House – Nairn’s Dairy

Terry and Peter Nairn chat with us about their recollections of the dairy and growing up in Torquay.

The little dairy and shop on the corner of Boston Road and Pearl Street holds lots of memories for Torquay residents, especially those who have been here long enough to remember stopping in there to get fresh milk.

Originally the block was much larger than what we have today. It shows up for the first time in the rate books in 1891 when it was owned by James and William Strong and a Mr Carr. During the early 1890’s, long before a dairy was thought of, Olaf Thelin, a local fisherman, had a shack there – probably something very rustic and basic.

Mr Ernest A. Trotter bought the block in 1904 and is listed as the owner for the next 40 years. Ernest seems an interesting character, as he is at various times listed as “a hairdresser”, a “mechanic” and as “an importer” on the electoral roll. Torquay seemed to be his holiday home because he had a substantial shop selling brick-a-brac in Geelong. The length of time he held the block suggests he spent a good bit of time at Torquay in its early days.

In 1930 Ernest subdivided the block and built a second house. By 1946 this house was leased to Mr Alfred Yateman and his wife Mary Olive. The Yateman’s came from Mt Gambier where Alfred’s family were dairy farmers and stonemasons, moving to Geelong after they were married. The family were frequent visitors to Torquay for holidays, renting rooms at Smith’s on the corner of Price and Munday streets. When Alfred moved into the house on Boston Road he was listed as a baker, possibly working at the bakery opposite. Moving into the house with them was their 18 year old son Alfred Owen, a clerk. Owen, as he was known, was soon a member of the fledgling Torquay Surf Club and by 1953 had paired up with his mate Brian Beck to win the Victorian Double Ski Championship. Owen went on to spend his life in Torquay and to become a much loved local larrikin.

The little Village of Torquay was fairly self-sufficient with shops in Gilbert street catering for basic needs, and local farmers providing fresh produce. There were not many permanent residents and many of them had a cow on the block for milk but there were several farmers who were selling fresh milk to the local community. These included Ernie Bone out at Bellbrae, the Duffields had some cows out towards Bellbrae and sold milk in their shop on the corner of Pearl and Anderson Streets. Conrad Grossman had about 30 milking cows on his place on Grossman’s Road and Ted Charles had a small milking shed, about 20 cows, on a property that extended from Torquay Road to Charles Lane. He also had a small retail milk round. Mr Charles would walk his cows across the track (now Surf Coast highway) to graze down on the common (now football ground) and was once fined for allowing them in on the golf course much to the chagrin of members.

Seeing an opportunity, Conrad and Olive Grossman purchased, the property on the corner of Pearl St and Boston Road in 1948 and set up the first commercial dairy in Torquay. Farmers would drop milk into the dairy; it was then mostly sold by the billy load to the locals for 6 pence a pint. In 1952 the Grossmans sold the dairy to a young Lawrence Joseph Nairn.

In the 1950s there were a number of dairies and dairymen in the Geelong area with their territories clearly defined. Most of these dairies were independently owned; they even had their own bottles with their dairy name. Tompkins ‘Riverview’ Dairy served the area south of the Barwon. The Polar Milk Co was in Chilwell. Frank Moore’s Dairy was in Church Street. The Modern Dairy, in Albert Street, Geelong West, had the first milk separator in the area. The Nairn Brothers (Laurie’s father and uncle) served the East Geelong area and owned the “Rosebank” Dairy in Newcomb.

Laurie Nairn, born into a dairy family, had grown up in East Geelong helping out in the Nairn Brother’s dairy by looking after the horses that pulled the milk wagon. The “Milk Horses” were such an important part of the daily milk delivery and were always well looked after by the dairymen. A good horse could make or break the early morning milk rounds. They knew just the right pace to trot so as not to rattle the bottles too much and knew exactly when to stop and wait while the milkman ran the bottles to the front door. Laurie started helping on the milk rounds when he was just nine. When the second World War broke out Laurie joined the army and was for a time stationed at Mt Isa. While home on leave from the army Laurie met Sheila Walsh from Ballarat, who, after finishing school, was working at the Geelong Post office. Laurie and Sheila were married in 1946, and set up house in Geelong. When Laurie heard the little dairy in Torquay was up for sale he saw the perfect opportunity to branch out on his own and in 1952 he and Sheila bought the dairy, subsequently moving to Torquay. Nairn’s Dairy in Boston road was to be their life’s work.

There were less than 1000 people living in Torquay then and Laurie worked hard to build up the business. He would deliver milk to 300 homes. At first it was all “billy milk’. People would leave their cans out to be filled. He later built the cool room and ice room onto the rear of the little shop. Laurie would pick up the raw milk from the farmers and cool it in an old brine cooler ready to be picked up by his customers or delivered. By late 1950s all milk had to be pasteurized. It would be picked up from the farmers and taken to Geelong and then back to the dairy. By 1956 all the milk was bottled in Geelong and Laurie would go into Geelong to pick up the milk at Tompkins Dairy in Belmont, returning to Torquay where he loaded up the horse and cart and set off delivering milk around the little town. If your bedroom was near the front of the house you would hear the clip clop of old Barney’s hoofs pulling the cart. Laurie had Barney for 20 years and everyone in town knew him. Barney knew the routes so well he needed no instruction of where to go and when to stop. Laurie would joke that if he fell asleep on the job, Barney would move on to the next house and wait for him to wake up. Families would leave money out in the washed empty milk bottles with a note for the milkman. If there wasn’t a note he would simply replace the number of empty bottles with full ones. It was a simple system but it worked.

