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Bullock Teams and Dairy Cows

Bullock team
Bullock team drawing from Kerewong Forest c.1920s

For more than half a century, bullock teams criss-crossed the forest, hauling logs to mills at Kendall and to the several mills that set up beside the road to Comboyne. They hauled to riverside log dumps where logs were loaded on to punts, driven first by poles and later steam powered, for transport to mills on the banks of the Camden Haven River and Inlet. Horse teams were sometimes used on the open roads, but they were not as manoeuvrable in the forests as the bullock teams.

Such was the demand for timber that it seemed almost every landowner had a team. Seven or eight pairs worked in the forests, twenty-four to twenty-eight bullocks were linked to draw on the roads.

In 1939 there were still nineteen bullock teams drawing logs on the Comboyne. The bullocks were of mixed breeds: Devons, Ayrshires, Jerseys with the odd black and white Friesian. The very intelligent Jerseys were often leaders of the team, they frequently also brought up the tail.

From the 1880s, as settlement in the area increased, many people took up dairying. In direct contrast to the timber getters who were selective in order to get the best timber, many areas of valuable timber were cleared in order to establish (often marginal) dairy farms. Once their farms were established, dairy farmers found it necessary to do casual work either at the mills or sleeper cutting to augment their incomes. Some had small specialty mills on their farms.

Milking was done by hand, in some cases until well into 1940s when milking machines powered by diesel or petrol engines were installed. Dairy farms were said to be powered by an ‘MDK’ – Mum, Dad and the Kids. Many children fell asleep at their desks after milking twenty or thirty cows before school. The farming families were mostly self-sufficient, they had their own milk and cream, separating some of the latter to make butter in big wooden churns turned by hand. They kept pigs to feed with the separated milk, killed their own vealers and porkers and grew their own vegetables.

During the 1950s there were between two and three hundred dairy farms within a 30 kilometre radius of Kendall - sixteen of them in the short distance between Kendall School and Heron’s Creek – with an average herd of 50 to 60 milkers. The herds were mainly Jersey with some Ayrshire and some AIS (Australian Illawarra Shorthorn). The milking cow favoured by many was a Jersey/AIS Cross, combining the high butter fat of Jersey milk with the quieter disposition and more easily handled udder of the AIS. (The Australian Illawarra Shorthorn is the only truly Australian breed of cattle. It was developed in the Illawarra region of New South Wales and proclaimed a registered breed in 1910.)

Reg Latham, who worked at the Kendall Co-op, delivered groceries as he picked up the cream for the Kendall Butter Factory. Farmers took their cream cans out to the pick-up- points by horse and cart or by horse-drawn sled, waiting to collect the groceries that had been ordered

Milk cans were loaded on to the train at Ross Glen or at Batar Siding to go to the Manning Milk Depot, the empty cans returning on the next day’s train. Later cream was also loaded there for the Taree Butter Factory, until it closed in 1971.

The quota system – a good payment was made for gallons up to the daily quota allowed and a smaller payment for over-quota gallons - that had been used for many years was extended throughout the whole state in the 1950s. Quotas were negotiable assets and many farmers who had bought extra quota, often by borrowing to do so, had it summarily taken away to be allocated to farmers in other areas. No compensation was paid.

Jersey cows
Jersey Cows

At about the same time, the ubiquitous black and white Friesians began to replace the other breeds. Half the number of cows would yield the same volume of milk. Little matter that it had 5% butter fat instead of the 23% butter fat of the Jersey. There was no premium for superior milk. By the mid 1960s milk was being transported by road tankers which required great improvements to be made to rural roads.

As with all other farming endeavours, dairy farms had to get bigger in order to survive. The farmers increased the size of their farms and the size of their herds. A dairy farmer who milked 50 cows per day in the 1950s was milking up to 150 by the 1990s. His quota then was in the order of 400 gallons (1800 litres) a day.

When the quota system was abandoned in June 2000, in what is known as ‘dairy de-regulation’, farmers who had increased their holdings and their herds over the previous decades were suddenly deprived of a considerable part of their income. With milk prices set at what major supermarkets were prepared to pay, they could no longer afford to replace machinery or pay wages to employees. Most left the industry.

The decline of the dairy industry around Kendall mirrors the decline of the railway. Together they precipitated the period of rural depression that is now being addressed through community action with government support

© Elaine van Kempen 2006


© Kendall Community Centre May 2006