Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Pambula Butter Factory - one of the district's most important businesses

Of all the businesses and organisations that have existed in Pambula over the years, probably none had the impact on the district that the Pambula butter factory had.

Formally established just over a century ago at a public meeting called by Messrs R. Scott and A. W. King, it was not the first attempt to organise such a district co-operative. In July 1894, about 30 people attended a similar meeting following which a prospectus for the proposed Pambula District Co-operative Creamery Co. was drawn up. However, by August that year meeting attendance was so poor that the proposal fell through.

By September 1897 the proposal was back on the agenda, and this time met with much greater success, when about 60 people attending the initial meeting. Important factors discussed included the factory location and the consideration of water supply when choosing a site.

Eventually, consideration of the motion to "establish a factory on a site to be chosen between the junction at Bald Hills and Bega Road on the north and Hart's Hill at Lochiel on the south" was deferred until September 18, whilst a committee consisting of Messrs S. Gordon Jnr, J. Haywood, W. Dowling Jnr, John Kelly, Jas Buckett, W. Armstrong, A. Smith, R. Scott, H. Cole and A. W. King were appointed to ascertain the likely cost, select the most suitable site and procure other necessary information. They then appointed a further sub-committee to deal with the question of a site, considering Munn's South Pambula farm, the old school paddock on the Pambula Flat and what was known as Dyer's Farm on the Lochiel Road. The latter, which belonged to Mr Beck, was eventually chosen.

Mr. John Dowling with part of his dairy herd at Punt Hole Farm, South Pambula.

Estimating that about 800 cows were available to supply the factory, the secretary was requested to write to the Department of Agriculture asking that dairy expert Mr O'Callaghan be allowed to visit the district. Despite much discussion at the inaugural meeting of possible failure should every small centre attempt a similar project alone, Boggy Creek and Wyndham farmers initially decided to establish separate factories. By October 1894, however, these two proposals had fallen through and both groups eventually decided to join the Pambula district concern.

The Pambula Bank of Commerce, formerly the AJS Bank, Pambula. After the branch closed, the dairy co-operative took over the building as their offices.


After the local AJS Bank branch advised that they would advance a loan to the co-operative at a slightly reduced interest rate, the prospectus for the Pambula Co-operative Creamery and Dairy Co., with a capital of £1,000 made up of 1,000 shares at £1each was tabled at a September meeting. It was decided that as soon as 400 shares had been applied for, the company would be declared formed with provisional directors resigning and office bearers then being elected by the shareholders. By the rules spelt out in the prospectus, each shareholder was to own no less than five shares and no person was permitted to purchase shares unless they were a supplier or an owner or occupier of land. By the end of the September meeting about 200 shares had been applied for and Messrs S. Gordon Jnr, R. Scott and A. W., King were appointed as honorary share canvassers.

The erection of creameries at Boggy Creek and elsewhere was initially raised in early October, but they decided that this was best left to the elected committee. By October, with the required 400 shares taken up, elections for directors were held and the company's first board comprised of Messrs J. Buckett, R. Scott, S. Gordon, H. Cole and A. Smith. It was not until the seventh half yearly meeting in February 1901 that the number of directors was increased to seven.

The same month the purchase of the factory land was considered, with Mr Beck offering to sell the whole of his property. After discussion Mr A. Smith proposed and Mr J. Buckett seconded "That the factory site be purchased, the area of the same to be left to the discretion of the directors." On being put to the meeting, the motion was carried by a considerable majority and three acres were eventually purchased. The tender of Mr S. Turner of Wolumla for £25 for erection of the factory was accepted in November, the same month that the company was duly registered.

After selection and approval of the Boggy Creek separating station site, plans were submitted and accepted. Located about half a mile from the main Pambula - Wolumla Road, the building comprised of two rooms, one for separating and the other occupied by the boiler. With cost estimated at £120, it was decided to proceed at once. James Dowling won the contract and Mr W. Mitchell was appointed to take its charge upon completion. Another creamery was established at Honeysuckle for Wyndham suppliers, opening in October 1899.

