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Bottled milk and hygienic dairies: agricultural modernism

Bottled milk reduces contamination  

Contaminated milk being sold to consumers today is completely unthinkable, yet there was a time in Camden when it was not unusual at all.

Contaminated milk was such as issue that 1931 local milk supplier Camden Vale Milk Company Limited advertised the hygienic properties of its bottled milk.

Camden Vale Milk was produced by the dairies of Camden Park Estate. It was promoted  as ‘Free from Tubercule, Typhoid and Diphtheria Bacilli’. Camden Vale promised that its milk was ‘rich, clean’ and ‘safe’.  

The advertisement by Camden Vale Milk appeared in the 1931 booklet for Sydney Health Week and was used to promote the sale of bottled milk.

An advertisement promoting bottled milk placed by Camden Vale Milk Company Limited in the 1931 Health and Baby Welfare Booklet as part of Sydney Health Week. Health Week ran from 10 October 1931 to 23 October 1931 across New South Wales.

Sydney Health Week was launched in October 1921 with the aim of improving community health particularly the health of infants. Dr Purdy of the organising committee stated that infant mortality in Australia was twice the rate of Great Britain. Health Week was modelled on the Health Week of Great Britain  which started in 1912 by the Agenda Club and renewed after the war. The week was launched with the support of the NSW Labor Government and the Minister for Public Health and Motherhood, Mr G McGirr. (Tweed Daily, 27 October 1921)

The cover of the 1931 booklet published to promote Health and Baby Welfare Week. The booklet was produced by Executive of the Eleventh Annual Sydney Health Week. It had a circulation of 207,000 and was 128 pages.

Camden Vale Bottled Milk

Camden Park Dairies started selling bottled milk from 1926 under the Camden Vale Bottled Milk brand across the Sydney market. The growth of bottled milk contributed to better hygiene and stopped contamination.

The Macarthur family of Camden Park established the Camden Vale Milk Company Limited in 1920 to distribute whole liquid milk to the Sydney market. The company became a co-operative the following year with 131 shareholders and FA Macarthur Onslow was the managing director. Camden Park’s dairy processing assets, including the Menangle Milk factory, Redfern processing plant and delivery trucks, were transferred to Camden Vale in 1920.

The company opened a milk receiving depot at the corner of Edward and Argyle Streets in Camden in 1921. The Menangle factory sent milk to Redfern for pasteurisation and bottling. Bottled milk gave Camden Vale an edge in the Sydney market where there was fierce competition from over-supply and price-cutting.

Camden Vale Milk Company Limited Depot at the corner of Edward and Argyle Street Camden adjacent to the Camden-Campbelltown tramway. This 1923 view is the timber building that burnt down shortly after this image was taken and replaced with the current brick building. The railway allowed easy transportation of whole milk to the Sydney market. (Camden Images)

Adulterated milk

The Camden Vale Milk  advertising for Sydney Health Week might seem alarmist today. Yet a short history of the Sydney milk supply and issues of contamination and milk-borne disease illustrates that these type of concerns were far from alarmist. Indeed they were quite prudent.

So what were the issues with milk in 1931?

In the early 20th century tuberculosis, typhoid diphtheria and other diseases were a constant threat.

A quick search of Trove and the pages of the Camden News and Picton Post reveals the extent of notifiable disease within the Camden  community in the past. There were a host of outbreaks in the early 20th century and late 19th century reported by these newspapers. They included: scarlet fever (1914, 1927, 1948); measles (1914); cholera (1899, 1900, 1902, 1911, 1914); infantile paralysis or polio (1932, 1946); typhoid fever (1914, 1916, 1921); consumption or tuberculosis (1912, 1913, 1916); diphtheria (1896, 1898, 1907, 1922, 1948); and others.

Milk-borne disease

The threat of milk-borne diseases was a real threat in the 19th century.

Medical historian Milton Lewis has argued

Well before the advent of germ theory and modern epidemiology, milk was being named as the means by which typhoid, scarlet fever and diphtheria were sometimes spread.    The connection between infant mortality and cows’ milk had been noted early in the nineteenth century.

