School milk plan back to the good old days

00:42, Dec 16 2011
Jim Scarlett
GOOD TIMES: Invercargill businessman Jim Scarlett reminisces about free milk while he was at school.

The thick quarter-pint glass bottle with its foil or cardboard lid and a thin straw to slurp up the liquid within – the good old days of free milk at school could soon be back.

Fonterra will today announce a revival of free milk for school children as part of its initiative to "help make milk more accessible to Kiwis".

An older generation of Southlanders reminiscing about compulsory milk will have fond memories, while others will want to forget the sometimes warm, curdled mixture.

A Depression era free-milk-in-schools scheme began in Invercargill in 1934 after a trial in Waikiwi School and stopped in 1967.

William Thwaites, who lived in Tokonui, recalls only city schools got the free milk. Country children got cocoa and sugar instead.

The free milk was not always savoured by all. For some, cocoa would have been the better option.


The Southland Times deputy editor Mark Wilson remembered getting his mum to write a note to ask if he could be excused from his milk because it made him unwell, while crafty pupils such as Jim Scarlett used to take Milo to school. "We used to throw it in (milo) and give the bottle a shake. It helped the milk go down easier, especially if it was warm," he said.

"Milk was delivered to our school gates early in the morning. This was before the days of fridges, so warm milk was normally on the menu, except on cold frosty days, when children would relish every drop," Mr Scarlett said.

"The job of milk monitor was usually given to older children at the school, a position envied by all pupils because it got you out of class for a while.

"We used to saunter to the gate to collect the milk and take our time loading the trolley for delivery," Mr Scarlett said.

Jillian Jones remembered looking forward to the milk monitor dropping off the black crates, full of clinking white bottles, to her classroom door in the morning.

Peter MacKay chuckled as he recalled that only "good boys" were chosen to be milk monitors and how he hated the revolting gone-off smell of spilt milk that had dried in the sun.

Jubilee Budget Advisory Service manager Simon Tierney said the initiative would help families manage household basics and encourage education on healthy eating.

It is unknown how long Fonterra intends to donate milk and whether it will act alone or partner with community agencies, but Invercargill Primary Principals Association chairman Kerry Hawkins said he hoped it was not a flash in the pan publicity stunt by Fonterra, which had been under public scrutiny for high priced milk.

"I have fond memories of milk at school and hope the pupils at my school will be part of the scheme. Fonterra's distribution will probably be more modern then a glass bottle," he said.

The Southland Times