BACK IN TIME: The old butter factory in 1928. Nowadays, Killarney Co-operative Limited has CRT rural merchandise, Home Timber and Hardware, Foodworks, a shoe shop, a service station and an in-store bank agency.
BACK IN TIME: The old butter factory in 1928. Nowadays, Killarney Co-operative Limited has CRT rural merchandise, Home Timber and Hardware, Foodworks, a shoe shop, a service station and an in-store bank agency. Contributed Katie Cameron

Killarney Co-op’s history shows years of changes in town

FROM its simple beginnings as a small butter factory in the 1900s, the Killarney Co-operative Limited has gone from strength to strength and become an integral part of the community over 91 years.

The Killarney Dairying Company opened in 1913, at the old building known as Milward's General Store.

It was a primitive and labour-intensive factory at first, but electricity and the railway further enhanced the manufacturing process.

However, in 1920, the termination of the Imperial Butter Control released a huge war stock of butter onto the open market, causing the price of butter to fall from a high of 2s 6d per pound to 7 pence per pound.

It seemed the initial promise that the Killarney butter factory showed was gone - the Killarney Dairy Company was almost bankrupt and on the verge of collapse.

Negotiations for the sale of the factory's assets were proceeding when a new worker named Christian Petersen, a young migrant from Denmark, convinced his directors of the virtue of a co-operative.

Mr Petersen's idea was that a new group could be formed - the Killarney Co-operative Dairy Association - and it would take over the operations of the Killarney Dairy Company.

The various suppliers of milk to the cheese factories in the district would also support the venture by supplying milk for this new Killarney project.

Rural merchandise assistant Aaron McKinney stocks some supplies at CRT.
Rural merchandise assistant Aaron McKinney stocks some supplies at CRT.

 

The Killarney Co-operative Dairy Association Limited came to existence in 1922.

Its charter stated that it was to be owned by the 41 suppliers, who became shareholders, and was to be controlled by a board of directors with staff to carry out the co-operative policies.

The co-operative struggled in the first few years, but under the inspiring leadership of Mr Petersen it became financially viable.

The butter factory was soon making steady progress, so much that the number of cream suppliers rose from the initial 41 to about 400. A modern brick factory was built to accommodate the growth, and was opened in 1928 with the best modern butter-making equipment available.

As the co-operative continued to prosper, a head office was built close to the factory and, later, staff amenities blocks.

In time, a double truck shed was built with a storage shed and a steel fabrication and welding workshop was added to what was becoming a highly successful enterprise.

The co-operative also hired out equipment to farmers, such as milking machines, and it was soon evident that a larger range of merchandise needed to be stocked to meet demand.

A trading store was opened at the old butter factory building. It sold all sorts of farm supplies from seed grains to fertiliser.

There was also a kerbside petrol pump and the beginnings of a small grocery store.

The ground floor was built at the co-operative, which housed a seed grading plant, which was in constant use, grading both local and interstate grains for planting and bird seed.

However, from the 1960s onwards, it was a struggle for the butter industry due to the introduction of lower-priced margarine, drought and the rise of beef as a better option for cattle breeders rather than committing to a dairy farm.

The Killarney Co-operative board was quick to realise the expansion of the trading stores were necessary to ensure the continued success of the company.

The first venture was the erection of a commercial stockfeed manufacturing plant in 1968, complete with silos, a hammer mill and mixing machinery.

The co-operative also had the opportunity to purchase an allotment of land from Queensland Railways, on the opposite side of the road, which was turned into a service station.

The butter factory closed in 1974, and seven years later the Killarney Co-operative Dairy Association was converted to the Killarney Co-operative Society.

Employee Amanda Keogh is a friendly face at the Killarney Foodworks.
Employee Amanda Keogh is a friendly face at the Killarney Foodworks.

 

New Queensland legislation in 1977 resulted in a further change of rules and a new name again.

Killarney Co-operative Limited was registered in 1999, and after many years of further consolidation of funds, the co-op found itself in a good financial position.

The retail facilities were expanded and a new department store was built, incorporating a supermarket, hardware, electrical appliances and an in-store bank in 2004.

Now, the co-operative is still as important to the Killarney community as it was back in 1922.

The service station has been renovated, and should be complete by early December.

Along with a fuel system upgrade, there has been the installation of larger fuel storage tanks and a renovation of the store, which now offers a wide range of items including mowers, fishing gear and auto accessories.

CRT is also part of the co-op, stocking rural merchandise and products like steel, seed and fertiliser. Two weeks ago, the hardware range of the co-op was extended, as Thrifty Link Hardware was upgraded to Home Timber and Hardware.

Betta Electrical, which has been with CRT for more than 30 years, still offers Killarney residents all things electronic while The Foodworks supermarket has a deli and coffee shop.

Killarney Co-operative Limited general manager Pat Brosnan said there were 65 employees throughout the co-operative.

"The five elected board members are representatives of the 1800 shareholders," he said.

"Because it is community-owned, we are well-supported by the shareholders and other businesses within the town."

Historical information for this article was based on the book Killarney Co-operative Limited; A History, by local historian John Telfer.

The book is available to buy at the Killarney Co-op on Ivy St.



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