Interviewee: Mr Herbert John Denning
Date of Birth: 11 March 1922
Interviewer: Gail Parker
Date of Interview: 11 October 2000
Date of Death: 10 November 2009
Synopsis: Gail Parker
BOHG No: 2000-013
Total Length: 56 minutes 26 seconds
An interview was conducted with Herbert John (Jack) Denning by Gail Parker in his home at Elgin on 11 October 2000. Mr. Denning spoke about his early life in Bunbury working on milk delivery round and living on dairy farms, which were operated by his family.
Jack outlined the improving fortunes of the family as they worked several properties which were then on the rural fringe of Bunbury. His story records the days when vendors made door-to-door deliveries of an everyday commodity directly to the homes of their customers.
The personal service shown to customers is reflected in the remarkable fact that fifty years later, Jack can still vividly recall the route of his milk round and the names of all of his customers.
Jack Denning was born 11 March 1922 in Bunbury, Western Australia. He was the eldest son of Herbert Ebenezer Denning and Agnes Smith Denning (née Urquhart). His brother was William Ronald and sister was Norma Jean Mason. His father was born in Gosnells, Perth, and came to Bunbury before World War I, initially working as a driver for “old” Dr Flynn. Jack’s mother Agnes Urquhart was born in Scotland and came to live at Picton when she was ten years old.
On their return from WWI (late 1919), Ebenezer Denning and his brother, Arthur, started a milk round in Bunbury. They bought their milk from Johnston Bros dairy at Leschenault Park farm and delivered it twice a day by horse and cart to the Bunbury town area.
Ebenezer continued in the business until the death of his wife. This was a catalyst for him sell the round in 1966. By the time Jack left school at age 15 in 1937 to help his father with the round, the business used a utility for the milk round in addition to the horse and cart. When Jack left the business in 1950, his father continued to use the ute for milk delivery and the horse and cart was discontinued.
Jack’s earliest memories are of the family home where he was born which was at the southern end of Moore St, East Bunbury (formerly Norwood Road).
His father built their house and it is still there. A more recent owner is Tom Dillon, a man who held the position of Deputy Mayor, City of Bunbury. It is a five-room house with verandahs back and front, constructed of timber weatherboards. Some of their well-known neighbours included Ebenezer’s brother Frederick, William Greive and Mr Hough, Henry E Austin all of Norwood Road, Mr & Mrs Wedge (detailed later) of Bray Street then later King’s Road and Cuthbert Adams of Armitage Street.
When Jack reached school age, he walked from his home to the Infants School in Stirling Street. Later he rode a two-wheeled “pony” cycle.
In the early days, the milk round was conducted from a property in Thomas Street, which was just around the corner from their Norwood Road home. The Thomas Street property consisted of a shed to store the milk cans, and a place to keep the horse and cart.
Milk was collected each day from Leschenault Farm. The round extended from Rathmines in the east; along to the beach; and south as far as Beach Road and back along Strickland Street. That was then the extent of the town of Bunbury.
Jack was about 8 or 9 years old when the family relocated to Sandridge, where they leased a property from Dr Flynn, who had operated Sandridge Golf Course on portion of that land. [Former farm established in 1891 by Mr. C.S. Brockman of 60 acres. Residence was ‘built of bricks made from clay on the estate’. Situated about 2 miles from Bunbury.
Source book titled Garden of the Colony dated 1895.] The Denning family moved into an old whitewashed brick house in King Road (now demolished). King Road, Strickland Street and Eelup Lane were the boundaries of the farm lease. It extended up to what is now the Bunbury Catholic College (Rodsted Street), formerly the site of the Marist Brothers.
The family hand milked about fifty cows twice a day. For his part, Jack recalls dinking his brother and sister on his bicycle from Sandridge, all the way into Bunbury Primary School.
The Dennings purchased Hall Craig in 1935. It was situated approximately where Denning Road is now. [Named by Bunbury City Council to commemorate Mr Denning Snr who owned land in the area and was a member of the Roads board in 1949 – sourced from City of Bunbury, List of Bunbury Public Roads]
Strickland Street, King Road, Sandridge Road and the former railway line bounded the 84-acre property. By the time World War II broke out, Jack had left school and was working with his father. They had their own herd of 75 cows and a milking machine. Work started at 2.30am. They milked the cows then loaded the milk drums onto the utility and the horse drawn cart respectively, for delivery around Bunbury.
Deliveries were usually finished by 8.30am, after which the men would have breakfast and return to the dairy to clean up. The rest of the morning was spent on general farm work, and then milking would commence again at 1.30pm.
