Mr Bullock' Prize Jersey Cow
Percy & Kath Wright's old dairy at
This was the last dairy to operate at St Marys, closing in the early
The original St Marys Cheese Factory, opened on the 13th October 1894
The old abandoned cheese factory in Gardiners Creek Road, St Marys
It closed on the 7th December 1969
The old original dairy which was situated opposite the Rail Station
at St Marys
The once proud sign at the gates of the last dairy farm at St Marys
The Dairy Industry
the first thirty years or so of settlement in the Fingal Valley, the
bulk of landowners and convicts came from the British Isles. The convicts
who behaved themselves, or served their time, were given “tickets of
leave” and encouraged to be tenant farmers, where they could grow crops
and run small herds of milking cows to supply their landlord and his
servants with dairy products and vegetables.
The first recorded dairy farm producing butter and cheese for the commercial
market was at “Henbury”. This farm was alongside the South Esk River
some 9 miles east of Avoca and owned by John Story.
But it was the Eastern end of the Fingal Valley where the bulk of the
dairying was established. This came about after 1853 when convict transportation
to Van Diemen’s Land ceased and a subsidized immigration program was
introduced by England in order to persuade Europeans to start a new
life in the new Colonies.
This resulted in the ship “America” arriving at Hobart Town
in 1855 with some 300 Germans on board. Some twenty families from the
ship made their way to Falmouth and the Break O’ Day Plains where they
were given employment on the farms. After a two year period on their
designated properties they were able to buy small packages of land of
their own, or take up a tenant farm. Many went about establishing a
Their dairying skills were superior to the English or Irish, particularly
in cheese making, and before long cheese from the Break O’ Day Plains
was making a name for itself in the markets of Hobart, Launceston and
But the Tasmanian Agriculture Council was not in favour of the traditional
methods of butter and cheese making because, for one it was inefficient,
and secondly a number of poisonings had occurred around the Colony.
This led to a Travelling Dairy being set up demonstrating a new method,
where-by all farmers took their milk to a central factory for a much
better return on their product, as well, more professional hygienic
practices would be used and controlled.
In the early 1890s the Travelling Dairy was brought to St Marys and
set up in Napier’s barn, where it produced stunning results with a return
of 125 pounds of cheese from 100 gallons of milk, compared to 100 pounds
from traditional methods used on Break O’ Day Plain’s farms.
Following the Travelling Dairy demonstration and a lecture by the secretary
of the Tasmanian Agriculture Council on the benefits of setting up a
dairy co-operative in St Marys, a meeting of some forty farmers was
chaired by Robert Wardlaw, who pointed out that if St Marys farmers
did not follow suit and built a co-operative dairy, like most other
dairy districts in Tasmania, St Marys dairy farms would soon become
Consequently, after the majority of farmers agreed to support a co-operative,
Donald Cameron of “Londavra” allocated a piece of land opposite the
railway station on which a creamery was built by the Tasmanian Dairy
Company and opened by Colonel William Legge of “Cullenswood” on the
13th October 1894.
The new factory was said to be the best in Tasmania at that time, with
an 8 horse power Tangye motor driving a separator with a capacity of
400 gallons of milk an hour. The separated cream was sent to Launceston
to be made into butter and the skim milk returned to the farmers for
stock food. The Launceston venture proved unsuccessful, however, and
by 1897 the creamery became a cheese factory.
But not all farmers in the area were in favour of the shining new factory
taking over an industry which they had pioneered. A few like George
Oliver of “Balaclava”, James Wardlaw of “Glencoe”, Falmouth, and Robert
Cadman of “Ascot Vale”, who had a tenant farm at the back of “Londavra”,
all continued to make cheese on their own farms. Indeed, Robert Cadman
from his sixty cows, produced some sixty tons of cheese per year, most
of which was sent far and wide within Australia and overseas and had
a reputation for being the best in the land, so much so that he won
many local prizes, as well as a medal in the1884 Calcutta International
The life of the first St Marys cheese factory was rather short lived,
however, and closed around 1920. It seems the collapse of the cheese
market during World War One took its toll, leaving an empty shed to
eventually burn down, with only a slab of concrete to remind us of its
time in our heritage.
In 1939, with an improved cheese market, Murdoch Brothers, who owned
a butter factory in Hobart’s Market Place, built a new cheese factory
in Gardiners Creek Road, St Marys, and operated it successfully until
1948, when a group of local farmers and business people formed St Marys
Dairy Co-Operative and purchased the cheese factory from Murdoch’s.
The Gardiners Creek Road factory looked good for awhile and with the
help of noted cheese maker, Horace Davern, the product became popular
all over the country. But in 1969 The North East Dairy Co-Operative
at Legerwood offered St Marys farmers an average of three cents more
a pound for their butter fat. The St Marys Co-op would not match this
price, causing an argument with many farmers, some of whom accused the
Co-op of not keeping up with the times, which did not allow maximum
returns on their butter fat.
St Marys Co-op held out, however, and would not spend money on a factory
upgrade, or raise the price of butter fat to farmers, so when a number
decided to sell to North East Co-op, St Marys directors deemed the factory
unviable and it closed for good on the 7th December 1969.
Although many dairy farmers thought their move to North East Co-op was
going to give them new life, it really was the beginning of the end
for the dairy industry in St Marys. Products like margarine continued
to gain popularity, forcing dairy companies to cut their prices, which
at the end of the day reflected back on the primary producer, making
dairying less viable each year. One by one farmers in the area sold
their dairy herds, with the larger land owners going into beef, sheep,
or crops, whilst the smaller property owners had to move away from what
had been their tradition for generations to seek employment in other
fields, all of which were completely foreign to a seven day week bond
with their cows and land.
By 1980 there were not enough dairy farmers left at St Marys and the
truck from Legerwood stopped coming, leaving only Percy and Kath Wright
at “Daisy Dell”, with their pasteurized cream market, the sole survivors
of an industry that was, for many years, the life-blood of St Marys.
But Percy and Kath were not getting any younger, and by the end of 1981
ill health forced them out of the industry as well, bringing to an end
a time that had, at its peak, seen some fifty dairy farms within ten
kilometres of St Marys, and with each one supporting a family, the spin
off to the community was enormous.
Dairy herds from as small as two or three, to larger herds of a hundred
or so grazed the pastures of the Break O’ Day Plains and the surrounding
hills. Families big and small reaped the benefits of a stable local
market to sell their produce and with this came a close knit community
of people, all of whom knew the toil of seven days a week from sunup
to sundown. But they were a happy people, as contented as the cows that
supplied their living, because the sharing of the workload bonded families
together in a way which helped generate a love that lasted for ever,
and that love enhanced the spirit of the whole community.
Our dairy industry is long gone now and, perhaps, will never return.
Many of the farms are overgrown, or planted with trees. Dairies and
homesteads are gone, or in a crumbling heap. Sometimes there is only
a pine or an oak tree to remind us of what used to be. But we must never
forget the dairy industry and the significance its heritage is to the
Wouldn’t it be nice, today, if we could restore a dairy farm and once
again taste the tang of local cheese, spread our morning toast with
traditional home made butter, cover our Weet-Bix or porridge with the
thick crusty cream that forms on top of freshly heated milk, or just
rock up to the farm with our billy for a pint or two of warm unprocessed
milk straight from the cow.