“I’ll have one more for the hill”. Every evening Ralph would come down to the pub for his three pots – and then one more so he could make it up the hill to his home. So punctual was Ralph that I used to time my first drink when Ralph turned up at quarter to six. It was very disappointing, and an anxious wait, if he was late.
His father found work at the Kilcunda mines and then, after a time, the Archies Creek butter factory. After finishing school at St Joseph’s Primary School, and getting to know the local Australian culture by playing with the Burns boys in Kilcunda’s “Dago Valley”, Ralph soon found a job working in the butter factory laboratory. The Archies Creek Butter Factory came into existence at a time when many thrived in the district. In those days butter factories were located within a 10-mile radius of the dairymen as it only took five minutes of travel for the cream to turn. In 1957, when Archies Creek became the first factory in Australia to introduce tanker milk, it heralded the start of the end of the small factories which could never be competitive with the large co-operatives.
Prior to Murray Goulburn taking it over in early 1973, it became the most diversified of all butter factories in Australia producing butter, cheese, casein and a raft of spray-dried products and cultured milk products. It was the first to introduce aluminium foil for butter heading for the tropics and the first to introduce instantly soluble milk powder. At its heyday it had a turnover of $10 million a year and employed over 200 people. It sold its milk products to 22 countries and regularly shipped to the Mediterranean, India and South Africa.
Ironically the great achievement of women gaining equal pay in 1975 resulted in most of the female workers at the butter factory being retrenched. When the factory closed down in 1983, Ralph followed Murray Goulburn to work in Leongatha, ultimately retiring in 2008 after 48 years of service.
He married Teresa, who was born in Australia of Italian parents. Even though Teresa was born in Wonthaggi, she did not speak a word of English until she went to school. Her father, Antonio, arrived in Australia in 1927 aboard the Ra D’Italia. Escaping fascism, the black shirts, poverty and hunger, he left his newly wedded wife, Anna to find a better life in Australia. Australia at the time was only a couple of years short of the Depression, but the alternative was worse. He first tried his luck in Wonthaggi. As the Depression hit, he could find work but the farmers couldn’t afford to pay him. Rabbit stew was his reward – but at least he was fed.
Like many of his era, he was to find work in the mines – in Tasmania at first, in Queenstown, and then back to Wonthaggi. In 1947, his wife, Anna, took one of the first passenger flights to Australia, taking five days to get here, to join her husband, whom she hadn’t seen for 20 years. What a joy it was when they had their baby girl Teresa a few years later.
Ralph and Teresa met whilst out dancing. Dancing had been a great tradition of the area, where in previous years the dances were held when there was a full moon so the horses could take their charges home by the light of the moon.
And it was by the moon that Ralph would plant his seeds. The wane of the moon for root vegetables and the moon on the rise for others. His garden, like so many of that era and culture had no room for lawn or a place for children to play. Chicken coop, hot house and vegetable plots were all that was required.
Sadly now the unofficial mayor of Archies Creek has left us, but that doesn’t mean his pride of four boys don’t continue to find their way down to the Creek and have one more for the hill for him.
This is an edited extract from Liane Arno’s book A Matter of Complete Embuggerance, a collection of portraits of the regulars at the Royal Mail Hotel.