Port Elliot Stories

Legendairy links stemming back 168 years

Legendairy links stemming back 168 years

David Basham always knew his family’s farming history on the Fleurieu Peninsula went back a long way, now he knows just how far.

Research inspired by Port Elliot’s Legendairy Capital win has uncovered a continuous family link dating back 168 years.

David, then the South Australian Dairy Association (SADA) president and now acting president of Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF), was asked to officially open Port Elliot’s dairy museum extension, which was completed with a grant from Dairy Australia’s Legendairy Capital program.

“We dug into the family history and discovered we’ve been dairy farming since 1848,” David said. “We knew we went back to the 1860s or 1870s but we did a bit more research and found people back then had to declare what they were doing in an annual census.”

Dairy farming brothers William and John Basham relocated about 12 kilometres from Hindmarsh Valley in the 1850s to a farm between Middleton and Port Elliot which the Bashams still use to run cattle and make silage.

David is proud of his family’s long dairying history and the region’s ongoing connection to dairy. “They’ve done a great job pulling that history together in the museum at the Port Elliot showgrounds, including things I didn’t imagine were still in existence.”

Dairy farming has been a lifelong passion for David. “I always enjoyed dairy farming; the cows and growing grass,” he said. “I was strongly encouraged to go to university but the accounting degree and I didn’t really get on. After two and half years I decided going back on the farm was much more sensible.

“I enjoy the challenges of farming and the flexibility of owning a small business, and being in control of my own destiny to a certain degree. It gives me flexibility to do things with my family and, over a long period of time, it has been very good as a business.”

The main family farm at Mount Compass milks 320 mainly Holstein Friesian cows and supplies Parmalat. They also maintain a few Guernseys to continue a stud started in 1927 by David’s grandfather Bunny.

David has been a steward for the Guernsey Cattle Society for nearly 30 years and Bunny was named the first ‘living legend’ of the Royal Adelaide Show just days before his death at 97.

“He showed cattle there for many years and was very passionate about the show,” David said. 

David’s father Roger was vice president of SADA and David followed in his footsteps.

He was elected to the executive at his first SADA local branch meeting in 2002, became president the next year, and then became the organisation’s treasurer and president in 2005.

This year, when the ADF presidency was vacated, David stepped up to act in the role. He plans to formally nominate for the position in November.

“I enjoy making a difference and I’ve had some successes over time, particularly in South Australia,” he said, pointing to drought declarations in the 2000s and expanding milk collection options for South Australian farmers.

He’s come to the ADF role at a tough time but hopes new legislation to stop unfairness in contracts and a national attention on the plight of dairy farmers will turn the tide.

Being a national industry leader means a lot of time away from the farm, but David still oversees its management and returns to milk at least every third weekend “which keeps me grounded and understanding what’s happening,” he said. “The representational role takes a lot of time, particularly with the way things are, but most of the time I enjoy it. There are times when it’s tough, particularly dealing with farmers who are emotional. It’s hard not to take that emotion on-board.”

David takes up the challenge to play a role in creating a better dairy industry, and supports the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.

“It’s good to show how important farmers are and the diverse skill-set they need for their job, and it also helps farmers themselves be aware of how good they are. It’s often hard to give yourself a pat on the back so it’s nice when the industry does it for you.

David has no plans to slow his dairy links. “We’ve been going 168 years. It’s not something I’m going to force my next generation to take on but I’d be happy if they want to.”

Dairy Australia’s LEGENDAIRY Capital program celebrates outstanding communities in dairy regions by encouraging a national community focus and highlighting the invaluable contribution dairy makes throughout rural Australia. For more information on the program visit: www.legendairy.com.au/capital

Colin brings Legendairy pride close to home

Colin brings Legendairy pride close to home

Colin brings Legendairy pride close to home

Some of Colin Ekers’ earliest memories are of rounding up calves on his parents’ dairy farm, so it’s fitting that he should be behind the successful push to make Port Elliot the Legendairy Capital of South Australia.