The original Pambula Co-operative Creamery and Butter Factory, erected in 1898.

By late March 1898 the factory building was almost complete, and with the final cost in the vacinity of £160, was ready for delivery and installation of the necessary equipment. Mr Jubb was engaged to cart the machinery from Eden, whilst Mr Morrow of Candelo was contracted to install it. Mr R. Robinson was appointed as Pambula butter factory's first manager, and in October 1898 the inaugural shipment of 34 boxes of Oakleaf butter was sent to Sydney.

With the factory now complete, the official opening was held on site on October 5, 1898 with a luncheon and much fanfare.

Adam Henry Ballantyne, left near cart, loading butter at the Pambula Co-operative Butter Factory for transportation to the Merimbula wharf.
Pambula butter factory directors and shareholders did not confine themselves to just butter manufacturing. They also lobbied for improved services in the area including the establishment of both the Merimbula deep sea wharf and the erection of a bridge across Merimbula Lake.

Over the years the various boards worked assiduously towards improving the factory's facilities. In 1899, a refrigeration plant was installed, whilst in 1905 the entire plant was restructured to cope with the ever increasing cream supply. This included installation of a 16 horse power boiler and three ton refrigerator. In 1906 two new churns and a butter worker were added. Alterations and additions were necessary by 1912, with the contract awarded to Mr James Dowling, who enlarged the cream receiving room, cemented the floor, lined the walls with galvanised iron and rebuilt the can room with draining racks capable of holding 140 cans. In the three years between 1914 and 1917, £1154 was spent on new plant for the factory. It was decided at the half yearly meeting in 1915 to install a pasteurisation plant, but it was found necessary to delay this, it eventually being completed during 1916. The following year two Batch pasteurisers and a brine tank were added, which combined with further alterations to the factory, cost a total of £856/18/9. Further additions and improvements to the factory were carried out in 1923 whilst in 1935 it was decided to borrow £800 to install a vacreator to eliminate feed taint from the cream.

With the number of factory suppliers increasing, the directors decided in November 1900 to start grading cream, lower quality produce being churned separately and suppliers paid accordingly.

The Boggy Creek separating station remained in use until 1901, when at an August meeting decided that due to the excessive running costs, this was to be closed down, the farmers from that district to separate their own cream, with the company covering delivery costs to the central factory. Boggy Creek suppliers did not take kindly to this decision, but at a meeting the same month, no agreement could be reached, so the decision stood. In September, the machinery was placed up for auction and tenders called in October for purchase of the building.

Squire Robinson with prize winning dairy cattle on the old recreation reserve, Pambula.

By February 1902, Pambula butter was being exported to England and the company also owned 92 shares in the Farmers Co-op Co. in Sydney. The same year the co-operative affiliated with the Southern District Factory Directors' Association.

Over the years, the cream supply and butter output gradually increased. In June 1899, 3,238 gallons of milk and 3,361 pounds of cream manufactured 2,845 pounds of butter; in November 1900, the company produced 24,254 pounds of butter, and in 1902 manufactured 35, 636 pounds from 79, 665 pounds of cream; by October 1903 the company was turning out about 100 boxes of butter a week and the number of suppliers was still increasing. November that year saw just over 19 tons of butter produced and new suppliers included several from Greigs Flat and Nethercote, as well as one or two from beyond Wyndham. By November the following year, the factory was producing about a ton of butter a day during the warmer months.

During its life, the Pambula butter factory provided support for both local and national appeals not confined to just the agricultural field. In 1903, £2/2/- was donated to the Drought Relief Fund while in September 1914 at a special meeting of district factories held in Bega it was decided that each factory contribute one box of butter for every ton made during one week toward the war food fund. Pambula's quota was three for that period. In 1917, the factory contributed five boxes of butter at the rate of one per month to the Red Cross appeal for butter for prisoners of war. The company also took up £100 worth of war bond certificates to help the government in their war effort.