Jack would do the afternoon deliveries while his father carried on with milking and general farm work. Change occurred in the routine when the afternoon delivery was withdrawn around 1938. Customers began to acquire refrigerators, which decreased the need for twice-daily milk deliveries.
The Dennings began to store the afternoon milking in a big refrigerator used for that purpose on the farm. They also began separating some of their milk and sent the cream to the local Bunbury Butter Factory in Symmons Street. The calves were fed the skimmed milk.
The milk was delivered in bulk, from 30-gallon drums to home customers. The milkman used a two-gallon hand can and a one-pint measure (dipper) to place the milk into a billy or jug left at the door by the householder.
Most people had a standing order with their milkman and they would leave the money out with their container ready for his visit. The horse knew the route well and would pull the cart along the road – quite often without the need for the milkman to be at the reins. Meanwhile, the milkman ran along door-to-door to deliver to customers.
Jack left the milk round in 1950 and went to work for the Main Roads Department in an effort to raise capital to buy his own farm. He drove his own truck. After nine years he left the Main Roads and started a stock transporting business, working from the family property at Eelup.
After ten years in that business, he bought a 700-acre property at Lowden (50 kms South East of Bunbury) in August 1969, where he raised beef cattle for over twenty-eight years. Jack’s parents stayed at Hall Craig until 1952, then Ebenezer Denning moved to the 118-acre property at Eelup. That property was enclosed by the boundaries of the Preston River in the east; ending near the Rathmines Church at the end of Austral Parade; through towards Australind on the north; down to Preston Street in the west; to just a few hundred yards from the Old Picton Church in the south.
The Dennings had purchased the property around 1935 and divided the work between there and Hall Craig.
They drove the dairy cows over there every morning and brought them back in the afternoon for milking. Eelup Farm was bequeathed to Jack and his siblings after the deaths of their parents.
They decided to sell the property in 1972. The house at Eelup was in the middle of what is now the Eelup Roundabout at the junction of Sandridge Road, Koombana Drive, Robertson Drive and the Perth to Bunbury Highway or Australind Bypass road.
Jack still owned the cattle truck he bought in February 1960. He left the farm at Lowden to move to a seventy-two acre property at Elgin (30kms South of Bunbury) a few years ago.
He built himself a house and sheds and still lives there. Jack leased most of the property back to the previous owner for farm use. He also established a small museum of restored carts, buggies and sulkies, and other interesting items of farm equipment.
Jack recalled other milk vendors operating in Bunbury at the same time as the Dennings, namely Jess & Les Gibson, Bill “Wiggy” Prosser & Ernie Prosser, Ernie Sharp, Roy & Bertie Cross. Dairy owners were K A Rodwell of King Road and Nick Flynn, son of Dr Flynn at Sandridge Park.
He also discussed the onset of bottled milk in the mid-1950s; the growth of the Peters factory at Brunswick; and Sunnywest at Harvey. He pondered on the later trend toward bulk milk tankers. Jack also discussed a relevant photograph showing where maize and potato crops were grown near Strickland Street.
Jack recollected the milk round as very hectic. He described his milk round by remembering the order of the streets and the names of customers, including businesses he serviced in the town centre such as The Bunbury Café run by Mr Barboutsis.
The milk delivery business ranged over the whole town and was competitive among traders. The Government introduced a zoning system as a cost cutting measure during World War II, but Jack didn’t remember it lasting long, as customers wanted milk from a milkman of their choice.
Jack was delighted to scoop the custom of new residents to the area before his competitors gained that advantage. He described how he would build up the round by approaching potential new customers – often folk who had just moved into town.
Dennings also won the tender to supply the Government Hospital in Parkfield Street for many years. He also recalls the horses used on the round with fondness. Light horses were the best to harness to the milk cart. Jack took his own horse with him when he joined the 10th Light Horse at the outbreak of World War II and was paid an allowance for it. However, it was soon discovered that he had put his age up (he was only 16 at the time) and he was reluctantly manpowered back to work on the family milk round.
Jack described a large galvinised tin water trough for horses located on the corner near the old Bunbury Railway Station and Bedford Hall, en route to Spencer Street, approximately where the car park at Harris Scarfe [now the Stirling Centre] was located. Every horse used in all delivery trades, would make a bee-line to the water trough!
He also discussed his mother’s role in the family business, describing her life as very hard.
Addendum: Further to the information provided above, Jack advised that when his father started the milk round after WWI, milk was twopence [2d] a pint. It went to twopence halfpenny, then when Jack started work in 1936 it was threepence a pint. It was still at that price when Jack finished working on the round in 1950.
