It was 1967 and Brian Whittington had just moved from Matangi into a new brick home inside the Fonterra Te Rapa Dairy Factory village.
The village contained 35 houses for key staff members and included a hall, swimming pool, tennis courts, a rugby field and a single men’s hostel, Whittington said.
Whittington was made a dispatch driver in 1968 and spent the next 31 years working at the factory.
On Friday, Whittington was among a crowd of hundreds celebrating the Te Rapa site’s 50th anniversary.
“At the peak of the milk collection season, 42 tankers left on their runs starting at 6.30am, 6.45am, or 7am to collect milk from 934 suppliers,” Whittington said.
“The trucks were small compared to today’s monsters and the herds are a lot bigger these days.”
Whittington was employed on a five days on, one day off roster.
He remembers tankers with had bays for cream cans collected from roadside suppliers.
Farm milk vats were a mixture of chilled and unchilled, as the installation of refrigerated vats only started in 1968 and took a few years to complete, Whittington said.
“Milk from unchilled vats had to be collected by 12.30pm and chilled vats by 3.30pm.”
In 1968, the processing capacity of Te Rapa was 40,000 metric tonnes – 1.8 million litres of fresh milk every day.
Nowadays, in peak season it processes 7.5 million litres of milk per day, which is 325,000 metric tonnes of whole milk powder and cream products every year.
Lindsey Pijnenburg is a milk powder senior operator at the Te Rapa site and has been an employee since 1984.
Pijnenburg was living in the village when the dryer blew up in 1993 and caused a fire.
He was in bed at the time, but as a member of the emergency response team was one of the first responders.
“Pretty quickly we realised the fire was bigger than us and firefighters were called in.
“We led the professional teams into certain areas to fight the fire.”
Pijnenburg said it took a couple of days to put the fire out and four months to clean up the damage.
“We used nappies and toothbrushes to scrub every surface from the top to the ground floor.
“The nappies were white and we had to wipe until the nappy stayed white to guarantee we had got rid of the smell and every bit of smoke, otherwise we couldn’t make milk powder again.”
Fonterra chairman John Wilson remembers hearing about the fire on the radio.
Wilson, who was a farmer at the time, remembers the impact it had on the dairy community.
“I recall front page photos in the Waikato Times and thinking, wow, this is serious,” Wilson said.
“I’ve been a part of Fonterra all my life.”
Wilson remembers driving past the Te Rapa dairy factory as a kid.
“Today is about celebrating the people: the farmers who produce the high-quality milk and the people who have worked here in the past and today to deliver milk from here to the world.”
By: CAITLIN MOORBY