Whanganui writer ROB RATTENBURY looks back on the days of milk in glass bottles and home deliveries brought to your gate by the milk truck, or even a draught horse.

REMEMBER when milk came in bottles, delivered by a man or boy in shorts pushing a trolley, or — even earlier, in the 1950s — by a slow draught horse clip-clopping rhythmically along the suburban street with the milko running back and forth with tinkling bottles in the darkness, a comforting, all-is-well-with-the-world sound in the early hours.

It is great to see milk being offered again in glass bottles, the ultimate recyclable container. I could never understand why they were phased out.

My first regular paid job as a 13-year-old schoolboy in Naenae, Lower Hutt was working for Fred and Bill Paulin, the two milk vendors who delivered milk every morning to 10,000-odd people during the1960s and '70s.

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Fred and Bill were brothers and had a 4-ton white Bedford truck carrying at least 120 steel crates of milk plus the cream, fruit juice and yoghurt also offered in the late 1960s. They were a wily duo who knew schoolboys well. We were allowed free milk for our families, which was great for me, as we had 6 bottles a day for our tribe. Each brother used about 4 boys with trolleys each morning to deliver milk to houses while they did the business premises and dairies by truck. No girls in those days, for some reason.

We were also allowed a pint a day to drink while we worked and a bottle of cream on holiday weekends. We were paid 12/6 ($1.25) per day for about four hours' work.

We would start the run about 4 am., meeting Fred or Bill after they had loaded the trucks at the milk treatment station in Wingate, and finish about 7.30 am on weekdasy and a bit later on weekends due to cream deliveries. Walking to the run from home was sometimes interesting, getting stopped by the police wondering who we were or by older, drunk boys wanting a fight. Always good fun.

A milko and his milk truck.
A milko and his milk truck.

When I started steel crates were still being used with the glass bottles, 20 pints to a crate and we would carry up to six crates and a cream crate on our trolleys. Most homes had between 4 and 6 pints in those days of big families but some could have 12 to 15 pints a day. From memory a pint of milk was 4 pence, around 3 cents, and a bottle of cream was about 9 pence.

In those days the average working man earned about 1000 pounds per year ($2000) and a lot of mums stayed home. If they worked, it was usually only part-time during school hours. A family could live well on one wage. The family car was usually at least 15 to 20 years old and of English or American origin.

We would travel on the rear step of the milk truck, hanging on for dear life while the milko sped around the streets. We ran all the way around our routes pushing the trolley, swapping empty bottles for full ones and doing the change or taking tokens. We had a strict schedule to keep. During the weekdays we had to get home, shower and get off to school by 8.45 am, so no mucking around. On wet, dark days we wore parkas. No high-vis back then, although the roads were very quiet.

The odd silly boy would try to get a little extra money by stealing from the cans but somehow Bill and Fred knew who was doing it and they would be gone quick-smart. They knew how much each boy should have in his can, I guess, and if it was constantly short they knew they had an issue.

We always made sure we never let other boys near our cans of money and tokens as they could swap the money from your can to theirs, making you the culprit. I worked for the brothers for about four years until I left home at 17, seeing in the conversion to decimal currency and the introduction of plastic milk crates. The job kept us very fit for rugby or soccer in winter, having to load trolleys with crates weighing around 30 kilos helped develop our teenage strength as well.

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Later in life I worked as a relief milko in Whanganui when I had my own family, still using schoolboys. By then milk was delivered in the evenings, which was a lot easier in some ways, but the boys still hung on to the back of the truck with no high-vis whatsits other than a sash each. Workplace Health and Safety was not even a phrase in the 1980s.

Home delivery has gone now but is coming back in certain towns, with boutique dairy supplies direct from farms delivered in glass again. I hope this idea takes off, as it was a great tradition, putting the milk bottles out at night and then racing out to get the full ones in the morning with the cream on the top for the porridge.

Maybe the horse will make a return too.