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When milk went to pigs, and pubs to the dogs

Thursday, 3rd January, 2019

Argent Street in the 1940s. (Picture from the city’s Outback Archives) Argent Street in the 1940s. (Picture from the city’s Outback Archives)

By Craig Brealey

We’re having a heatwave, but imagine it without air-conditioners and not being able to get a milkshake or a beer, even a hot one.

Now imagine you’re travelling to Adelaide for the Christmas holidays, it’s nudging 43 degrees, the air-conditioning isn’t working and a dust storm hits.

Yes, we’re in a heatwave now but count your blessings, because all of the above happened in Broken Hill in December, 1945.

The terrible events were rediscovered by a regular BDT correspondent, Des Kennedy, while searching for evidence about a story he had heard of the time when the city ran out of ice.

Mr Kennedy first came across a Sydney newspaper report from December 18, 1945 that said Broken Hill was in a heatwave and short of water, milk and beer.

The newspaper also reported that in Sydney that day it was 100 degrees (37.7 Celsius) at 11am.

From there Mr Kennedy followed a link to the city’s afternoon paper, The Barrier Miner, and found the original story - “Citizens Suffer from Extreme Heat” - dated Monday, December 17.

“Meagre water supplies due to a breakdown on the gravitation main from Umberumberka Reservoir, exhaustion of milk supplies, near famine conditions in beer supplies and an abnormal demand for cool drinks, ice cream and ice sum up the position in Broken Hill as a result of one of the hottest weekends for some years,” it read.

That weekend had followed a week of temperatures above the old century mark.

“Approximately 1200 gallons of milk, which arrived from South Australia on Saturday in bad conditions had to be sent to piggeries,” the story continued.

“Employees of the Zinc Corporation and their families who left for Adelaide by picnic trains on Saturday and Sunday travelled in the worst possible conditions.

“Saturday’s conditions were bad enough with carriages brought to an oven-like heat in a temperature of 111 degrees, but yesterday’s conditions were almost unbearable, the train pulling out in the height of a dust storm.” 

The Miner reported that the Broken Hill Ice and Produce Co., lost its consignment of milk from SA because no refrigeration van was available on the train between Terowie and Broken Hill.

“As a result of the milk deteriorating the company was unable to supply a large order for the Zinc Picnic Committee for distribution on yesterday’s picnic train.”

Stocks of ice, solid blocks of which ran the fridges of the day, had also been depleted and BH Ice and Produce was working “24 hours” to cope with the “abnormal” demand.

Fruit and vegetables from SA had also spoiled in the heat but there was good news for the children - no shortage of ice cream.

For many adults, however, the situation was desperate.

“Most of the city’s hotels were out of beer early on Saturday, some closing by lunch time,” the paper reported.

“With their regular haunts out of supplies, thirsty customers embarked on a Cook’s tour over the weekend in search of revivers. 

“Per medium of car, lorry or bicycle most of the likely places were visited, but it was no go. The well was dry.” 

Cafes, milk bars, and cool drink shops also had an “almost unprecedented demand for thirst quenchers. Factories have worked at top pressure to keep shops supplied.”

On Friday and Saturday it had been 111 degrees (43.8). On Sunday it was a bit cooler at 106 (41.1) but then a heavy dust storm struck the city from the south.

“Many sought the coolness of lawns and verandas until a late hour,” said The Miner story which ends on a very familiar note:

“Although there were indications of rain last night with thunder and lightning, only a few spots fell.”

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