It was my first holiday away from home and my first experience of farm life. I loved going to the dairy each morning and evening to watch my aunt and uncle as they milked their herd of cows. The machinery was fascinating, I became absorbed, watching the little oval glass containers above each set of milkers as they filled with milk and rolled it around, ready to be siphoned off into tubes which led to the separator room. It was all very new to me and I initially kept fairly close to my aunt. They tried to encourage me to try milking by hand – it was difficult, though, as I was only seven or eight.
This particular day, I must have taken the chance to explore a little further afield. I can remember being in the separator room or cream room, can picture the little window on the far wall. In the corner, near the door, was the most wonderful collection of pipes, tanks and taps which made up the separator. I looked at it, then ventured to stroke it, amazed at the way it separated the butter milk from the skim milk, watched as it poured the milk into the large steel urns.
At some stage during my explorations – you may have guessed what I’m going to say – I must have fiddled with, and turned on, some taps.
Becoming bored, I returned to find out what was happening in the milking area.
Not long afterwards, I heard my aunt, who had entered the separator room to find beautiful butter milk all over the floor, scream! She realized what had happened, and before I understood what I’d done, was chasing me across the paddock.
I had to go to my room! I can’t remember the detail, but, having ventilated, my aunt eventually calmed down and resumed her usual loving behaviour.
I learnt a very large lesson or two – I learnt how important each day, each milking event, is to dairy farmers struggling, as my uncle and aunt were, to make an income from the land. I’ve always had respect and empathy for dairy farmers and engaged fully with Beth Smith’s talk about the dairy farmers’ life and the milk price crisis at U3A’s Meet and Mingle last year.
I also learnt to steer clear of functioning machinery of any sort – that such machinery is to be respected and not interfered with. I developed a grudging respect for the role of taps.
On reflection, I realize that I rarely went into the separator room when my uncle began milking a Jersey herd in Molyullah some years later.
The ‘freeze frame’ memory of my aunt chasing me across the paddock from the dairy to the house still influences me, so much so that I would almost certainly steer clear of the room containing the modern equivalent of the separator if I visited the Smith family's dairy farm in Tatong today.
(Theme 'Stock and Land')