Today when we purchase milk from the supermarket, we have a choice of full cream, skim, or a selection of low fat varieties, each claiming to be higher in protein, lower in protein, lower in fat and with more calcium than the rival companies offer. It can be purchased in plastic bottles, or in cartons, but I remember the days when it arrived warm and frothy straight from the cows. Its “use by ” date was questionable, but we knew there were no additives to lengthen its life!! We were also aware that with no refrigeration in those days, one summer storm could render it sour in no time. Provision was made for such calamities by boiling it. The ensuing results I always considered to be most revolting. Likewise the cream which formed on top. I also remember when most Mallacoota householders owned a cow and I particularly recall that when the paddocks at “Raheen” were golden yellow with cape week daisies (great for making daisy chains), or with trefoil, the cows milk developed a tainted taste. No way would we children drink it but the threat that, “our bones would crumble” without it, decided us to ‘lace’ it well with vanilla essence, sprinkle nutmeg generously on top and literally force it down!! They were the days when there were no Council laws prohibiting cattle around the township. And the bush was a maze of worn, furrowed paths made by them down to the water at Davis Creek, Shady Gully and Sheep’s Station Creek.
One of our after school chores was making butter. We used a lidded treacle tin; shaking it up and down, backwards and forwards until the cream inside thickened. Later we acquired an ‘up market’ churn purchased with the Bushells’ tea coupons. Its flat blades were beaters attached to the screw-on lid on the large, square glass container. It was great! I could read whilst making the butter!! When the butter formed, it was sailed then using grooved, wooden pats, it was shaped into one pound lots. The pats were also used to make butter scrolls which gave refinement to our dining table!
Those pats were also used to deal out punishment if we children misbehaved!! As a consequence of me often being on the receiving end, our family have none preserved among our historical memorabilia! Having our own butter was a godsend in the days of wartime rationing as it enabled us to cook cakes. I remember the day I was allotted that task just as I had commenced to read one of Mary Grant Bruce’s “Billabong” books. They were the days when the butter and sugar were beaten laboriously with a wooden spoon until it creamed. It just wasn’t materialising for me, so I had the brilliant idea of melting the shortening in the hot sun. The rancid smell was unbelievable and earned me a tirade from my frustrated mother about ‘wicked waste’!! The roof of our little dairy was a great source of entertainment for us. With our school pals we would spend considerable time seeing who could jump the farthest from it. It didn’t take much to amuse the children of that generation. In those years margarine wasn’t the refined product it is today. It was white and resembled lard, I guess, because it was white and tasteless. It didn’t even look palatable! Most little Australian towns had their own butter factory, particularly up the Far South Coast . Our butter came from the Orbost ! Butter Factory and the wrapper had an outline of the map of Australia. Like other factories, the butter had it’s own name. Orbost’s was “Sunny South”. As war clouds loomed, the RAAF established a station at the newly constructed aerodrome and contractors were called to submit tenders for the supply of bread and milk for the personnel. Dad’s tender was accepted for both. Because of the Great Depression, money was short.
One day my parents called me aside to suggest that if I lent them money from my back account, they would in time pay me back with interest. Not that I really felt entitled to that account as Mum had commenced it with selling my pram! Being under twelve years of age, Mum was naturally the Trustee, so the transaction was made and we purchased more cows from Grandfather Brady. It all seemed a great investment to me and with my vivid imagination, I visualised the sign, “Brady and Daughter… Milk Supplies” on the front gate!! I don’t remember ever getting reimbursed but I guess my parents repaid that ‘loan’ in many, many ways.
In the dry summers when the dam dried up entrapping fresh water eels, we children would drive the cattle to Shady Gully for water. They would go flat out, but coming home
was always a slower pace. It never particularly worried me as I sauntered along. Then things changed. I guess approaching the teenage years had something to do with it.
The RAAF sent tenders to pick up the milk each day and some of those young drivers weren’t much older than me. Almost overnight I decided I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘milk maid’! Dirndyl skirts, or peasant skirts, as they were called, became fashionable in those years, but that didn’t mean I wanted to look like a peasant girl either! I lived in fear of being seen bringing those cows back to Raheen from Shady Gully. Another problem was that we had recently purchased a very amorous black, poll bull! If
I heard a vehicle coming from the township, I would head them all for home. It was chaotic as they pawed up the dust on the gravel and bellowed loudly in protest. Our cows all had names… Brindle, Rosita (who had a mean streak in her and would bolt up the banks on me!!), Freda, Judy and Topsy. Then there was Clare, a huge cow with an ample supply of milk. Unfortunately she was very lowslung, making it difficult. I used to think what a shame that Berlei, who had not many years before done so much for the figures of the fashion conscious women of the world, did not have a counterpart in the dairy industry who could devise some contraption for the milking cow!! Although I felt sympathetic for poor Clare, that did not stop me hustling her along and I can still see that immense udder swinging to and fro in pendulous motion as she laboured homeward. Dad and Mum never saw the cattle going ‘hell for leather’ around the lake, although they did query the time factor and put it down to the water being too brackish to drink.
Soon we had little black poll calves tethered everywhere in the orchard to be bucket fed and moved constantly. It was not unusual for Mione and I to be dragged on our stomachs the full length of the orchard as we endeavoured to re-tether those strong calves. Dad made muzzles for them and they weren’t ordinary muzzles. Dad was a perfectionist and he would spend house sanding each one. He also manufactured them from Perspex which had come from the crashed aeroplane at the aerodrome. The cattle all bore the brand mark “A.U” on their rumps, named after “Australian Unlimited” following the success of Grandfather Brady’s book by that name.
We have come a long way from the days of the house cow, but as I take a carton of milk from the supermarket refrigerator, I appreciate how much easier it is to acquire… and it tastes better!!
Leone Pheeney .