Remember when: governments handed out milk to schoolkids

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While we all contemplate how life is changing around us, Dianne Motton again seeks solace in memory, a time when being a milk monitor was a sure sign you’d ‘made it’.


Every morning at our primary school, as no doubt it was at all schools across the state of Victoria, the rattle and clink of milk bottles could be heard. Crates of small half-pint glass bottles were unloaded off trucks and placed near the school entrance. The milk for schoolchildren scheme was a response by government to the post-war baby boomers’ nutritional needs and, for many, was the only source of calcium and, maybe even, milk at all. It was still a time of poverty for many and certainly not a time of excess or waste.

To be a primary school milk monitor was a glorious job. You were able to leave the classroom early and hurtle down the corridor to collect your class’s allocation. Two monitors were needed to lug the crate, and only the best behaved in the class would be afforded the honour. I remember struggling with the weight of the bottles, the crate banging against our thin legs, but never daring to complain.

Recess was when we were expected to line up, grab our bottle and down the milk. Each bottle had a silver aluminium cap that had to be twisted off. At our school, the caps were then saved and put into a huge hessian bag to go to the recyclers. Clearly, aluminium was expensive then. The money made would then go back into the school’s revenue to pay for some other shortfall in the budget.

Among the jostling and shoving, there was a ritual to observe. The girls would take their time, sipping in small mouthfuls or even sniffily rejecting the drink. The boys would glug the contents down in one or two huge gulps and beat their chests afterwards. Loud ahhs were often heard. A ring of white froth would form around their mouths, a white moustache, sometimes to be wiped away, sometimes not. Some of us would go back for seconds, the bottles that others had rejected. We knew there was no milk at home for hungry mouths and this was a godsend, though we had neither the vocabulary nor the theology to explain it in so many words.

In winter, it was a joy, the milk icy cold, the yellow, buttery cream floating on the top of the bottles. No such thing as homogenisation then. Sometimes there was even a thin layer of frost on the surface of the aluminium tops, silvery, thin and quick to wipe off, leaving our fingers wet. But in summer, the milk left out in the hot sun was a challenge to drink. Even the hardiest of us would sometimes gag at the warm liquid, left out in the heat of a near 40-degree day.

As we struggled with learning to write with pens dipped in inkwells, some of our clothes often had splotches of blue ink dribbled down them, our stained clothes the evidence of the poor coordination of our young hands. The naughty boys in class also happily squirted as much ink at us as they could get away with. The solution, to not allow the ink to set, was to pour any left-over milk on the offending stain. To this day I do not know if it was effective, but I do remember the sour smell of stale milk on my school dress, following me around all day, a reminder of my clumsiness or the boys’ malice.

The smell takes me back to being six or seven, small, thin and thankful for a government initiative.

Did your school receive milk deliveries to be handed out to children for free? Were there other similar government initiatives?

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Total Comments: 18
  1. 0

    Oh I remember it well……..

  2. 0

    My first teaching appointment was to a one teacher school in the railway town of Cockburn in SA in 1970. Our school milk then was in small tetra packs. In our School House next door to the school, every Sunday night right on 11 pm we would hear the weekly supply of school milk being dropped off at the school gate. The noisy big Golden North milk truck came up from Laura on its way through to Broken Hill. At my own Adelaide primary school, the milk we drank then was never refrigerated, but at least at Cockburn we had the luxury of a school fridge to keep it cold. This free school milk scheme finished at the end of the 1971 school year.

  3. 0

    Remember the small bottles of school milk. In England they even left a crate of milk each day during the school holidays and even though not yet at school I would accompany my older sister and brother to avail myself of this treat. When actually at school I always looked forward to my milk break, luckily being in England there were no worries of hot milk.

  4. 0

    I remember the half pints of milk, unfortunately copped a bottle of cream once that was off. Later the bottles were smaller, one third of a pint. Also remember getting Iodine pills at high school, every Friday.

  5. 0

    In England we had one-third pint bottles with cardboard tops, which had a perforated little centre. So you pushed your straw through to drink nicely. Milk monitors – such an honour!!

  6. 0

    In London where I did most of my schooling, we had the milk – every day – winter it was cold, summer it was warm – and to this day I can’t drink warm milk – erk! but we also had a cod liver oil tablet to be taken with the milk and I swear – apart from the normal childhood diseases like measles, mumps and chickenpox – we never got sick! These days I still love a cold glass of milk but you can keep the warm stuff!