For many years, the company's butter milk had been auctioned off to local farmers for use as pig food, but in 1907, the directors decided to lease the remainder of Mr Beck's 109 acre farm and establish the company's own piggery, the butter milk being pumped to the troughs by means of steam power. The same year however, the company experienced problems when the piggery was condemned, the factory almost following suit due to its proximity. As a result, the pens had to be erected further away.

The Farmers and Settlers Society, who were responsible for the export of Pambula's butter, were a source of discontent amongst company shareholders. In 1904, a section of the shareholders requisitioned the directors to call a meeting with regards to their relationship with the Society and when the directors refused to do so, the shareholders used the privilege conferred by the company's Articles of Association and called the meeting themselves. However, a majority vote decided to leave the matter in the directors' hands. The issue again arose however at the May 1907 half yearly meeting, when dissatisfaction was again shown by shareholders regarding the contract taken out with the Society. When the adoption of the directors' report was moved, a number of shareholders demanded that a paragraph referring to the Society be first struck out. Upon a ballot being taken, 42 to 24 shareholders voted that the paragraph be removed and the report was then adopted.

In 1907, government grader Mr Pederson visited the Pambula factory where he tested samples of the district's cream. For the period 1 October 1906 to 31 March 1907, the company obtained 82.22 % superfine certificates for their butter and 17.78 % first class. This was considered the highest average in the state for the period, reflecting highly on the dairy farmers of the district and upon the factory manager, Mr R. Robinson.

By 1912, it was decided that a manager's residence was necessary at the factory, and in October that year tenders were called for its erection, the contract being awarded to Mr James Dowling for £275. The building was completed during 1913 and continues to stand today.

Over the years the Pambula's Oakleaf butter won many prizes and awards. Locally, they took out numerous district show prizes including a first in 1917 at Bega with 97 per cent. The Royal Show in Sydney also saw awards such as first prize for export salted butter in 1911 and first prize for butter for local consumption in 1914, whilst the factory manager, Mr Marshall, also won first prize for the maker of the best box of butter the same year. In 1918 the company took second place from 46 competitors for a special box opened on the first day and judged on the third. In 1927, they took first prize at the Goulburn show and the same year won numerous awards at the Royal Melbourne Show including a first and two seconds. Internationally, Pambula butter also scored awards including two highly commended certificates in 1913 and two first prizes in 1915 at the Islington Dairy Show in England. 1927 also saw a win the reserve award at Islington, as well as a bronze medal at the London Dairy Show for salted butter. In the two years leading up to 1927 the company took out ten firsts, eleven seconds, a bronze medal, eight thirds and one champion. Between 1930 and 1940, the company received six certificates of merit from the NSW Department of Agriculture for butter remaining true to grade, nominating percentages between 92 and 98 percent. This was followed between 1962 and 1967 with five similar awards, three of which were for 100 percent true to grade butter. At the half yearly meeting in August 1918, it was revealed that the company had set a state record by having 95 % choicest butter.

Pambula Butter Factory C. 1950’s.

When Mr D. W. Hart resigned his managing director's position 1913, shareholders sent around a subscription list and after the half yearly meeting in August, Mr Andrew Smith presented him with a token of appreciation for his efforts. At the same time, Mr James Buckett was presented with a smokers outfit to mark his 17 years of unbroken service as a director of the company.

The company experienced many problems after the outbreak of World War I, amongst these labour and the fixing of butter prices. By 1916, the government had decided to take 20 % of output for a period for storage in Sydney in the event of shortage during winter. Although the government paid market value, they charged the company four pence a week for storage, and in the event that the butter was not required, any loss made on the market was charged to the company.

The question of payment of Directors arose a number of times including 1921 and 1927 but no decision was reached until 1930, when a motion was carried that the directors to be paid 10/6 per monthly sitting.