It was not until 1861 that Pasteur published his germ theory which proved that bacteria caused diseases.

 The first attempt in New South Wales to control the quality of milk from dairies in the Sydney area were laws to stop the adulteration of food in the 1870s. They were based on English laws. It was quite common for Sydney dairymen to adulterate pure milk with added water, justifying their claims that they could not make a profit without adding water. In 1875 there was an outcry from NSW Medical Gazette about the practice.

New South Wales authorities were prompted into action in 1886 when an outbreak of milk-borne typhoid in Sydney was traced to a well on a Leichhardt dairy. The dairy was contaminated by sewage from surrounding houses. There were further outbreaks linked to polluted dairies in St Leonards in 1887 and 1890, and another in the Randwick area in 1890.

Raw milk

The inspection of Sydney dairy herds from the 1890s led to a decline in the incidence of milk-borne tuberculosis and improved conditions at the dairies. The major risk arose from the sale of raw milk by city dairies.

The local ‘milko’ sold customers raw milk. It was sometimes poor quality and there was no guarantee it was free from contamination. The ‘milko’ poured milk into from a tank in his van into the customer’s jug.

By 1905 action by city health authorities led to significant improvements on city dairies and milk shops. Authorities had started to take action on the adulteration of milk with water and chemical preservatives. 

Pasteurisation

Pasteurisation of milk was an effective way of protecting consumers from the milk-borne disease. It involves heat treatment of milk then rapid cooling.

The Farmers’ and Dairymans’ Company started to pasteurise its milk supply in 1903 but contamination occurred in the supply chain. In 1905 the company along with the NSW Fresh Food and Ice Company advertised pasteurised milk in the Sydney press. (Farmers’ and Dairymen’s Milk Co. advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 January 1905; N.S.W. Fresh Food and Ice Co. advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 1905, 9).

Commercial pasteurisations was first introduced in the USA in 1907 and spread quickly across American cities as it improved the keeping quality of milk. The first regulations were introduced in England in 1922.

Following the First World War the New South Wales Board of Trade maintained that child health could be improved by higher consumption of milk. The Board added that infant feeding on uncontaminated milk could be achieved by the use of dried milk.

The poor quality of fresh milk from Sydney suburban dairies in 1923 meant that baby health clinics recommended mothers feed their infants a combination of dried milk and fruit juice. The aim was to reduce infant mortality from gastro-enteritis.

Bottled milk and Camden Vale Milk Company Limited

Farmers had started selling bottled milk in 1925.  The first bottled milk was produced in Sydney in 1911 but the company was unable to survive the competition from established firm.  The first use of bottled milk in Sydney according to newspaper reports was in 1898 following its adoption and use in the Philadelphia in the USA.

A milk bottle produced by Camden Vale Milk Co Ltd (Belgenny Farm)

In 1929 Camden Vale merged with Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative Milk Company, established by South Coast dairy farmers in 1900, and Farmers’ and Dairymans’ Company. The company continued to use the Camden Vale brand and eventually in 1934 the Camden Vale Milk Co Ltd was wound up.

Herd testing at Camden Park Estate

The Camden Park management were industry leaders in the Sydney market. In 1924 were the first dairy herds in New South Wales to be certified TB free.

Camden Park Estate Model Dairy No 2 milking showing concrete floor and fitted out with equipment that is easy to clean in 1938 (Camden Images)

In 1926 the Camden Park opened its first ‘model’ dairy at Menangle to give Camden Vale bottled milk an edge in the competitive Sydney market. It represented the ‘best practice and high standards of hygiene’. This meant

 The brick dairy had a concrete floor with bails, fittings and equipment designed for ease of cleaning and optimum hygiene. 

(Belgenny Farm)

Milk was pasteurised at the Menangle and Camden factories, bottled and delivered to customers.

‘The Milk with the Golden Cap’ slogan or tagline was used in the promotional advertising for Camden Vale bottled milk. The milk was sold at a premium across the Sydney market.

The Macarthur family at Camden Park Estate followed the latest scientific methods in their dairy herds and regularly won prizes at the Camden Show and the Sydney Royal Easter Show.