back up again.

Roly: Yes, the road had subsided to the extent that they reckoned if they put a semi-trailer over it, it would have torn the tanker off the back of the truck, twisted it too much, so they couldn’t bring it in. It was quite some time before we got the tanker coming back up again, though, to pick the milk up.

A truckload, it was.

How long did that go on for, do you think?

Fay: Probably a month.

Roly: At least that.

Fay: Yes, probably more.

Roly: See, the landslide was still moving, and they couldn’t do anything about it—

Fay: Couldn’t do much to the road, because the landslide was still moving.

Roly: Yes. It was quite concerning at the time.

Fay: There were several trips back to the dairy. We were putting 30 cans, I think it was, on the back of the truck, because it was only a small truck, too, and we’d empty those, go back and fill them up again, go back down and empty them.

Roly: The only other way they had access was coming up over to Koonorigan, come round that way, round through The Channon.

Fay: Yes, Norco was desperate to get our milk in ’73, and then we got the flood in ’74, so they came up from May until March, and got it all right, but then when the flood came in ‘74 and we got this big landslide, they couldn’t get the truck up to get it, then, but they still needed the milk, because in the Autumn months Norco was always short of milk for pasteurising.

They just weren’t getting enough. A lot of dairy farmers just weren’t producing winter milk.

Roly: No, that was the usual thing. When people were sending cream, they’d dry most of their herd off during the Winter months, do their paddock work, cleaning the pastures and getting ready for the Spring. The cattle would calve again in the Spring, and then you’d have your calving period from, say, about September through to about Christmas. You wanted those cows to dry off, and they’d go into the dry paddock, and you’d have that period that you’d do your paddock work until Spring again. That’s the way you handled it. On account of that, a lot of the dairies—-

Fay: Give them 18 months between calving. That’s how we got our herd changed around quick, but a lot of farmers didn’t do that. So we calved them all the year round, instead of just calving them in the Spring.

And why weren’t other farmers doing that?

Fay: A lot of the thing was, you had to have quality cows that would milk the longer period, because a lot of the cows will only milk six to eight months, and they’re dry, whether they’re in calf or not; where we picked cows that we knew would milk on for a couple of years if we wanted them to, without putting them in calf. We never let them go that far, but it just lengthened our calving period out so that we had milk all the year round, because we knew we were going in to milk, so we worked on it early rather than leave it till the last minute to change over.

Roly: Well, everybody, prior to going to milk, that was the way they worked their farms. That meant that those herds had to be regulated so that they would be calving over the full 12 months, rather than the period of time. That was the reason why Norco was getting short of milk at the early stage, when people were supplying bulk milk to the factory, so that was the reason for the shortage of milk mainly through the Winter months.

Then after a few years everybody, they used to adjust their whole milking herd so they’d have a constant supply of milk all the year round, and by doing that it meant that you had to grow more pasture. Through the Winter months, the natural pasture was only just enough to maintain the cattle, not enough to produce. Everybody went into cultivation, growing rye and legumes and one thing and another, to try to boost the volume of feed that the cattle had to milk through the Winter months.

It was just forward planning. We knew what was coming and it meant that you had to re-adjust. It’s like any business, you’ve got to re-adjust to the supply and demand.

Fay: If you wait till the last minute to adjust, you’re going to be behind.

Roly: Yes. It was a gradual change-over.

Fay: And that’s where it was. We’d got our herd changed that we had a full amount of milk in May, and Norco couldn’t get enough off the other farms, and at that time our first vat of milk topped Norco’s supply.

And where did you get your business sense from, your forward thinking?

Roly: It’s just something you grew up with. When I started milking my first cow I was only about eight, I think. It just went on from there. When Dad took over the property from my Grandpa it was 1945, the end of the War years, so I was really involved in the dairying industry from then right up till the time we sold out to Kerry, so I spent my whole lifetime working in the dairy industry.

So were you part of sharing information with others? How did that work?

Fay: Well, we went to all the Norco Meetings, and to all the Primary Producers Meetings, as it was in those days – they call it something else now.

Roly: PPU – Primary Producers—-

Fay: Yes, it was Primary Producers, so we were always involved in those, Norco and meetings.

