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Morning Rounds

David Bentley
Milko and Horse

In the late 60’s the cold and dark winter mornings in the suburbs of Melbourne were alive with service providers.

Newspapers were delivered on pushbikes by young boys keen to earn some pocket money. Bread was delivered by the baker in his van and bottles of icy cold milk and half-pints of cream were delivered each morning by the ‘milko’.

In those decades a horse and cart made the rounds. The clip-clop of horse hooves plus the Milko’s whistles woke the residents of Melbourne. On unmade or potholed roads bottles rattled in metal crates and made enough racket to wake sleepy children in their warm beds.

The horses were Clydesdales. Equine giants strong enough to pull heavily laden carts over bumpy roads. These animals were true workhorses with huge muscled backs and legs, and fat hairy ankles. They were not the skinny-legged thoroughbreds on the television or in newspapers. These animals were not built for speed but to pull large loads for long periods. These giants were the last of their kind to be used in the suburbs of Melbourne before deliveries by motorised vehicles. Seldom were we woken by the milko’s van except for the occasional morning when a holed muffler would break the morning silence.

My brothers discussed how much fun it would be to ride on the milko’s cart during his rounds. One morning my older brother woke up early and waited for the milko. He asked him whether he could help out and the milko agreed.

On weekends and school holidays my brother woke early and met the milko and helped with his rounds. He came home carrying bottles of milk and half-pints of cream given to him from the leftovers of the round.

We were jealous of his morning rounds and pestered him to ask if we could come as well. It was great fun. The cart was the type where the milko stood at the back on a step and with long leather reins to control the horse (Goldie). George the milko was whippet thin and fit as a fiddle. Goldie walked slowly enough that George could keep up with the deliveries without stopping. Occasionally he would fall behind. A sharp whistle was all it took for Goldie to stop for a minute. She was a genius among horses. She remembered the route precisely and would go down the correct streets without any tug on the reins.

The few times we dropped off close to the dairy we noticed how Goldie would prick up her ears and walk much faster, almost into a trot.

George said she knew that at the end of the route each morning she would get a hose-down, a nosebag of oats and lots of hay then a well-deserved rest in the paddock. If it was raining then she would stay in her warm stall and rest in the soft straw.

It was always good to watch George, an experienced milko, who could fit a bottle between each finger. He carried four pints in each hand and sometimes one or two under the arms. I was lucky to carry one bottle in each hand and on the odd occasion dropped one. It often landed in the grass or mud however sometimes on the bitumen with a loud smash. Milk and broken glass would go everywhere. George was never too worried, he would say “just grab a spare from the crate”, then kick the glass onto the side and keep running.

Was there ever any accidents? Early one cold and frosty morning Goldie and the cart were travelling along Dorset Road in South Croydon. The roads were deserted except for one car that pulled over to let Goldie through and for whatever reason the driver tooted his horn.

Goldie was startled and began running. I was the only one on the cart at the time and was sitting on one of the high seats. Goldie turned into Eastfield Road however so sharply that the wheels on one side of the cart went into the deep gutter. The cart bounced high in the air and so did I. The cart landed with a terrific noise and crates and bottles of milk and cream went in all directions smashing onto the road. I was hanging on for dear life while thinking I should grab the reins and George was whistling like crazy and after a few seconds Goldie and her years of training kicked in and she stopped.

We started cleaning up the mess. My brother and I swept up as much broken glass as we could. George was patting and talking to Goldie who was still trembling in fright. Once we cleaned up the mess George counted up the number of bottles he still had left and how many he needed to finish the round and found he was going to be short. I stood next to Goldie’s giant head and held her reins. He ran to the local public phone box to get the dairy to deliver some extra bottles.

A couple of years after this incident Goldie and the cart were replaced with a motorised van and we never saw George or Goldie again. Another era was over and the transition of delivering a bottle of milk and cream was completed with vans taking over.

In a few short years even delivery by van was relegated to the history pile and people visited the milk-bar or supermarket for supplies. The local dairies with their personalised delivery service could not compete with the number of large supermarkets opening and the convenience of getting other necessities with the morning milk.

I am thankful that I was around at a time when the milk deliveries were still made with a horse and cart and was able to go on the early morning rounds. Looking back it was an amazing experience for a 10 year old and I doubt it could be reproduced in 2015 or with a games module.