Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Childhood Photo

Maybe I have posted this photo before? I can't remember. I have brightened it slightly anyway. There seems to be a lot of Cape Weed in the grass. Maybe it was seasonal.

It is the dairy farm in Fumina South where I spent my years 4 to 13. The photo looks to have been taken late afternoon.

Our cattle were mostly Jersey with some Guernsey, plus Maggie the Fresian who did not understand fences and walked straight through them, electric fences included. High butter fat was in high demand and Jerseys supplied this. Guernseys did too but they were a bit harder to handle. Friesians supplied quantity not quality.

To the far right you can see a steep hill, one that my father said should never have been cleared as the soil was poor. The farm was 350 acres in size, large by the size of surrounding farms. Less than half of the land was cleared. Twice I think, during drought, cattle were turned out into the bush land as there was insufficient grass for them to eat.

The track at the base of the hill was a public road and there was another on right hand side of the hill. They were gated and no one ever used them except us and the very intrepid who had poured over maps and realised they were public rights of way. Most used to come to the door and ask first.

In the far distance was Mount Erica. It may be under cloud in the photo. Out of the photo to the left was Mount Baw Baw. We were so excited when the ski run and chairlift was built and lit at night. The views from the house to the mountains were wonderful.

The first valley where the trees change colour ran the perpetually freezing cold Tanjil River. One drought year we had to drive down the track to the river and bring back drinking water in large milk cans. Our water for washing and other purposes was supplied from a well with a pump but the well had to be filled by water pumped up from the dam. The dam was in a depression behind the three cows standing together.

In the bush there was evidence of gold mining. There was a timber trestle bridge, presumably for bullocks to haul loads of timber along a tramway. Yes, levelled paths where the timber tramways ran and water races following contours of hills, used for gold mining. There were vertical mine shafts, usually roughly covered over by sheets of rusty corrugated iron

My grandparents instilled in me a fear of wells and bulls. I would never go near bulls, not in the same paddock and although we sometimes peered down into the depths of the well, it gave me nightmares.

Before the pumps were installed, Mother had to pump water by hand from the well into buckets for clothes washing. That and using a wood fired stove were two of the many shocks my city bred mother faced when we moved there. The first day she lit it, she used petrol to get it going. The hotplate lids blew off the stove when she threw the match at the fire box. Later a slow combustion stove was installed. It burnt briquettes and supplied most of the hot water, supplemented by an electric storage unit. When we first moved there, there was only a wood chip heater to heat water for the bath. Laundry water was heated by an electric immersion heater.

Although I mentioned milk cans, these were redundant. The milk went into a large refrigerated vat and a tanker arrived to pump it out daily. There was an old milk separator still stored there. It separated milk and cream. While it wasn't used for the purpose, it was fun to get it spinning fast.

The milking machine was driven by an electric motor so a back up was needed if the power failed. The tractor would be reversed up to the side of the she where the vacuum milking machine was located and a belt would be attached to a spinning wheel on the side of the tractor driven by the tractor engine and at the belt the other end to the vacuum machine. The newer John Deere tractor did not have a dangerous spinning wheel at the side, so a connection was made to the power take off at the rear of the tractor. I can't recall how this worked. We were not allowed in the milking machine room while it was working, but of course we did sneak to see it operating at times. The room smelt of 'vacuum' oil, a very distinctive odour.

Running the electric motor for the vacuum machine for maybe four hours a day and chilling large quantities of milk delivered at body temperature used a lot of electricity.

If the power went off, the cups would all fall off the cows teats and then have to be cleaned before they could be put back on. They were cleaned by dipping them into a solution of water and 'hypo', and then rinsed.

Each set of milking cups had a glass above the cow stall and the glass had to watched for signs of off colour milk flowing through, indicating mastitis. Cows udders were washed and usually 'stripped' before the cups went on, that is hand milked for a few strokes to check that the milk was ok.

All cows had a metal chain with a hook to go around their ankle to stop them kicking. Most were passive but some did like to kick out. Mostly it was loosely applied but known kickers would have it applied and pulled very tight.

The cow storage yard was originally dirt, read mud. It was cemented and the cow milking are stayed much cleaner. Fresh cow dung was removed with a shovel and after milking the shed and yard would be hosed out with a high pressure hose. While the cow shed never looked particularly clean, the end milk product was. It was frequently tested. It matters less with pasteurisation but we drank the milk fresh without treatment. I would only drink it after it was chilled and the cream at least mixed through, preferably removed. One job for we children was to fetch the billy can full of milk from the dairy. I tried to get the milk from the vat after the agitator had not been working for a while and I took it from the tap at the base so there was less cream than dipping the billy into the milk at the top. I like cream, especially double cream, but not cream directly off the top of standing milk.

