Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Grey's Milk Run

This story gratefully contributed to Tongarra Museum by Bob Grey.

In the years immediately after World War Two the Milk Board decided to extend regular home delivery of milk into Oak Flats.  Regular consumption of milk was considered essential for public health and the Board had an obligation to ensure it was readily available to as many people as possible.

Keith Grey farmed jersey cows which produced lots of cream and after a good deal of persuading he started deliveries in July 1947.  The first day he sold a total of 23 litres.  It was all unpasteurised, direct from the farm.  When the run grew a bit, Keith’s son Bob started helping him before school and at weekends. When Bob left school he started working full time for the milkman.

Oak Flats in the late forties was the original Struggletown.  No one had much money.  There were a couple of small shops and not much else.  No school, no other facilities at all.  A lot of the ‘houses’ were just fibro garages which people would build and live in until they could get enough money together to start on the main building.  Despite (or because of) all this, the town had a great sense of community.  Everyone knew everyone else and everyone was prepared to help their neighbour.

Apart from Central Avenue, the roads were either just lines on a map or at best, a narrow strip of blue metal meandering through the trees.  Delivering milk the Grey’s would mostly just head along one of the many tracks which left the gazetted road and dodge through the trees until they met up with another road.

During one long spell of wet weather they could not get the truck into most of the area west of what is now Moore Street.  They would drive in as far as they could, then Bob would put about 25 litres of milk into two small cans and deliver it to homes in the inaccessible areas while his father would drive back out and meet him at the next accessible spot.

Over time Oak Flats gradually grew. The majority of the new arrivals were migrants from Britain and Europe. The ones who came from cold climates must have thought they were in hell; living in a fibro shed with unlined corrugated iron roof in the midst of a scorching summer. But they mostly stuck it out, raised families and generally prospered. In the main, they were great people who worked incredibly hard to build a future.

When they celebrated a wedding or other major event, some of them could also celebrate with gusto. When delivering milk in the early hours of the morning the last thing you needed was to be pulled into a party for a drink or two. For this reason the Greys were always very very quiet when they were  delivering anywhere near a celebration. It wasn't that they didn’t appreciate their hospitality, it was just that they were very hospitable and they Grey’s had a job to do and they did it better while sober.

It is easy to remember the hard things about those days. Working seven days a week in all weathers. The rain that saturated you for days on end, the westerly winds, the heat, the flies. Carrying heavy cans of milk for a nasty customer.

The memories that linger for Bob the longest are of the friendliness of people their open hearted acceptance of life and their toughness and tenacity in building a place for themselves and their family.

As the town grew the business grew with it. They Grey’s were able to take on an employee. This meant that after years of working seven days a week they could have a day off.  Deliveries were still seven days a week, 365 days a year, but they were each able to sleep in one day a week.

Gradually the town changed. New shops, better roads, a school and lots more people. The business grew it until one day Bob realized that he no longer knew every customer. That was when he realized that Oak Flats had grown up.

Bob spent more than thirty years delivering milk around Oak Flats. He made a lot of friends, some of them are still his friends today. But in his opinion the toughest and the best years were when the town and he were both young.

‘Grey’s Milk Run’ story and image of Keith Grey, contributed to Tongarra Museum, by Bob Grey 2007.
Keith Grey on the milk run in Central Avenue Oak Flats.
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.