West Coast celebrates 150 years of dairying

It has been 150 years since the first commercial dairy company was established on the South Island’s West Coast – and on ‘The Coast’ that means stories . . . lots of them.

Convergence got the chance to speak to locals about the Coast’s dairying history. Our work involved supporting our client Westland Milk Products by interviewing and filming a list of ‘characters’ representing this diverse history.

From the rigours of churning butter by hand, tall tales of adventurous milk runs, and the ‘cream that got the cat’; to the rise-and-fall of multiple small dairy co-operatives; stories of this vital and colourful industry have become West Coast legend.

Westland also commissioned a 150th anniversary website: www.150years.co.nz. All of the stories, photos and video clips collected by Convergence are featured, complementing, and expanding on, the printed supplement. The stories on the 150th website are for sharing!

Working with Westland and local newspaper company the Greymouth Star (whose reporters collected even more interviews), we pulled some of these stories into a 150th commemorative advertising feature lift-out. The lift-out was delivered to every letterbox on the West Coast.

A glimpse of one of the local stories below…

Hari Hari dairy factory – memories from seven decades ago

Sneaking a kiss from his wife Joan, playing tricks on colleagues, and finding the odd cat in the cream barrel, are fond memories Charlie Glass shares as he takes a stroll around what remains of the Inter-Wanganui Co-op dairy factory.

Charlie and his late wife Joan, both worked in the factory at Hari Hari during the Second World War. There was a labour shortage, and Charlie joined the workforce at 15 years old, making butter for the West Coast of New Zealand.

The dairy factory, which opened in 1908, has vivid memories for the 88-year-old who remembers the joys of working alongside his wife, and explains the specifics of the job like it was yesterday.

“Butter was made differently in those days. It was all in a churner, and then we had to pull it all out by hand,” says Charlie.

“We would produce between 200-300 tonnes of butter a year, and there were only six or seven of us working there.

“We’d send the butter away twice a week; the dairy factory actually supplied all of the West Coast. The first-grade butter was exported overseas and the second-grade butter, where perhaps the cream was off a bit, was for the locals – but I thought it was better.”

Charlie spent seven years at the dairy factory and worked the occasional off-season at a factory down the road, building the boxes butter was delivered in.

Charlie’s whole life has revolved around the dairy industry in one way or another. After leaving the dairy factory he worked for the road service and was on the cream run for nine years.

“I’d cart the cream to the dairy company, and my runs included heading to places like Franz Josef every second day, with 5am starts,” says Charlie.

His cream run came to an end when he had an offer from an uncle that was too good to refuse. He had a knack for farming, and with the help of his uncle managed to buy his first farm on the outskirts of Hari Hari.

Charlie and Joan raised their three children on their dairy farm, managing between 40 to 120 cows over the years, all while taking opportunities to buy land and expand the farm. Charlie later sold his farm to his daughter and son-in-law, who manage around 600 cows.

Though Charlie’s family farm is nearby, he only recently returned to the dairy factory to have a proper look at what remains of the building.

Memories flood Charlie as he walks around, speaking fondly of his late-wife and his colleagues. Charlie gives a glimpse into what life was like more than seven decades ago, sharing all of his stories with a cheeky smile.

“You know, back then it was nothing to find a friendly cat drowned in the cream,” says Charlie.

“The lids of the cream would be left off, the old cat would come in, and the next day you’d go to stir it and there’d be a cat – don’t worry, we’d only throw out the cat, and not waste the cream.”