Later big milk trucks would deliver the bottles to Torquay, sometimes, up to 300 crates a day. The truck would reload with all the empty bottles from the prior day and take them back to the suppliers to be sterilized.

Keith Grossman, whose father had built the original dairy worked for Laurie in the 1960s driving the horse and cart delivering milk. He remembers that the Darian Road track was as far as they delivered to the north and there was no delivery across the creek in Jan Juc. He would start work at 4.30 am and finish about 9.00 am. Leaving milk money out proved to be risky in the busier summer months as it was so often found to be “missing” in the mornings. Sheila then decided to start an account book, and an invoice slip would be delivered with the milk. On Thursdays Sheila would be kept busy accepting payment and issuing receipts in the shop.
Laurie and Sheila lived in the little house with their 4 boys until the early 1960s when they built a new house adjacent to the dairy. During the building the family lived in a caravan and annex on site. Sheila used the basins in the dairy to bath her boys.

The carts and stables were on the block next door and Barney would graze in the paddock over the road.

Older locals may remember the fresh cream that Nairn’s dairy sold on a Sunday morning. Laurie would pick up milk from the farms on Friday and cool and separate it. He would pour the fresh cream into small bottles, put the wads in the top and load up the shop ready to sell it on Sunday morning. There would be a line of customers waiting after Church for the delicious cream to put on their scones. Many picking up fresh bread and scones from the little bakery opposite, then crossing the road for the cream.

If running the dairy in winter kept Laurie busy, when summer arrived things went up quite a few notches. The campers would arrive in time for Christmas at the beach and stay until February. The campground would be packed with customers not only wanting milk, but also ice for their Coolgardie safes and icebox fridges. Barney quickly learnt that summer meant a new route to learn. Laurie loved doing the campground round and would send his older boys, Peter and Bill off on the town round, while he took the later run for the campers. Laurie loved meeting new people and would renew friendships each year, as most of the visitors would come back year after year to the same campsite. Laurie delivered milk in the campgrounds for 37 years and was a familiar site weaving his way around the tracks with Barney and shouting “milko, milko, milko”. The kids on holidays would chase after him and jump up on the cart for a ride. He would often run into his mate Joe Walker in his long blue striped apron, selling meat out of his little truck to the campers.

Often in summer the Nairn boys would finish the milk run, then get on their bikes to do a paper round for Col Troy. There was good pocket money to be had for a kid during the summer months in Torquay.

The milkshakes from Nairn’s dairy were famous and were known far and wide to be the best available. Sheila’s little shop in front of the dairy sold eggs, canned fruit, lollies and the milkshakes. According to Terry Nairn there was a special ingredient – the milk must be 4 or five days old and nearly freezing. It was the secret that made the milkshakes taste like no other. Special customers would ask for a couple of eggs to be added and a good spoon of malt. As the town grew the ‘tradies’ would line up for a milkshake to go with their lunch. When Sheila first started selling milkshakes they cost four pence.

Laurie and Sheila saw many changes in town. They saw the birth of the surf industry from their living room window. Mayson’s bakery, across the street closed and stood vacant for a time. In the late 1960s the bakery had new tenants. Surfboards were being shaped in the shadow of the old brick ovens. Wetsuits were being cut and sewn in the old house at the back and a sign above the old bakery door said – Ripcurl. A new breed of young surfers were beginning to have an impact on the face of the town.

New shops grew up all around the little dairy, a new post office appeared at the end of Pearl street. Changes were afoot. Supermarkets were now selling milk over the counter and ice came in plastic bags sold at service stations. The milk delivery, which had been a seven-day, a week job was cut to 6 days, then 3 days and Barney was retired to the paddock next to the surfboard shop.

The glass bottles were being phased out and in 1987 it was announced, “the production of silver tipped glass bottled milk would end”. For many Victorians it was an emotional end to an era of creamy non-homogenised milk. Milk was now to be sold only in plastic or cardboard containers.

Laurie and Shelia sold the business in 1989 but continued to live close by in the new units they built on the second block next door. Both Laurie and Sheila were committed to their town and were well loved. They worked for the Kinder, Schools and Catholic Church. Laurie served on the Community Heath Centre Board.
It was the Torquay football club however, that became their pet project and that should be no surprise with four football loving boys. Laurie Nairn and George Mc Cartney helped build the club. They went to Puckapunyal to collect an old army hut to serve as the first clubrooms. Once loaded on a truck they had to drive it down to Torquay via Winchelsea because it would not fit under some of the old bridges coming through Geelong. On weekends Shelia would launder and clean the entire team jumpers and wash the boot laces. The walls of the Torquay Football Club are lined with photos of Laurie and his boys in the black and gold.

Laurie and Shiela retired from the dairy but not from their community and were always ready for a chat with their old customers when wandering down Gilbert Street. They, with their son Bill, are remembered as a big part of the building of our little community and are sadly missed.

Sadly, too, the little dairy will soon be a thing of the past as the land is now sold and sometime next year the little sandstone shop will disappear from our sight but hopefully not from our memories.

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