Over the years, the number of farmers supplying the factory increased steadily from just 40 in 1899 to 76 in 1918. In 1923, Rocky Hall suppliers were added to the list and in 1925 it stood at 112 and in 1926 at 120. By 1930 Towamba, Kiah and Cathcart farmers also became suppliers to the Pambula factory.

By 1927, a new factory building was firmly on the company's agenda as a result of new health regulations meaning that many butter factories locally and throughout NSW no longer met requirements. Pambula found themselves in a position where they had to either remodel their building by April 1929 or face closure. In September 1927 an extraordinary meeting was called to deal with the question of an extra levy to meet contingencies such as the new building fund, but after much discussion, shareholders only permitted a levy to meet current liabilities, despite the fact that the Chairman pointed out that the company faced liquidation without the new building. The issue again arose in April 1928, with discussion centring on whether the company should rebuild the present factory or amalgamate with another district co-operative such as South Wolumla. However, upon meeting with the Wolumla factory people, the directors were told that amalgamation was out of the question, but that cream would be treated upon the supplier becoming a shareholder and paying the new building levy. So the project of factory remodelling went ahead, and the architect, Mr Thomas, drew up plans. It was reported at the half yearly meeting that year that the Board of Directors had gone to an immense amount of trouble arriving at the most economical means of remodelling the machinery and building to comply with the Dairy and Health Acts.

Initially the contract for cream cartage was tendered out to various carters, but in 1927 when the Board of Directors decided that the cost of transportation was too high, the company decided to purchase two lorries and employ drivers. They later bought the goodwill of the Merimbula Supply Co. along with their latest lorry. By 1930, however, it was decided to revert back to contract cartage and this was awarded to Mr Dreaves of Sydney, who agreed to employ the company's drivers. In 1932, however, the company found themselves involved in an arbitration case with their transport contractor with Mr Dreaves bringing a case which he eventually won, against the company for breach of the cartage contract. Under the award made, Mr Dreaves had to be paid £250 but according to the annual report the following year, the directors felt it had been settled satisfactorily. They claimed that it would not cost suppliers one penny extra, the expense balanced by the new contractor taking over the old trucks and making a reduction of one eighth of a penny per pound of butter in cream cartage.

The old Pambula Branch of the Australian Bank of Commerce was taken over as the of Pambula Dairy Co-op offices in 1928.
Following closure of the Pambula Australian Bank of Commerce branch in 1928, the Pambula Dairy Co. moved their office into the premises. This proved to be a real boon to the township, with suppliers coming to town once a month for the meeting, collecting their suppliers cheques and then settling accounts with local businesses. This had the effect of almost ensuring that butter factory suppliers kept their business in Pambula and is possibly one of the foremost reasons why the town was the commercial centre for many years.

Following the end of World War II, however, dramatic changes in dairying led to a decline in the industry, eventually resulting the closure of the Pambula butter factory. Government subsidies were withdrawn and a trend began away from dairying towards beef cattle. As a result the number of suppliers to Pambula's butter factory began to decline. In 1961 the company's output stood at 21.5 tons for the year and the following year they produced 25.8 tons.

By 1974, the number of suppliers had fallen to 26, covering an area from Bendoc in Victoria, Kiah, Towamba and South Wolumla. Of these, about six planned to go out of dairying at the end of the season, with another five or six indicating that they too would soon be exiting the industry also. By this time Pambula was manufacturing under the Allowrie brand, with most of the output going the Sydney. In February 1974, more than 60 shareholders met and decided to close the factory, only two opposing the decision. Arrangements were made for those suppliers who remained to send their product to the Bemboka butter factory. Company Chairmen Mr Tom Carter, stressed that the closure was not for financial reasons, stating "We are in a very sound financial position. We owe nobody anything and everything we have we own."

On June 30, 1974, what had become one of the oldest dairy companies on the South East Coast closed its doors for the last time, ending one of the most important eras in the history of the Pambula district.
One of the wrappers used by the Pambula Butter Factory, around the mid-1960's.
© Angela George.

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