Geoff Hutchinson stood in second slip alongside his mate Dave Wenham during a local A-grade cricket final at Myponga last month, turned to the wicketkeeper and said: “Do you realise that there are 120 years between the three of us?”
And the lad looked at them and said: “But I’m only 18.”
It’s the dry humour around this place. Geoff, 49, says you play sport, share a laugh with your mates from both sides and enjoy the moment. And when you’re hit for six in real life you band together to somehow find a way to get on with it all.
Geoff is co-director of Fleurieu Milk Company, and much of this rang true last October when one of his workers, Brett Pearce, aged 38 and a father of three, died in a vehicle accident on the way to work.
“The whole town took it hard, yet Brett only worked here – he lived in Willunga,” Geoff said. “We organised his wife Krissy to stay in the Intercontinental for a weekend while unbeknown to her 60 of us did one of those complete make-overs of her house.”
Barry Clarke, 53, another co-director with Chris Royans and Geoff – with their respective wives Merridie, Karen and Louise – said: “This is what Myponga is like. “But it hasn’t been easy. Gawd it hasn’t been easy.”
The necessity to keep going is reflected in so many ways at this beautiful spot on the western Fleurieu Peninsula during times when it felt like someone had shut its doors. The former dairy milk company that made some of the world’s finest Edam and Gouda cheeses was bought-out by Dairy Vale in 1975 and then sold to Dairy Farmers and ultimately shut down. A decade ago the general store closed leaving just the local deli, but now both are open, plus there’s a tempting bakery and the milk factory has been turned into a giant market with a fabulous boutique brewery at the rear.
Add this to a recently-completed housing sub-division and another two on the way and Myponga is doing well, thank you. But most of all, this attitude of refusing to be beaten is reflected by the Fleurieu Milk Company – and we make no apologies for the brazen plug.
The long-term impact of losing the milk and cheese factory, plus the harsh reality the dairy farmers in this once thriving farming region were going broke because the bigger milk companies were paying them 25c per litre for their milk and it was costing them 30c to produce, brought gloom.
“It wasn’t rocket science,” Geoff said. “We were slowly going bust.
“If you wind the clock back to the early 80s our football side went top two years running, and of the 25 players in the team photos 15 were dairy farmers. Now there is not a dairy farmer who plays for the club. That is quite significant; it is evolution and displacement.
“Land has been split down for hobby farmers and it has become too expensive to farm this close to Adelaide. In our instance, starting this made our farms viable, and that was the whole idea. Now they have taken on a new life as a result of the factory.
“We have also made two of our mates’ farms viable and they are at least 10 cents a litre better off than they would be with bigger companies. Hopefully with exports, it may allow us to take on another farm. For us, having been involved in the community all of our lives, dairying has been such a big part of us and it would be nice to see it keep going and get back to the stage of having a cooperative of local farmers like it used to be.
“Fleurieu Milk employs 15 in the factory, but indirectly associated there are 40 from distribution, processing, to farming and accounting. We take on three farms and part of a fourth. It goes on (milk) volume more than farms, and we are currently doing 80,000 litres a week and four-five tonne of yoghurt.
“The biggest issue you have taking on farms is they are contracted to bigger factories and the next local farmer to target does more than 2 million litres a year. You have to find a market for that volume of milk. If you don’t, you are stuck with a lot of milk.”
Geoff is fourth-generation Myponga, married a dairy farmer’s daughter (as you do), and his passion for the land largely stems from his great-grandparents who were market gardeners here through the 1950s and ’60s growing peas and beans in the summer and Swedes and turnips in the winter.
Significantly, it led to Italian fruit pickers from the Riverland forming a circuit to the Myponga region to pick the fruit and vegetables, and because they worked hard many now own the properties.
According to Geoff, Myponga is special because it is very community orientated. “A lot of that has to do with the fact we don’t have a pub in the town,” he said. (Imagine that; a town with no pub).
“We have a brewery now, and our central meeting spot is the community centre with a cross-section of people from 15-90 years old having meals there.
“I caught up with a lad there last week who moved back to the town to play footy for us again and said the people here were just the salt of the earth; they are genuine people, he said. It was nice to hear that from someone so young… it was a reminder there are no airs and graces here.
“I admit I take the scenery for granted. Go up the hill and some of the views of the ocean are the most magnificent in the country. I see that every day; how good is that?”
With a wry grin, like he had just caught a mouse in the cheese factory, Barry said the downside was the wet and cold winters that strike Myponga. “You see,” he said as the grin grew, “They didn’t like to play footy against us here until we put in a lot of drainage in 1993.
“We always played in mud; that’s why they call us the Mudlarks. Teams hated playing here and we loved that… mentally we had ’em before we tossed the coin. They’d stand there watching the juniors and the Bs and they’d be shivering and whinging about the oval, and the more they complained the better we felt.”
Obviously, these blokes enjoyed it. Barry played a Great Southern Football League record 558 A-grade games and Geoff is second on the list with 334. Then there are the reserves matches and, as ridiculous as it may seem, still a kick and a catch with the old blokes in Super Rules, all of whom think they’re still 21.
“The town has always been held together through sport because for so long there wasn’t anything else here,” Barry said. “ We farm and we do sports, and enjoy the hell out of it.
“But we’re not unusual to any other town. If you walk in with an ego you get shot down fairly quickly; we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The community is like that.”
Visit Geoff and Barry in their office (Chris, who dives for abalone, is a silent partner in the business) and you don’t see them captured in oil and bronze like the football legends at Adelaide Oval who wouldn’t have survived in the mud, and there is certainly no mention of how great they are for creating Fleurieu Milk and shaking some life back into the town. In fact, Geoff admits it’s a pretty ordinary office, and he was being kind.
The real give away what these blokes are really like lay in just a small sticker for the Little Heroes Foundation, which works closely with like-minded charities and medical institutions to fulfil the unmet needs of seriously ill children.
When asked why the sticker they said they were proud supporters. It seems they donate more than $30,000 to the Foundation every year, taking their tally to well over $100K. They also do a lot of other little things like buying sick kids tickets to the circus, movies and other shows. It’s just what they do.
“Money is always good, but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” Geoff said. “If it were, things would be structured a little bit different here. We’re happy in this office.” As Barry said: “How could you argue with that when it comes to donating to help save little children?”