I learnt about centrifugal force by swinging the billy in a circle over my head. My younger brother did not learn about the need for speed so quickly and was once drenched in milk. No matter, plenty more milk in the vat.

The power was supplied by the State Electricity Commission and the lines ran alongside the road. At times a branch or tree falling would interrupt supply but the power would only be off for a few hours at the most. I do not understand why people lose power for days in suburbs, when in the middle of the bush any interruption was quickly rectified. Well, I do understand and it is wrong.

This is getting too long. Wonder if it will be of interest to anyone who did not have country dairy cow upbringing? I may write some more another day if people are interested.


  1. Anonymous10:34 pm

    Nice - I wonder, how many people here are yearning for their country roots? - a different age, peaceful, slower pace.

  2. Wow. I always imagined you as a city person.

    Why did you end up moving to the farm? Did your mom eventually adjust.

    What happened when you were thirteen? Did you move back to the city? Was that hard?

    I find it all very interesting. I hope you write more about it.

  3. I am not Michael. I love the city.

    I certainly am now Dina. We moved because my parents separated. Both stayed in the country. I chose to live with my father. By eighteen I was living in the city with my grandmother. By twenty I was out on my own.

  4. I smiled all the way through this post Andrew. I loved it when I used to visit friends who ran a dairy farm at Kilcunda. It was my friend Paul's mum who actualy ran the place. His Dad was always somewhere else, judging the horse races..usualy Warnambool.
    Paul's Mum is such a lovely har working lady. 80 head she had..I thought that was enough for one woman alone..well, her two sons also helped before and after school. Such a nice family.
    My Grandparents hd a combustion stove in the bush. I loved my Nan's cooking from that stove. It too supplied the hot water aswell as for cooking and was the heater for my Grandparent's place.
    I laughed at the story of how your Mum first lit it :)
    Your descriptions of the things you used to see and do are great. I would love to read more, yes please :)

  5. What a great history and fantastic memories. Like Cazzie, I smiled the whole way through. Hard life for a city girl like your Mum, but it sounds like she did well, or learned how not to do things!

    More please!

  6. I love Kilcunda Cazzie. 80 is a decent number to look after for mostly one person.

    Raelene, best to get the memories down before senility sets in. I will write some more. My mother never really did adapt to country life.

  7. Loved it, more please!

  8. Just wonderful. My dad drove the Milk lorry on weekends and I went with him as a kid. In those days there were still the milk cans and dad would just haul these full as if they were made of plastic and not heavy stainless steel (I think) by the time we did the rounds it was about 7.30 and the milk would be stored in the milk factory - actually if treated carefully unpasteurised is best because it still contains the enzymes which help us to digest the milk - no wonder so many have trouble digesting milk these days - its a pretty barren product which is why they add so much artificial shit to it...

    it was a lot of hard work for your mum and dad, and for mine in a different way but its like remembering another time and a time in which things did get fixed, and people not machines were on the end...sigh

  9. wow, i've got a patient in hospital who's been telling me similar stories about his childhood on the farm in NSW. Your stories are similar in some ways. I love hearing this sort of stuff.

  10. good point andrew, i have been thinking along those lines lately myself, ie writing it all down before i forget.

  11. Thanks Jayne.

    Great recall MC. I do remember trucks with milk cans. Goodness knows what is in milk now.

    I would never bore anyone by telling in personally Fenz. It is kind of you to listen to him.

    Maybe Poet. I don't know how interesting stuff like this will be in the future. I like to think it will be.

  12. Yeah "Killy" is one of my favourite places, it is rural and also so close to that lovely beach! An awesome pub wth great views too.

  13. well if we ever met i'd be happy for you to tell me such stories, it's fascinating to me.

  14. Okies Fenz. I will tell you about what me as a teen and a neighbour lad did with the milking cups and vaseline.

  15. I'm impressed you have so many memories from your childhood.

    I can remember very little of my childhood other than generalities. Maybe it was the city upbringing - and being an only child?

  16. Don't know why Victor. Maybe because I have vacant thinking times at work. I had to check the name of the river. Tanjil or Latrobe. Mum likes talking about old stuff, so perhaps I am reminded of things at times. Perhaps because I was born when my parents were 21 and 23. Were your's older? You remember school well enough. Travelling on a Sydney tram. The different 'burbs you lived in. Maybe it is too late, but try asking your mother about something long in the past, or a few things. Something might strike a chord with her.