A Taradale identity and the last milkman in New Zealand using horses to deliver the milk, Gil Atkins, died this week, aged 90.

Mr Atkins was involved in house-to-house milk runs with a team of Clydesdales in Taradale for more than 50 years.

He used the horses and wagon right up to when he retired in 1984 - the last day of horse-drawn milk delivery in New Zealand.

Mr Atkins' love of the horses remained, including breeding the animals, and it was not until 1990 that he finally relinquished the team, selling his last seven along with three foals.


He was the eldest of Alfred and Dorothy's seven children and was born when they were farming at Twyford, where they lived at the time of the 1931 earthquake.

Mr Atkins' association with Clydesdales began on the Burness Rd dairy farm to which the family moved in Greenmeadows and from where the milk deliveries were run by his father.

It blossomed after he took over the run in 1936, seeing through the changes from billy milk and customer pint (600ml) dippers to milk tokens and glass bottles, which were phased out during the 1980s, as producers moved to supplying milk in cartons and plastic bottles.

He stuck with the horses despite trucks becoming available, once recalling that when he used a truck in the 1960s, while a broken axle on his wagon was being replaced, it had taken an hour longer to complete the deliveries.

The run, starting about 2am, finishing about 6.30am and becoming an alarm clock for many residents, covered mainly the western end of Taradale, from the shopping centre to the EIT.

The draught horses were an attraction at parades and fairs in the Taradale and Napier areas, including the Taradale and Napier centenaries and that of Taradale Primary School.

It was part of a wider community involvement for Mr Atkins who was a member of the Taradale Rotary Club, and had played rugby and cricket with the local clubs in the area.

In 1987, the Rotary club made him a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of his service, amid more than 30 years closely involved with running the club's charity auction.


His wife, Beverley, died in December.

He is survived by brothers Trevor and Richard and sister Yvonne, sons Kevin and David and daughter Pamela, and nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at Sugar Loaf Chapel, Taradale, on Saturday, at 10am.