The fastest milk cart in the west

Morven Ferry author Alan Hamilton with one of the original style milk carts he did his early morning milk run from around Queenstown as a boy in the 1930s and 40s.
Morven Ferry author Alan Hamilton with one of the original style milk carts he did his early morning milk run from around Queenstown as a boy in the 1930s and 40s.

Colourful Arrow Junction farmer, shearer and goldminer-turned author Alan ‘Hammy' Hamilton can spin a good yarn about the old days. Sue Fea catches up with ‘Hammy' about what he reckons is his last book.

I'd comb my hair and slick it down with a bit of cold water. On frosty mornings, as I was biking along Gorge Rd, the wind would turn the water in my hair to ice!

It's hard to believe it and such a pity but, at 82, colourful author Alan "Hammy" Hamilton reckons he's all yarned out after completing his fourth book about days gone by in the Wakatipu.

In The Adventures of the Milk Cart Kid, Hammy takes us on a journey back to the 1930s and early 1940s, his primary school days as one of the gang of "milk cart kids" on his father's horse-drawn milk run around central Queenstown.

At 7, as soon as Hammy could ride a battered old pushbike, it was loaded up with one to four-pint billy cans of fresh milk and cream that he delivered from 6.45am sharp, rain, hail or snow. He was paid "a bob" - a shilling - per week.

Hammy grew up on Lismore Farm, which amassed all the land along Robins Rd to Gorge Rd, what is now the Queenstown Recreation Ground, out past Bowen St to the industrial area. His pioneering grandmother, Louisa Simson, a widow who married the mayor of her day, gave Hammy's dad, John Hamilton, the land to run a dairy farm.

Hamilton's orchard (now the Rec Ground) was famous for the best fruit trees in the district: Peaches, apricots, plums and nectarines. A walnut tree in the far corner is still there today.

"Visitors would come up by rail to Kingston, then on the Earnslaw to Queenstown for the day. They'd come to our orchard and buy plates of peaches and fresh cream. It was big business. The tourists would then make their way up to Thompson's Strawberry Gardens, at Fernhill, for strawberries and cream."

Hammy delivered milk to the first house built in Thompson St - Dick Fletcher's place, which was actually a tent with a makeshift "Davey Gunn fireplace and chimney". The "old footy ground", now Queenstown's camping ground, was also on Hammy's run and he'd blat down a steep, rough track, known then as "the Bandshed Hill" - now Brecon St's Sofitel steps. It was so-called because the Queenstown Brass Band had a shed there, on the Lone Star site, where its members practised.

"Flat tack I'd go, down to the Mountaineer Hotel corner where Dad and the milk cart would be waiting for me."

Hammy's dad played the big double bass and his brother, Ian, was on the cornet. Later Hammy joined in with the cornet.

"At Christmas time we used to play carols on the back of Mr Davies' transport trucks."

He later played in the boys band at Waitaki Boys' boarding school where he and his bugle were employed for wake-up call duty. For 40 years he played at every Anzac Day service in Arrowtown and at Wakatipu funerals.

It was a fair hike up to some of the front doors, for the milk round, and after mutiny from the milk cart kids Hammy's Dad made customers leave their billies out at their gates.

"I'd comb my hair and slick it down with a bit of cold water. On frosty mornings, as I was biking along Gorge Rd, the wind would turn the water in my hair to ice!"

"We put the milk in the billies after we picked the earwigs out."

Frozen dray ruts up to a foot deep on the dirt roads proved treacherous to young boys on bikes and on a number of occasions Hammy "came a real gutser". He still carries the scars of his youthful career, including a nasty gash to his bottom lip where his teeth once cut through.

On another occasion, one dark morning, his bike loaded with billies of milk, Hammy took a short cut on the footpath, cutting a corner along Gorge Rd. But old Bob Harbor was pedalling his way out Gorge Rd to work on the Sew Hoy Gold Dredge on the Shotover River. There was a head-on crash: "Jeez, what a mess - milk, bikes, bodies and billies all over the place," says Hammy.

Tony, the milk-cart horse for 14 years, always knew where the next stop was. He always relieved himself at particular places on the milk run, and the Mulholland sisters' icecream shop in Ballarat St (now Queenstown Mall) was his favourite spot. "Mary and Winnie would be out in a flash with their little shovel and bucket to scrape it up. They'd use it for topdressing the garden at the back of their shop."

Hammy's early morning whistling brought complaints from Mrs London, on the Isle St corner, to his mum: "Too bad. I just whistled louder as I passed her place - but I also went a lot faster on my bike."

Most of the folk in Queenstown at this time were old miners who had moved out of the hills to work in town or to retire. Quite a few had their own milk cow.

Hammy writes of many legendary characters like Arawata Bill, the Sutherlands who farmed in Gorge Rd and whose grandfather was the local blacksmith, and Kate Kelly who lived at the end house near One Mile Creek. She had three milk cows grazing on her land. There were no telephones back then and when it was time to arrange a date for her cows with the Hamiltons' bull she would be waiting for Hammy at her gate in her old felt hat, gabardine coat and gumboots: "Hullo, Alan. I must go and meet your father at the Mountaineer corner tomorrow. Tell him I'm coming," she'd say.

French baker Francois (Frank) St Omer was also on Hammy's run. He had no family and left a substantial bequeath to the town council. In honour of him, the land between Steamer Wharf and One Mile Creek was named St Omer Park, originally St Omer Boulevard.

Other Wakatipu legends to star in this delightful book rich in local history and packed with wonderful photographs include the O'Connell's at Beach House (now O'Connell's Shopping Centre), "Tinny" the plumber and Jerry and Mary Lynch. The Lynches, who ran a grocery store, were renowned for their large Shotover St vegetable garden right up until the year 2000, the last to sell out to development.

Les Lindsay, nicknamed "Coffin", was a builder and the local undertaker. He'd always have a 3-foot ruler sticking out of the side pocket of his bib overalls: "Some blokes were a bit worried about that ruler. They joked that he carried it with him just in case he met somebody who wasn't looking too good so he could measure them up."

It's no surprise that two of Hammy's books, Woolshed Yarns of the Wakatipu and Hammy's Gold, which respectively covered his shearing and gold-prospecting days, were chosen to feature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October this year. Quite an honour for a farm boy from the Wakatipu. He has also written Hammy's Hunting Yarns.

It's hard to believe Hammy's had his last yarn. Let's hope he still has a few more in him.

The Southland Times