Colin is now 83 and long retired from the farm but he still loves the dairy industry and promoting its history. “I just loved cows. Milking them and breeding cattle gave me a real buzz,” Colin said.

“The industry put us on our feet. We got too old to farm but it allowed us a good retirement and we can do our bit to raise the profile of Port Elliot and its 120-year connection with the dairy industry.”

Colin has been working in the local dairy, sporting and community scene for more than 60 years and despite protesting that “I’m getting too old for this stuff”, he’s showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

He came up with the idea to nominate Port Elliot for the Legendairy Capital title, which is part of Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the Australian dairy industry.

“I heard we could raise $2500 for the Southern Fleurieu Historical Museum's permanent dairy exhibit so I thought ‘let’s go for it’.

“Being named the Legendairy Capital of South Australia has really helped Port Elliot as a town,” he said. “Everyone was so pleased that we’ve got something else going. This was one of the first areas in the state to start dairying.” 

The former Mount Compass dairy farmer and his late brother Ken kept machines and equipment from their parent’s property, which now forms the cornerstone of the museum’s dairy exhibit. The sulky that brought his parents to the farm for their honeymoon in 1927 is one of the featured attractions.

The $2500 Legendairy Capital grant will help the museum committee to complete an enclosed veranda for the exhibit, and just as importantly, raise the profile of Port Elliot’s dairying history.

Piece of wood with with Colin Ekers Seat carved into it

Colin and his wife Kay farmed until their retirement almost 20 years ago. “In about 1969 I decided I wanted to become a stud breeder,” Colin said. “We appendixed the whole herd and after four generations we had pure Holsteins and we started the Colena Holstein Friesian Stud.

“We milked about 130 cows but they had to travel too far so we started having an annual dairy sale to reduce numbers.”

Their 12 successive Holstein Friesian dairy sales still stand as the longest running annual sales event in South Australia. The farm also hosted all breed sales and many field days. “I’ve been heavily involved in something for most of my life, usually with sport or cows,” Colin said.

With their children not interested in continuing the farm, Colin and Kay sold the land and retired to Port Elliot. He wasn’t keen to move to town but there was a silver lining.

“We moved into the Port Elliot retirement village and the showgrounds are just out the back,” Colin said. “We had an opportunity to improve the museum that wasn’t being fully utilised at the Port Elliot show in 2009 and it just went on from there.”

The museum was officially opened in October 2010 and later received funding to expand as long as it relocated to the other end of the showgrounds.

“Most of the guys said no to shifting but I said it was only two and a half kicks of the footy,” Colin said. “I am a bit of a ratbag.”

Like many farmers, Colin found the move into town a bit tough, but his community connections helped to make the transition a bit smoother. 

Working on the dairy exhibit helps Colin and other former farmers. “We’ve now got a lot of retired dairy farmers coming over every Thursday to help us build something for dairy exhibit and other restoration. We’ve got more than 40 members and probably half of them are ex-dairy farmers. 

“It’s just gone from strength to strength and we love doing it. My wife threatened to put a bed over there for me at one stage.”

Spearheading the Legendairy initiative was just the latest in Colin’s community involvement.

He is the immediate past president of the museum committee, a life member of Mount Compass Football Club, the Great Southern Football League, Southern Agricultural Society and the Holstein Friesian Association of Australia, South Australian Branch.

He’s also involved in the local community centre and foreshore committees and he was named Alexandrina Council's Citizen of the Year in 2014.

And, he still follows the dairy industry with interest. “We used to milk 100 cows, now it’s big business with farms milking 500 or 1000 cows. It’s tough going but it has its rewards.

“Dairy has helped the district more than anyone really realises. Port Elliot is the Legendairy Capital of South Australia. That’s something to be proud of.”

For more information on Port Elliot, LEGENDAIRY Capital of South Australia visit www.legendairy.com.au/dairy-talk/capital

Milkman Des remembers halcyon days in Port Elliot: clever horses and friendly neighbours

Milk Van

Milkman Des remembers halcyon days in Port Elliot: clever horses and friendly neighbours

When Des Dent was a milkman, life seemed so much simpler.

