22 May 2023

He had a good run: Former milko reflects on how he warmed to a bottler of a job

| John Thistleton
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man and woman sitting by fireplace

Former milko Gordon Percy and his wife Carol made their home in Toowoomba after raising their family in Goulburn. Photo: Percy family.

In the dark, bone-chilling cold at 3 am in Goulburn’s winter, Gordon Percy jumped out of bed to deliver milk with a surefire way of getting warm.

Arriving at the southern end of Auburn Street near Thompsons shop (now Hogan’s), he would load up his barrow with crates of milk and push it to the Gill home. By the time he came down the hill again, he was warm.

“I was fit then. I wish I was that fit now,” he said.

Gordon took over the milk run from his father Clarrie in 1966 as Australia changed from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency. Clarrie had owned the run for 30 years.

On his dairy “Blandford” on the Middle Arm Road, Clarrie ran 30 cows, delivering their milk around North Goulburn, first on a motorbike and sidecar, then with a heavy brown horse named Silver. Gordon remembers another milkman, Allan ”Pop” Friend, using a horse on his run until the 1970s.

“It was a busy time, we were rearing a family, needed the money,” Gordon said, recounting his crack-of-dawn running seven days a week, 365 days a year.

He would finish about 9:30 am. He and his wife Carol raised four daughters, Sharon, Jenine, Kelly and Tanya.

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His milk run included North Goulburn, from the jail to Kinghorne Street and parts of Bourke Street and Auburn Street, including some shops.

“When I bought a barrow, it made it a lot easier to go around a whole block with a barrow-load of three or four crates of milk,” he said.

People left money out for their milk, sometimes in bottles, which was a nuisance.

“You would tip it up and get a swoosh of water still left in the bottle,” the former milko said. “I got to know a lot of the people. Once you got to daybreak they would come outside and say g’day or whatever. You could not afford to stay talking too long, just say g’day.”

He remembers shop owners Archie Travis in Kinghorne Street, Mrs Phillips on the corner of Kinghorne Street and Wheatley Avenue, Andy Bowman over the hill, Morrie Martin in Bourke Street and Thompsons near the top of Auburn Street.

Collecting the milk from the Dairy Farmers factory behind Baxter’s Boot factory on the eastern side of the railway line, Gordon would deliver almost an entire load at Thompsons, which dispatched most of it on the mail runs.

“I did enjoy the milk run and needed it to make a living, but by the end of eight years I was getting sick of it,” he said.

dairy farm

Clarrie Percy’s dairy farm ”Blandford” near Goulburn, where Gordon Percy grew up, along with a stint near the Tarlo River. Photo: Percy family.

After selling the business, he panicked and grabbed the first job offer, working at Doug Small’s farm near Crookwell.

“It was a wonderful two years, though. I took the family and we lived in one of the houses on the property,” Gordon said. “We were milking a lot of cows. He had sheep and beef cattle as well. It was harder work than the milk run, actually, but a lifestyle I wanted.”

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His soft spot for farm life stems from his boyhood. When ill health struck mother Madge, he lived with his aunt and her husband, Edna and Harry Peters, on the Tarlo River for several years. Teaming up with his older cousin John, they caught eels in the river, dug out rabbit burrows surrounded by their excited dogs and set lots of rabbit traps.

As an adult years later, a wet winter in 1974 dampened the gloss of farm life and Gordon returned to Goulburn.

“I worked for a nursing home in Verner Street as a gardener and to run their little market garden out of town where they had a bit of land, and helped them produce food,” he said.

family with kids on horseback

In this 1920s photo, Gordon’s mother-in-law Isobel is a child, the ninth one on the back of the horse. Photo: Percy family.

Travelling home after work one afternoon, a truck suddenly appeared out of a side lane in front of him on his motorbike.

“I went under a truck, it was flying out a back lane and didn’t see me and the sun was in his eyes. I just laid the bike over and went underneath him. Anyway, I got smashed up a bit,” he said.

When he recovered, the family bought their own shop on the corner of Union and Chatsbury streets, near North Goulburn School. They ran the shop until 1983, sold up and headed north to Toowoomba in Queensland, with happy memories of delivering milk for people’s breakfast tables in Goulburn.

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