    • 0

      T ouir school in London, we had , after our milk a choice of a teaspoon of cod liver oil, (YUK) or a small desert spoonfil of Malt. I chose the malt. It wasn’t bad. Yes 1/3 of a pint milk bottles, but ours had a foil top.

  7. 0

    Yes but I did not drink it because I could not stomach it, still don’t drink baby’s cows milk.

  8. 0

    I remember school milk (in Primary years: for me, 1954 to 1959), in one-third pint bottles.
    Yes, the sun-warmed milk soon curdled and went “off”. Undrinkable!
    I remember discovering, or being shown by classmates, that if you took the aluminium bottle-top off carefully, and licked the inside clean, it made a marvelous frisbee, decades before frisbees were invented.
    To “fly” the bottle-tops you gripped the edge of the cap between your pointer and middle finger, and then quickly twist-flicked the fingers, making the bottle-top spin very fast — just like a frisbee, hovering delicately.
    It was a great little toy for boys who liked model aeroplanes and enjoyed the American TV adventure show, “Whirlibirds” about commercial helicopter pilots.
    Incidentally, we had wax-waterproofed paper drinking straws. In winter, naughty boys at lunch time in a wet-day classroom, would light up a drinking straw like a cigarette and puff the waxy smoke.
    In the last years of school milk, for me, special flavoured
    drinking straws were sold in grocery shops (no supermarkets then!).
    These were either chocolate or strawberry flavoured. (Probably artificial chemical flavours!) The flavour was embedded in narrow strips of absorbent cardboard, inside the drinking straw.
    As you sucked milk through the straw, some of the cardboard flavour seeped into te milk as it went past the cardboard.
    After you finished the milk, you could tear the straw apart and chew the cardboard, extracting the flavour.
    Or you could give your straw to someone else.
    By sucking milk into the straw, and blowing it back to the bottle, and doing this a few times, you could concentrate the flavour in the bottle.
    Apart from milk monitors, my school also had ink monitors, whose job before school started, was to go around the desks, topping up the small porcelain ink-wells that sat in special holes in the edge of the desk. This involved using a special pouring bottle with a rubber stopper, through which there was a long curved spout, and a short air-hole pipe that stopped the ink pouring when you put your finger over the air-hole.
    Sometimes the ink monitors had to mix the blue-black ink from ink powder.
    Ink was a continual danger, as well as the sharp steel pen-nibs of the dip-pens we used.
    (High school students did not use ink-wells and dip-pens: we graduated to using fountain pens that we filled, at the start of each day, from our personal ink-bottles in our book locker.
    Another Primary school monitor was the Flag monitor. This lucky child, or couple of children, left school early at the end of the morning, and of the day, to take the Pedestrian Crossing flags down to the main road, ahead of children walking home, and crossing at the flags. No Lollypop person, then. No 40 kmph speed restrictions. Some Flag monitors used their duties as an excuse for being late to school in the morning, and at the end of lunchtime, when they leisurely strolled back to class after taking down the flags.

    • 0

      You’ve taken me back 70 years John. What memories. I went on Google earth, when my son told me there isn’t a school there, (where it was in the 40s and 50s.)I found it, situated where a whole block of house bordered by 4 streets, were once standing,and with a welcome sign in no less than4 nlanguages !! I was dumbstruck. There was only one langyuage duringt my time there in london, and that was English. I went on to street maps, and looked at the entrance and the playground, and was amazed to find so many Muslim ladies all in blck hijabs picking their children up .

  9. 0

    Yes, I remember the daily dose of milk at school in the UK. I couldn’t drink milk and my mother had to contact the school to stop them trying to force me to drink it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it; it made me ill. I was probably lactose intolerant but I never heard that term until not too many years ago. Brings back so many memories, most of them very good even though I couldn’t tolerate the daily dose.

  10. 0

    yes I remember the free milk loved it & still drink plenty of it.I came from a large family{9}so the free milk was great & if any left over I would grab them too,thats why I think my bones are so strong(calcium)a luxery was to bring a flavoured straw to flavour the milk,the milk I remember had cream rise to the top great stuff.

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