Greymouth milk treatment plant sees milk industry change through the decades
With 39 years' experience in the milk industry, Kevin Twist has seen the treatment of milk change right before his eyes.
Kevin first stepped into Greymouth's milk treatment plant as a 15-year-old keen for a job. He worked his way up the ladder to become the manager – a position he held for more than 25 years. Kevin even had a stint delivering milk to households in Greymouth for five years, giving him a break from the plant in his early years as a worker.
When he started in the late-1950s, the business had 35 suppliers and distributed as far south as Jacksons Bay and north to Punakaiki.
Kevin says each milk can they received at the plant was weighed and went through only one test – "the blue test".
"All the milk cans had a colour on them, which represented each supplier. We only had one test to check if the milk was good or not," he says. "We put dye in a sample of each supplier's milk. If it stayed blue for six hours, the milk was good. If it didn't, we knew the milk hadn't been kept properly. That test was the basis for how farmers got paid back then."
Big changes in the milking industry were soon to come, including the introduction of milk tankers around the 1970s.
“Farmers that supplied our plant started buying big vats to store milk, so we had to keep up with the times and move into using milk tankers – cans were on the way out," says Kevin.
The changes in the industry kept coming. New machinery meant production was less labour-intensive and work was done at a faster pace. Kevin remembers the need for new machinery each time new milk caps were introduced.
"We went from the cardboard milk tops to foil caps, and then on to plastics and cartons. We needed to get a new capping machine then, because plastic was just starting to take over," he says.
Kevin remembers the challenge of constantly learning on the job as manager, especially with new tests on milk quality introduced.
"I had to learn how to do further testing on the milk, everything from checking for E.Coli to water tests – this was all on top of having to run the plant," he says.
As the milk industry continued to grow, the milk treatment plant in Greymouth was bought out in August 1992, with only six suppliers left. A considerable drop from its heyday in the 1950s with more than 35 suppliers.
Kevin was 55 when the plant closed, and has fond memories of his time there, including the hard times, which saw two floods hit the plant within the same year in the late-1980s.
"One of the floods left the plant with a metre and a half of water inside, which meant all of our machine motors went under," says Kevin. "As soon as the tide went out an electrician came and stripped the motors, put them in a pile with sacks over them and a heater underneath. The next day they were dried out and everything was working again – except just about everything was covered in mud," he says.
The plant is still standing today on Whall Street, and is occupied by an adventure company, though it still holds some of its original features, including the front façade.