Grantham Butter Factory - A Brief History

The article below was assembled from notes used by Don Talbot in his talk to the Rotary Club of Toowoomba South on 15 th of January 2013

The photographs below were all taken from Don's book: "Grantham State School 1905 - 2005" - A history of Grantham School and the town of Grantham in Queensland.

Click Here to view larger copies of the photographs included in the article.

Thank you to Don for allowing us to use this material.

Photo Left: Don and Pat Talbot with President Bill Mason.

Don Talbot's Address

Good evening. Thank you for your kind invitation for Pat and I to attend your meeting. Tonight, it is all about the historic Grantham Butter Factory.

Grantham was named by the first white settlers after their former home town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, 108 miles (174km) north of London.

It began with sheep grazing, and dairying became a major industry in the 1890s.

In 1905 Tom and Jane Speering, who owned Grantham and Boxmoor Stations, were milking 300 cows. They milked all day moving from one property to the other. There were 800 dairy farmers in the Lockyer Valley with smaller farms having 10 to 12 cows and the larger up to 100.

The original Grantham Butter Factory opened in 1907.

The main reason for building the factory was that Grantham was the centre of the dairying district. It was growing rapidly and labour was readily available.

The town had a good water supply necessary for the steam boiler, washing butter and sterilising cans and vats.

Farmers Co-Op

The Queensland Farmers’ Co-operative Company Limited had been formed in May 1901. When the Grantham factory opened six years later it was one of four butter factories controlled by the company which had its head office at Booval.

Certificates were issued for 25,000 one-pound shares in the co-operative and the McGarva family of Grantham were among locals who took up the offer by buying five shares in 1908.

When fresh milk was separated on the farms, the skim milk was fed to pigs and calves and the cream delivered to the factory and made into butter bearing the Jacaranda brand. The brand was named after the large decorative jacaranda trees in the factory yard.

Fifty-six pound blocks of butter for export, with ‘Australia’ proudly printed on them, were packed in wooden boxes bound with wire.

Grantham was on the main railway line and butter, kept cold with ice, was conveyed to the markets and wharves in Brisbane, and in the early days to Ipswich.

That was well before refrigerated road transport became the preferred method of transporting the butter.

As production increased extensions were made to the factory and the foundation stone for the brick building we know today was laid in 1926.

A newspaper report of the opening described the new factory as the ‘pride of Grantham’.

Factory Opened

The Secretary for Agriculture and Stock and later Premier, William Forgan-Smith, opened the factory before more than 2000 people. Two-hundred of them sat down to the official luncheon. He said the dairy industry in Queensland was worth at least six million pounds a year.

The factory covered a ground area of 130 feet by 100 feet and the latest equipment could handle up to 80 tons of butter a week.

From then onwards, smoke coming from the tall 92ft (28m) chimney (that was replaced in the 1950s), and the sun shining on the red brick façade of the big factory, marked growing prosperity and was the principal landmark of Grantham.

In the 1930s, students at Gatton Agricultural College spent time at the butter factory to complete a Diploma of Dairying.


In January 1936 there was a crisis at the factory. Production stopped suddenly when the steam boiler broke down and electricity was connected to the factory in record time. The first street lights were switched on in Grantham in August that same year.

Two roads run under the overhead railway bridge at Grantham. One is lower than the other and on one occasion a cream carrier took the high road and his truck became wedged under the bridge.

A crowd of adults gathered and they were working out how to get a tractor to the scene, when a young lad came over. It was Kevin West, the son of the engineer at the butter factory.

He said, ‘Why don’t you just let the tyres down on the truck?” Within minutes the truck was able to continue on its journey.

Kevin West became a surveyor with the Queensland Railways.

During the Second World War, Ross Fairley was aged 15 and working in the factory. His weekly pay was one-pound five shillings.

He said quite a few people left their wartime butter ration books at the office for safe keeping, and one of his jobs was to destroy unused coupons.

Cream carters would deliver cream and then return home with empty cans rinsed out and then filled with bread, meat and other provisions.

In the 1950s you could take a sugar bag to the factory and get a slab of ice for sixpence to keep food and drinks cool in your ice chest.

In 1950 the factory produced more than 1030 tons of butter.

A severe hailstorm struck Grantham in 1956 and smashed panes of glass in the saw-tooth roof of the Butter Factory and at the Grantham State School. Much of the district’s fruit crop was wiped out.

Young Bill Bailey

Young Bill Bailey of Grantham was heading home after a football banquet in Gatton but he never got to his bed.

He decided to take a short cut through the butter factory, where he worked during the day, and fell into a waste-water well.

His calls were heard by a workmate who lived nearby and rescued him.

The headline in the local paper read: “Why didn’t you come home Bill Bailey?”

A decline in production started in the 1960s as more and more people went into the production of irrigated crops.

As the price of butter increased people looked for a cheaper spread and palatable margarine of similar appearance began to make inroads into the market. England was also entering the European Common Market and had to buy butter from its new trading partners.

Lou Kleidon, born in Gatton in 1925, started work at the factory as a general rouseabout in 1945 when there were 400 cream suppliers. He became manager in 1971.

Lou Kleidon was among many local people who never thought the factory would close. It had been operating for 64 years and at its peak had 450 cream suppliers and produced more than one-thousand tons of butter a year. Up to 12 people were employed as well as a manager and one office staff.

Factories Close

When a dairy adviser came to the factory and told Lou Kleidon that the number of cheese and butter factories would be reduced to about half a dozen serving the whole of Queensland, “I just smiled and didn’t believe him,” Lou said. “Then Laidley closed in 1968; Grantham, which had some 140 suppliers and was making about three tons of butter a week, closed on June 30, 1971, and Boonah in 1974.”

Grantham’s closure was part of deregulation and the down-grading of the dairying industry throughout Queensland. When the brick factory opened the manager paid the equivalent of 8.56 cents a pound for butterfat, and when it closed the price paid to suppliers was 44.99 cents a pound.

A reporter wrote: “I was at the factory on Wednesday afternoon when the last noise of the butter-making machinery died down and there was a feeling of sadness as the men cleaned up the plant and made their way to the office to collect their last pay packet.

One of the cream carriers said the atmosphere at the factory resembled a funeral.”

For months after the factory closed and the machinery had been sold off, about six dairy farmers would gather outside the building every day waiting for a truck to pick up their cream which was then consigned to the Booval factory.

In 1984 the large brick butter factory had been standing empty and vandalism had taken its toll.

Seed World

Then it was renamed ‘Seed World’ and became the home of the National Seed Company established by the Brauns family. A wide range of seeds for the man on the land was grown locally and packed under the National and Primac labels and sent all over Australia.

In later years part of the factory became a private residence. Now, thanks to Rotary in particular this historic building is about to enjoy a new lease of life.

And a few other facts of interest:-

The goods sheds at Grantham Railway Station were removed in 1972 and 1973, and the Grantham cream shed in 1977.

When the Gatton by-pass came into operation in 1989, traffic was diverted away from Grantham and the hey-day of more than a dozen fruit and vegetable stalls in the centre of town ended.

Failing patronage forced the closure of the Grantham and Forest Hill Railway Stations in 1992 and the Grantham Railway Station was moved to Gatton, and relocated at the Gatton and District Historical Village in 1996. A sad reminder of a very proud era in the life of Grantham and its Butter Factory.