Dairy Industry & Butter Factory

Dairying goes back to almost the beginning of white settlement in the Gympie region. The miners and miner’s horses needed food grown for them so the settler’s felled timbered and scrub areas for agriculture and livestock and planting grass for cattle.

Dairy farming was a good enterprise to get started with while settlers continued to develop their properties using original primitive methods of hand milking cows and making own butter to sell or barter with.

“The milk to be converted into butter was poured into shallow pans or dishes about 18 inches wide by 4 inches deep and the pans were placed in a cupboard for 24 hours or longer. The cream which had risen to the surface of the milk was then ladled or skimmed off. The cream was churned into butter in a small hand operated churn”

The development of dairying in the district can be traced from the introduction of the first farm cream separator in the 1880’s to the first dairy companies and dairy farms in the region. In 1888, the Government introduced a travelling plant – its first step towards mechanisation of the industry. They visited fast developing dairy districts to demonstrate the use of cream separators and methods of manufacturing butter and cheese. What developed was central points in dairying areas where farmers brought their milk to be separated and then sold the cream to butter factories.

A cooperative butter and cheese factory was established at Tiaro in 1890 which found a ready market for its products in Gympie. By the turn of the century, separators on farms were becoming common and more butter and cheese factories were being built.

The decline of mining saw even more resourceful men turning to the land. The development of the agricultural industry helped stabilise the district in a time of a declining mining population. Agriculture helped stabilise the district and continue to build a prosperous community. Circa 1906, large holdings were being open for the selector. One of them being Walooga (Woolooga) Estate with the land being permanently watered by the Mary River and creeks. Dairy cattle were being imported from the southern states in particular Jerseys from NSW. Charles Bloss of Deep Creek got pure breed Ayreshires and Jack Greenland of Lagoon Pocket had the first imported breeds.

The district would rise to be one of the leaders in dairying in Australia exporting butter to around the globe.

Prior to the Wide Bay Cooperative Dairy being established in 1906, the Gympie Central Dairying Company Ltd was established in 1897.

Gympie Central Dairying Co. Ltd was registered on 4 December 1897. This company traded for about two years then began to decline until it was purchased by the Silverwood Dairying Co. Ltd (established by Denham & Co.) around October 1899. The Silverwood Co. had a longer life than its predecessor and at the beginning it had control of all the surrounding districts between Maryborough and Caboolture.

Silverwood Dairying Co.

  • Ten original settlers on Yahoo Creek in the upper reaches of the Mary River decided that not having sufficient money to buy their own separators, they would start a cooperative creamery. They subsequently purchased at 75 gallon hand separator and the cream was sent by pack horse 16 miles to Eumundi station. In 1898, Mr J. C. Hassall of Ubi Ubi, started a coach service and the days of the pack horse were over
  • Five years later there were two coaches running between Kenilworth and Eumundi, and in the early 1890’s, the Silverwood Dairy Company and Lowood Dairy Company each established a deport at which delivery was taken of cream
  • Just before the turn of the century, reports were received about the prosperous condition of the dairying industry in New South Wales. A proprietary company, Silverwood, acquired an old disused butter making plant. The plant was installed on the site of the what would become the Wide Bay Dairy Cooperative on Tozer Street, for express purpose of encouraging dairy farming in surrounding districts.
  • By 1914, The Silverwood Company opened a branch factory at Kin Kin to process cream produced in the Kin Kin district. It closed in 1937 due to competitiveness of the Pomona Butter Factory.

Formation and history of Wide Bay Dairy Corp in 1906

In September 1905, Mr G. H. Mackay, an auctioneer came to Gympie from Lismore. With his experience in the Northern Rivers, Mr Mackay suggested amongst farmers that effort be made to control their own factory. Other locals with the same interest were H. F. Walker, G. F. Lister and others. The desire for a cooperative dairy company took shape in early 1906.

On 3 March 1906, a meeting was held in Lister’s Store at Mount Pleasant to consider the proposal and Mr J. Stumm was elected chairman. There were 26 people in attendance and after some discussion, at which there was apparently little difference of opinion and certainly no lack of enthusiasm, it was decided on the motion of Mackay and seconded by Lister that a committee be appointed for “purpose of collecting facts/figures showing the cost of a suitable plant to be established on the cooperative principle”.

In our local history collection, we hold a copy of the minute book of the Wide Bay Cooperative Dairy Company Ltd. The original was a simple Queensland Exercise book, written on the front label is “Minute Book – Proposed Co-operative Co.”

Various committee meetings were held and Messrs. W. Goldsworthy, F. Schollick (Kilkivan), E. Pike (Boowoogum), J. Doyle (Kandanga), and J. Bambling (Gunalda) were added to the provisional committee.

On May 5, 1906, the committee presented their prospectus of the company which was to be one of 5000 shares at £1 each. This was approved of. The Committee also presented a report which stated the Silverwood Proprietory Company, in which Mr. D. Denham and the late Mr John Reid, had controlling interest, had placed their Gympie factory under an option for two months for £2800. The appeal for shares was then made. At this stage Mr H. F. Walker’s name appears on the committee.

