Do you remember Inverell’s own award-winning Willow brand butter? Or did your family buy a Willow brand ham at Christmas?
By 1900, the small dairying industry in the Inverell district was successfully operating and providing some butter and cheese locally. After the opening of the railway in 1901, several businessmen decided the district needed an up-to-date butter factory. Local people became shareholders and in 1902, Ben Wade built a factory, costing £3100 ($6200) in Edward Street behind the new railway station.
Run by a co-operative, the factory began with only four suppliers because it was a very dry year. Closer settlement land subdivisions brought experienced dairymen to the district and dairies appeared everywhere. This new industry helped bring prosperity to Inverell.
The number of suppliers grew, with milk coming to the factory by train from as far as Warialda and Moree, as well as those bringing their supplies by road.
Freight was the biggest obstacle. Despite its keeping quality, the travel between stations was too long, especially in the summer months. After 1904, refrigerated vans were available, although 6 tonnes was needed to fill the vans thus requiring butter to be stored to reach this quantity. Transport was a concern until refrigerated trucks were introduced and loads could be moved by road.
Between 1908 and 1940, this top quality dairy product was winning competitions in Sydney and Brisbane. At one time, Inverell’s Willow butter was exported to London where it gained the highest price for Australian butter. By 1912, bacon was produced at the factory and Willow brand bacon was exhibiting successfully at shows.
Willow butter was exported to London where it gained the highest price for Australian butter.
Price fixing of dairy commodities during the war years and droughts made things difficult for several years, however, by 1920 there were 235 suppliers to the factory. Although the dairy industry had revived, Inverell and district was still hampered by the climate.
In March 1925, the first butter factory burned down. Within months a new and bigger factory was built on the same ground but this time a more functional building with the reintroduction of the bacon factory.
The Inverell Butter and Bacon factory closed during the 1950s and the building was purchased by North West Smallgoods.