Tuesday, July 22, 2008
A Hut with Memories
Days of my childhood: Pepperina tree with a dairy in the background.
To the casual observer this would appear to be an old hut, but others might recognize it for what it is – a typical old dairy. Dairy in a special sense. This was the building on a dairy farm which housed the separator (the machine which separated cream from the milk), the cream awaiting collection, and the milking tins and buckets – as well as other unrelated items which ended up there.
The cows here were milked by hand in the cow-bails which were situated off the photograph to the left. I remember clearly sitting on a block with a bucket clasped firmly between my legs, head resting on the cow's flanks (how comforting was the cow's warmth on a cold winter's morning!) and milking the cow dry. At times, as a break from the monotonous chush, chush of milk going into the bucket, I would send a squirt of milk hither and thither – into the cat's eye, for she would love to be around at milking time; or at the dog's nose. He was not allowed in the bails for fear of frightening the cows but would poke his nose around the corner, probably just waiting for a fat stream of fresh warm milk to come his way. Or at my sister walking past to empty her bucket into the four gallon (20litre) tins which would then be carried to the dairy to be separated. (She didn't appreciate being hit with a stream of milk.) When separated the cream would be sold to the local butter factory and the milk fed to the pigs.
The small herd of cows (c. 20 head) and the pigs were two aspects of this mixed farm operated by my father, with the help of his family. Other aspects involved growing cash crops (table vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, onions and cabbage) and fodder.
The cows have gone, but the dairy with its memories remains. The pepperina tree of my childhood also remains. It was an old tree then, even older now. This was a tree in which a young boy could learn the art of tree-climbing. This was a tree in which sparrows loved to nest; and there were many of them. This meant that it was easy to add to my birds' egg collection. Then there was usually a peewee with its mud nest, and as was usually the case, a willy-wagtail's nest would be found on a nearby branch. They seemed to like one another's company, the peewee and the willy-wagtail. There was also room for the turtle doves and topknot pigeons. Yes, this was a tree alive with experiences....and birds and bees and berries
The tree is still thriving, having helped to create childhood memories for two generations following mine. It has altered little in the last half century, but lost most of its inhabitants. The dairy is patiently awaiting a new lease of life. Once central to the farm's activities, it is now unused (a little like the tree). The lawns in front of it have gone. The water tank attached to it is no longer required. The tennis court once situated between it and the cow bails is now a horse paddock. But this old hut (dairy) still remembers me turning the separator handle morning and evening, and carting milk to and fro. It has vivid memories of me washing the tins, buckets and separator parts, of giving the dog its tin of milk, and the cat hers. It was the beginning and ending of each of my primary school days. It was part of an education which few in our land experience today. Which is probably a pity.