Back in those good old days you could leave money in a billy can on the front verandah.

If the customers left you some letters to post for them, that was no bother at all.

And if you stayed too long having a yarn to a customer, your horse just might give you the hint and move on to the next stop.

It was a fun time from a bygone era, but the good times are forever etched in Des’ memory.

For 47 years Des, and his father Roy, delivered milk to the Port Elliot and Victor Harbor regions in South Australia.

“Dad bought the milk round in Port Elliot in 1950,” Des said. “I started when I was about 13, when I left school.

“There were several dairies in the town back in the 40s,” Des recalled. “The two boarding houses had their own dairy and there was a chap who milked cows behind the congregational church right in Port Elliot.”

Des and Roy had their own rounds, each covering one side of the town. It was all with horses in the early days. The rounds would take each of them three or four hours and they’d also have to pick up milk from the dairies at night and in the morning.

“People would hang their billy cans on the gate as near as they could to the footpath, with the money in it, and we’d then leave the loose milk in the billies,” Des said.

That honesty system worked well for a time. “We never lost a cent till around 1970, when money started being stolen. That mucked up household deliveries,” he lamented.

“We went to alternate days and had the customer hide the money separate to the bottle. It added a lot of time to the rounds but people didn’t like the idea of losing money so instead they’d go up the street and buy their milk.”

Around the same time Des and Roy leased several additional rounds in Victor Harbor and invested in a van. Des was sad to see the horses go but with four rounds and employees being added to the team they had little choice.

His first horse, Clippy, was a stand-out, though his last horse Mike wasn’t bad either. “I’d stop and talk to someone and Mike would just keep going to the next stop.

“Having a horse was like having a helper with you. They knew the round better than I did.”

Alongside local baker Ernie Willets, Des used to go to the Port Elliot camping ground for sales.

“Ernie would have a van and people would buy buns. They’d stick the buns under their arms and pay Ernie and the horse would delicately take the buns from them. She’d move up behind the van and nick them. I’d say Ernie, don’t park so close to me.”

There was no street lighting after 11pm in the early years and all deliveries were done in the dark. Clippy would spot the waiting billies, unseen by Des, and come to a quick halt, flinging him up into the milk cans in the front of the float.

The horses were great, and the customers weren’t bad either.

“It was disappointing when we could no longer go to the houses,” Des said. “We had good relationships with our customers. Quite often they’d forget to turn their sprinkler off so we’d turn it off, or we’d take the paper in and put it on the verandah. Often people would leave letters in their milk cans for us to post for them.

“When we first came over to Victor Harbor we used to leave crates of bottles just outside the door of shops, but we started losing milk then so we had to get keys to the shops. It became difficult and it was all wholesale in the end.”

The business didn’t have an official name until in the 1960s when they started cartoning and later bottling milk. “To do that, we had to have a name,” Des said. “We came upon ‘Lentara’, which is an Aboriginal word for early morning. We thought that was applicable.”

Des’ wife Marg became the “backbone” of the business after they married in 1960. Marg mostly worked in the background, but sometimes she had to come to the fore. “I used to get woken up in the morning because he’d run out of petrol or the tyre had gone flat and I’d have to go and rescue him,” Marg said. Originally from Adelaide, Marg met Des when she holidayed in Port Elliot with her friend and their horses. “I met the local milkman and that was it. I’m happy and it’s a beautiful place to live.”

The pair retired in Victor Harbor after selling the business in 1997, although they kept active providing horse-drawn wedding carriages.

Des remains connected to the dairy industry through his involvement in the Port Elliot museum and its plans for a display of 100 years of dairying in the area, a concept being supported by the recent success of the town. Port Elliot was named the Legendairy Capital of South Australia in 2015.

For media and Legendairy inquiries please contact:

Mark Pearce – Media Manager, Dairy Australia
03 9694 3809 
0423 783 756   

Suzi O’Dell — Communications and Engagement Manager, Farm Communities, Dairy Australia
03 9694 3718 
0439 336 369