The abandoned Dairy at Daisy Dell

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Mr Bullock' Prize Jersey Cow



Percy & Kath Wright's old dairy at "Daisy Dell"
This was the last dairy to operate at St Marys, closing in the early 1980s

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


For 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 dairy herd.
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 beyond.
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 unviable.
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 Dairy Exhibition.
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 Valley.
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.

Jim Haas