Further information gained from Irma Walter when she informally interviewed Jack on 13 April 1999. Not recorded on tape but notes were taken.
Herbert Ebenezer DENNING was born in Kelmscott, the son of a local builder, who built the Kelmscott Hotel. Ebenezer’s father died young of pneumonia, leaving his widow with five children. In order of birth, these were Lillian, William, Ebenezer, Arthur and Fred. Mrs. Denning remarried a man called Swain. [Son, Alfred from this marriage]. The Denning brothers moved to live in Bunbury.
Moore Street home: After serving in the First World War, Ebenezer married a girl from Scotland. Her name was Agnes Smith Urquhart. Ebenezer built their first home in Norwood Road (now called Moore Street). Councillor and Deputy Mayor, Tom Dillon, also lived in this house.
Herbert’s son, Jack, recalls that the house always had owners who kept the property in good repair. While living in the Moore Street house, Ebenezer commenced a milk round, purchasing the milk from Johnston Bros dairy farm at Leschenault Park. Ebenezer and Agnes had three children, Jack (born 11.3.1922); Norma (born 10.9.1925); and William (born 1928).
Sandridge Farm: In about 1932, Ebenezer took on a lease from Dr. Flynn. Initially, Ebenezer purchased his milk, but gradually built up his own cow herd, which were hand-milked to provide for the delivery round. The family lived in a small low brick house painted white with kalsomine.
The house was situated on King Road near Mummery Crescent. On the property was a loop in the Preston River called Scott’s Bend. This was a favourite family swimming hole and fishing spot where they caught yellowtail fish. However, to help prevent flooding in Bunbury, the Public Works Department resumed a portion of the land to carry out earthworks, which regrettably straightened out Scott’s Bend.
Hall Craig Farm (also Denning Farm): Around 1937, Ebenezer Denning purchased Hall Craig farm from his brother William (Bill). Canon Armitage is believed to be a former owner of this property.
The boundaries of the 84-acre farm were at Strickland Street, King Road and Hennessey Road. The house had been built of clay dug on the property. Tommy Smeeth lived close by on a small block of ground. Tommy worked at John Wills, a grocery store then located opposite the Lyric Theatre in Bunbury (cnr. Victoria and Symmons Streets).
Jack Denning remembers walking across to the nearby South Bunbury Railway Station to catch the train to town to attend Saturday afternoon movies.
Eelup Farm The family then bought Eelup Farm, a property established in 1838 by early pioneers; John and Helen Scott. The Dennings purchased this 118-acre farm around 1938 from Cyril and Percy White.
The Denning family continued to milk their cows in their dairy at Hall Craig. This meant that the boys would herd the 75 cows over swampy land to take them from Eelup to the dairy at Hall Craig. Before Jack left school, he assisted with hand milking. At age 15, he began full-time work on the farm.
Milking commenced at 2:15a.m. It took 1½ hrs to complete this task. The delivery round commenced after this. It was all completed by about 8:30a.m. Jack commented that his Dad was a hard taskmaster. Working the delivery round meant running, not walking! Milk cans were stowed in the back of the horse and cart for the round.
Milk was delivered door-to-door by using a long-handled dipper to measure a quantity into the customer’s billycans and the lid replaced. In early days, the milk workers wore a starched white coat. Their milk cans were shaded with a white sheet tied at the corners and attached to the mudguards of the cart.
Ebenezer took pride in his rig. For three years in succession, he won the coveted ‘Tradesmen’s Turnout’ at the local Bunbury Show. This popular event was a competition between delivery vendors to determine who had the best rig. It included butchers and bakers. The event was first held at the Recreation Ground in Symmons Street. Later it moved to the Showground at the current South Bunbury Football Ground.
Ebenezer later replaced his rig with a Citroen car. He removed the ‘dicky seat’ at the rear to make it serviceable for the purpose and placed the milk cans in the cleared area. The delivery boy would then dish the milk out.
1950 onwards: Jack Denning stuck to milking cows until he decided to strike out on his own. He didn’t particularly like the milk round and hankered to save money to buy his own farm. In 1950, he went to work for the Main Roads Department with a truck carting gravel and blue metal.
After nine years working there, he bought a cattle truck and commenced a stock carrying business. His first property was 160 acres on Brookdale Road, off the North Boyanup Road. Later, he moved to Lowden to farm a large 700-acre property until 1998. He then retired and moved to smaller acreage at Elgin, where he continued to keep horses and maintain a collection of older modes of transport, mostly buggies and carts.
