Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Golden North Ice Cream

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (15:31): Consumers enjoy plenty of choice when they are browsing the ice cream section at the shops, but for many people, especially here in our state, one brand stands out for some of the best possible reasons. It is South Australian, it is a perennial consumer favourite, and this year Golden North ice cream reaches the remarkable milestone of turning 100 years old. It has a fantastic homegrown South Australian story that I would like to share in brief today.

Around the beginning of the 1880s, Mr William Bowker of Laura was attracted to mining ventures in Broken Hill, but once there he observed that the local community was in want of supply of dairy products. He seized the opportunity and started supplying Broken Hill and surrounding communities with scalded cream from the Bowker family farm at Laura.

The distance from Laura to Broken Hill is some 366 kilometres, presenting distribution challenges in the era before refrigeration. The cream made the journey to the Gladstone railhead by horse and dray. In warmer months the containers were stored in vats of standing water prior to sendoff, and typically covered with wet bags for the overnight rail journey to Broken Hill.

William Bowker died in 1900 at the age of 55. In 1903, the business was handed over to his eldest living child, Percival. It was under Percival's leadership that the family ice cream enterprise later began. In 1923, the first ice tank and two coldrooms were installed at Laura. The one-tonne capacity tanks supplied ice for storage and for packing the cream to rail. In that same year, the Laura Ice Company was formed, primarily to serve the expanding needs of both the local Mid North and Broken Hill communities. This marked the real beginning of Golden North as it now exists.

In 1925, extensions were built on the factory at Laura, the Laura Ice and Produce Company was established, and a glass-lined cream cooking vat was imported from the United States. Sales of cream increased steadily and ice cream began gaining popularity as a delicious treat within Australia. To meet demand, the Laura Ice and Produce Company again increased the size of its plant and installed its first churn freezer.

By 1930, electricity became available from local power stations, making refrigeration easier to implement at the site. To improve the keeping quality of their milk, in 1938 the Laura Ice and Produce Company began to offer the first pasteurised milk in the region. Milk sales expanded during the wartime years, with Woomera and other military establishments being set up near the region. Golden North Dairies Ltd was formed in 1948. Over time, their distribution area ranged from Gawler in the south to the Northern Territory's Tenant Creek in the north. This was said to be the world's longest milk run. It also extended from Ceduna in the west to Broken Hill in the east.

The Bowker family sold Golden North in 1983 to South Australian Southern Farmers Group, which we now know as Farmers Union. Southern Farmers launched Golden North ice cream into the Adelaide market and introduced their distinctive slice-and-serve sausage pack of our childhoods, which later gave way to the more popular plastic two-litre tubs.

In 1991, the larger National Foods was formed, including Southern Farmers and Golden North. Milk production moved to Port Pirie and the Laura site started producing ice cream exclusively, expanding distribution to national markets. In late 2001, a group of local businesspeople bought the company back into South Australian hands. It is now owned by five South Australian families. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the owners at a recent event, and I look forward to taking them up on their invitation to tour the production facilities. Members can let me know if they want to form a tasting delegation.

To this day, the factory remains at Laura, producing the iconic range of ice creams, frozen yoghurts and sorbets for local, national and international markets. Annual production now stands at around 12 million litres and they have a workforce of around 65 people. If William Bowker dared to imagine such success and longevity for the modest enterprise he started, I can only believe he would be thoroughly delighted, not just at the success of the brand but at the quality and the popularity of Golden North's much-loved products.

Since 2018, Golden North has won five consecutive national Canstar Blue Awards for Australia's favourite ice cream tub. Among many other achievements, this one shines. For a century, the enterprise that is now Golden North has been a true icon of South Australia, and it was, quite literally, declared a National Trust South Australian heritage icon in 2006.

Golden North embodies so much of what we love about our little part of the world: enterprise, ingenuity and innovation, as well as fine quality and a genuine sense of love and loyalty for our state. I commend Golden North for supplying our state, our nation and markets across our region with great products year on year, and I congratulate them on their remarkable century of success.