On 21 June 1906, the first notice to pay the application money amounting to 2/6 per share was made. The response was so satisfactory that on the 30th June the provisional committee, after hearing a report from Messrs. Walker and Finch, on the buildings, plant and machinery under offer to them by the Silverwood Company, called a general meeting of shareholders. It was decided to close with the offer for the purchase of the company’s factory at Gympie for £2800, and that a preliminary deposit of £200 be paid at once. Messrs. Mackay, Lister and Goldsworthy were appointed to take an inventory of the plant.

Prior to this meeting, the company was registered and an election was held for five directors and two auditors. The results were announced at a general meeting on July 14. There were 12 nominations and 271 votes registered, and only 17 votes were unrecorded. There were 75 personal votes and 100 proxy votes. Mr D. Mulcahy, then M.L.A for Gympie, and Mr A. G. Ramsey acted as returning officers, and Messrs. Morgan and Finch scrutineers. The results of the ballot were:

H. F. Walker        237

G. Glasgow         175

Jacob Stumm     151

E. Butler               132

J. T. Williams       131

These were declared elected. The defeated candidates were: Mr W. C. Andersen, who was at that time chairman of the Widgee Shire, 98 votes, Mr J. Ellis 79, Mr W. Goldsworthy 62, Mr J. Bambling 34, Mr J. Gillies 26, and Mr. G. F. Lister 7.

The position of auditors, the fee beings then £6/6/- brought out 9 competitors, namely Messrs. C. Brasch, E. C. Barnes, S. Sheppard, W. J. Bell (hon. Secretary of the company), J. Jackson, G. Scott, P. J. Connolly, F. C Walker and P. G. Watson. The two first named were elected.

On 27 July 1906, the company was registered as an incorporated company.

With the company now formed the various details of taking over the factory were proceeded with and on the 1st September 1906, the Wide Bay Cooperative Dairy Company commenced operations with Mr J. B. Mitchell manager and secretary. Prior to that Mr H. F. Walker had been appointed chairman of directors.

The company was a success from the start and in the first week had 175 suppliers, a greater number than had been supplying the factory under the old proprietary management.  These suppliers sent in 12,784 lbs. of cream from which were manufactured 5532 lbs. of butter during the first week. The supply continued to increase week by week and in the last week in December, there were 283 suppliers who sent in 31,335 lbs. of cream from which 14,239 lbs. of butter were manufactured.

First Half Yearly Meeting – Exports

  • Covered the operations of the company up to 31 December 1906, four months from its time of starting and took place on 26 January 1907.
  • They reported that in the first week they started they had to purchase £185 worth of butter from the Maryborough company to keep faith with their customers. But this did not last long, for in the first week of December towards the end of the first four months of operations, they were able to export to London, 157 boxes of butter. The term finished with 1392 boxes (about 35 tonnes) exported, on which advances were received from Dalgety and Co., who acted as the company’s agents, to the amount of £2869 or about 82/- per cwt.

Cooroy Branch – In April 1915, the Cooroy branch factory opened to extend operations.

Manager’s Residence – 9 Ranson Road  – The Butter Factory House

Butter Factory new building, 1925

As supply outgrew the capacity of the factory, it was decided to rebuild. The old factory had been turning out 58 tonnes per week and the design for the new factory, would give an output of 120 tones, working one shift per day.

The new butter factory building opened in 1925.

The Minister for Agriculture and Stock, Mr W. Forgan Smith officially opened the new butter factory on Friday, 25 September 1926 and the event was the front page story of The Gympie Times next day edition on Saturday, 26 September.

1900’s to 1950’s

  • Standards of dairy buildings and hygiene were causing concern at beginning of the century. Recognised need for legislation and instruction in production methods
  • Ca 1904 and onwards the invention of milking machines were mentioned but it was really only in the 1920’s that these were being installed on more farms. There was even more rapid progress after 1945 and within a decade a majority of farms in the State had milking machine installed
  • One thing to note is the distinct change in the environment. The original scrub had its own self-sustaining ecosystem but the clearing and use of the land changed this balanced cycle. The first settlers planted their grasses into topsoil that was still there until it wasn’t. The residual fertility gave the land a limited life and thus every rain storm washed away more of this. After 40 or 50 years, the deterioration of the pastures was visible with weeds of bracken fern, blady grass and other poor grasses taking over. This was reflected in milk yields.

1960’s & 1970’s and onwards

Fast Facts of dairy industry downturn & butter to milk changeover

  • Demands caused by recession in prices of dairy produce paid to farmers in the 1960’s and 1970’s resulted in a large downturn of farmers from dairy farming. The numbers dwindled rapidly and remaining farms had to increase their enterprises to be viable.
  • Economic stress in the butter industry caused by over supply on world markets necessitated change for the dairy farmer to the market milk trade including casein and milk powder, which would give much higher return for produce.
  • Change came when there were less dairy farmers that the transport costs for milk and cream cans increased causing financial stress. This resulted in the introduction of refrigerated bulk milk vats being installed on farms with bulk tanker pickup by factories. The advantages were lower transport costs, and improved milk quality – in milk temperatures.

1969 – The Wide Bay Cooperative Dairy Association made its first pickup of bulk milk in March 1969. The Association has purchased an 1800-gallon tanker for this purpose.

1978 – No more butter was made in Gympie. The last batch of butter was churned at the Wide Bay Cooperative Dairy on 2 May 1978