Roly: Yes, it was just an ongoing thing. It was not something that changed overnight. It was just a gradual process from cream to the bulk milk, and once you got into the bulk milk, that meant that you had to re-arrange your whole herd to produce a level. By doing that, you had to grow extra pastures to carry your milking herds through the Winter months, and that alone was quite a big gradual changeover, because a lot of people prior to that, if they were just supplying cream, they were totally independent on the natural grasses. You’d have the Paspalum, Sateria—

Fay: Not so much Sateria. That was a new one.

Roly: Kikya.

Fay: Kikya and Paspalum were the main ones.

Roly: Yes, they were the main natural grasses that we had. Then once we started milking all the year round, we had to put in rye grasses and oats.

Fay: Velvet beans was another one we used to grow.

Roly: Yes, there were a lot of different crops that we used to grow for the cattle. It was a totally different means of working the dairy.

And did Norco provide information on that sort of—-

Roly: Yes, they did. Yes, they had an agronomist that used to come around and advise people, you know, the best way to establish their pastures.

Was Wollongbar or was anybody else—-

Roly: Yes, Wollongbar was functioning at that time.

Fay: There was even a dairy herd out at Wollongbar.

Roly: Yes, yes, they had a big Guernsey herd out there. No, we got a lot of information from Wollongbar at that time, and the Glycine was a cattle feed they established down in Wollongbar. I don’t know when it would have been, but we went out and harvested a lot of the seed from out there. To get that seed to germinate, we had to put it in an acid bath to crack the outer shell so that it made the seed more suitable for germination. You’d get 100% germination, so that’s how we established the Glycine. We had the Molasses Grass –Glycine – the Glycine vine, it was a plant that would grow right up over trees and everything else.

Fay: It smothered everything.

Roly: Yes. It grew all over the top of your fences and pulled your fences down, so it was really massive. There’s still a lot of that out on the farm out there. It’s all along the sides of the roads.

So that was maybe one of those ones that you might have wished you hadn’t—

Fay: Yes, that we hadn’t planted it. Anyway–

Roly: No, it was excellent cattle feed. If it was controlled properly—-

Fay: You had to control it. You couldn’t let it get away, but along the sides of the roads where there’s nothing controlling it, well, it climbed over everything.

Roly: Over lantana bushes, over trees and everything else.

Did you see a change in the region with that sort of—-

Fay: Well, there was quite a change because there was a downturn in the town and everything, because a number of properties that were around, like, amalgamated and two properties became one. Then eventually, when the Aquarius ones came in, they were cut up then into smaller blocks still, back into small blocks, which weren’t big enough to make a living on. They were just hobby farms. So there’s been a lot of good agriculture ground that’s no longer producing food like it was.

The whole area, the North Coast area here, was practically under dairy. The average dairy farmer milked by hand possibly no more than up to about 50 or 60 cows.

That was a big dairy, 50 cows. Most dairies were round about 30, some were only 20.

Roly: Yes, people with having a piggery and that sort of thing, grew crops, they reared big families and seemed to survive quite well on it. Of course, back in those days money that you’d get, it bought more than what it does today. Even when Fay and I were first married, our yearly income was 450 pounds for 12 months.

Fay: And we banked money on that. We actually saved money.

Roly: Yes, because we had our own dairy and vegie garden—

Fay: We used to kill a beast, so we had no meat to buy. We grew all our own vegies, and I made all our clothes, so apart from a bit of food there wasn’t much to spend your money on. Electricity was next to nothing.

Roly: Petrol, too. You’d have to buy petrol for your vehicle.

Fay: Yes, it wasn’t very dear. It was cheap to what it is now.

Roly: You’d buy a gallon I think for a couple of bob in those days. I bought my first Valiant, a ’64 Valiant. It had 9,000 miles on it, and it was still virtually a new car, and I paid $2,200 for it at that time. That vehicle lasted us – when did we sell it?

Fay: It was 21 years old. ’64, so it would have been sold in ’85. We already had the other Mazda. We had it for a couple of years, because when Lynelle started high school, we didn’t have time to run her to Nimbin, so we just bought a separate car. As soon as she was old enough to get her licence, we did that. She’d park the car and go to school on the bus.

 

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