Mr.& Mrs. Wedge were neighbours of the Denning family who lived in Bray Street. This family later moved to King Road [then known as King’s Road]. Jack loved horses even as a small boy, so he would run out to see the Wedges when they drove past in their horse and sulky.
The Wedges had no children. When Jack started school at Bunbury Infants School in Stirling Street, he would wander down to Queen’s Gardens to see Mr. Wedge, who was employed there as a groundsman for the Bunbury Tennis Club. Jack was particularly fascinated with the very small pony Mr. Wedge used in his work to roll the tennis courts.
The pony wore leather boots over its hooves when it pulled the horse-drawn mower (or roller) across the grass courts. The same leather ‘boots’ the pony wore are now part of the collection of the Bunbury Historical Society displayed at King Cottage Museum, 77 Forrest Avenue, Bunbury.
Further information taken from stated sources of WWI service records for Ebenezer and his brothers William, Frederick and Arthur and WWII service for his half-brother Alfred Swain. All enlisted from Bunbury and all returned.
Ebenezer enlisted on 20 September 1916 as a Private (Regt no 3144), aged 19, a motor mechanic of Charles Street, Bunbury. He embarked from Fremantle on board HMAT A35 Berrima on 23 December 1916 as part of the 51st Battalion, 8th Reinforcement.
Arrived in Devonport, Plymouth on 16 February 1917. He saw service on the Western Front and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. He returned to Australia on 28 March 1919 on board HT Karoa and was discharged on 16 June 1919.Source Ancestry.com.au
William Lawrence (Bill) enlisted on 5 September 1916 as a Private (Regt no 6306), aged 26, born in Seymour, Victoria, eldest son of John and Margaret Jane Denning (nee Reid), employed as a Lumper and married to Annie Elizabeth Brittain on 18 June 1913 at Bunbury Pro-Cathedral. Source Bunbury Herald 19 June 1913.
Bill embarked Fremantle on board HMAT A34 Persic on 29 Dec 1916 as part of the 28th Battalion 18th Reinforcement, with younger brother, Arthur. Bill was wounded in action on 20 September 1917 in Belgium, and after a period of convalescing, he later rejoined his unit. He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
He returned to Australia on 12 July 1919 on board HT City of Exeter as a Corporal but became sick on the return journey. He was discharged on 11 April 1920. Source Australian Army Records on Ancestry.com.au Bill returned to his former employment at the docks in Bunbury and he and his wife lived King’s Road. Source WA Electoral Rolls Ancestry.com.au.
Bill died on 25 September 1965, Annie on 8 July 1962 and they are buried togther at Bunbury Cemetery. Source: www.findagrave.com
Frederick enlisted on 19 September 1916 as a Private (Regt no 3145), aged 18, a labourer of Charles Street, Bunbury. He left Australia with Ebeneezer as part of the 8th reinforcement. He returned to Australia on 5 November 1917.
Frederick was found dead on 2 September 1946 near a pool of water in a paddock off Gibson Street, Bunbury. He left a widow and an adult family. Inquest verdict was accidental drowning. Source The West Australian dated 18 October 1946.
Arthur James enlisted on 5 September 1916 as a Private (Regt no 6307), aged 23 on embarkation, a motor driver of Charles Street, Bunbury. He embarked from Fremantle on board HMAT A34 Persic on 29 Dec 1916 as part of the 28th Battalion 18th Reinforcement, Australian Army Service Corp.
He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. He returned to Australia on 12 July 1919 on board HT City of Exeter as a Corporal. Discharged 24 September 1919. Arthur married Margaret (Daisy) Babb in June 1925 at Subiaco and worked with Ebenezer on the milk round. Sources: South Western Times dated 13 June 1925 and WA Electoral Rolls on Ancestry.com. Further research on www.nominal-rolls.dva.gov.au shows that Arthur re-enlists in WWII on 25 October 1940 as a Private (Regt no W30688) in the 19th Garrison Battalion.
Arthur died on 12 January 1981 and Margaret on 31 July 1981 and they are buried together at Bunbury Cemetery. Source www.findagrave.com
Alfred Amos Swain enlisted on 2 April 1941 as a Private (Service No W728). Born 11 Jan 1913 Bellevue WA. Discharged 21 June 1946 from the 47th Australian Infantry Battalion. Source: www.nominal-rolls.dva.gov.au
Alfred married Doris Amelia Gibson in 1941 in Bunbury. Source: Ancestry.com.au Alf died on 4 February 2000, Doris on 1 April 1989 and they are buried together at Bunbury Cemetery. Source: www.findagrave.com