The cheesy side of the Otways

In the early days of Otway settlement, cheesemaking was a common craft, and factories abounded by 1900.  Most of the early settlers ran dairy herds, at a time when transport was either horseback or bullock wagon.  As dairy farms came into production, cheese factories producing high quality cheese and butter were established simply because there was no way to keep milk for any length of time.  Cheese was stored until there was enough to make a trip worthwhile to Beech Forest or Lavers Hill, often once per year.

One of the more notable dairies was Speight's Dairy, Johanna c1920.  Cyril Speight and his 2 sisters milked up to 90 cows a day by hand, but in peak production times, they would do 3 shifts every 2 days.  That meant up to 15 hours a day just making cheese, as each batch took about 10 hours.  The factory was a little wooden shed at the back of the house, where there was a huge wooden vat with an array of taps attached.  The milk was poured in and allowed to set.   After the whey was poured off and fed to the pigs, the curd was prepared for milling, then hooping or pressing into tins to shape.  A lot of hard work and long hours for 6d a lb.

Another major private factory of note was on the banks of the Gellibrand River at Lower Gellibrand.  The river provided an adequate supply of water and a means of transport  At its peak the factory was reputed to have handled 1000 gallons of milk per day.

Milk bought to the factory by boat was pulled upstream by a tow line attached to a pole in the boat.  One man steered the boat while the other pulled.  The milk cans were winched to a landing stage and then hauled up small tram lines to the factory.  Cheese was sent back down the river to Princetown, then by road to the nearest railhead - initially Timboon, then Beech Forest from 1902 and Crowes from 1911 and then to Colac and the distribution firms in Melbourne.

In 1914 there were 11 cheese factories in the Otways: J. Bone, Chapple Vale, Flett B O'Downdros, Weeaproinah, R. Shields, Wangerrip, Stewart & McInnes, Weeaproinah, J. Burke, Lavers Hill, J. Denny, Johanna River, G. Hendricksen, Wangerrip, F. McLean, Devondale, O'Dowd Bros, Wangerrip, J. Speight, Johanna, G. Wilson, Lower Gellibrand.

Many smaller factories continued on until the 1930s, when the depression and then the vastly improved roads and transport saw the milk taken to larger centralised factories. 

Modern cheesemaking in nearby regions continued with the infamous Timboon Farmhouse Cheese established in the early 1990s, now known as Schultz Organic Dairy, and at specialist cheesemaker Apostle Whey in Corriemungle both of which are part of the Otway harvest trail.