History of the Esk District Co-op The invention of the centrifugal cream separator in 1874 created a revolution in the dairy industry, as it automated many of the processes involved in the manufacture of butter, which was an important food staple at the time.  Initially individual farmers each purchased their own separator, but it soon became apparent that combining resources with other farmers was more cost effective and so the powerful co- operative movement in Queensland was borne.  Hundreds of small shareholders combined resources so effectively that they put many of the privately owned companies out of business.  A privately owned butter factory was built at Esk in 1904 to service the local cream producers. The story of the Esk District Co-op began in 1906 when E.W and A.H.  McConnel and M. Callaghan initiated a movement to start a local Co-operative with the aim of taking over the butter factory.  After negotiations with the owners, they eventually agreed to pay the sum of £2100 to the QME Company and the Esk Co-operative Dairy Association took over the running of the factory on the 1st of January, 1907.  That year, some 176 dairy farmers supplied the butter factory with cream, which was collected by cream carters who did the rounds of all the dairy farms in the district every second day.  The cream carrier was an institution with his large truck covered to keep the cream in the cans cool for the long trip to the factory.  He also acted as messenger and conveyor of local news.  As well as producing butter, the Co-op also ran a small store, supplying pig feed, shovels, boots and other basic supplies for the local dairy farmers and shareholders.  After some tough times during WW1, the Co-op continued to prosper and serve the needs of the Esk community.  The board invested in some new equipment, namely a new Baltic Churn and two Batch Pasteurizers, which allowed the Co-op to brand 97.93% of the butter produced as choice grade, much of which was exported overseas.  There was a major setback in 1926 when a major fire destroyed the original butter factory.  The shareholders successfully raised the £18,000 required to rebuild the factory and it re-opened on the 27th of September 1927.  By this time the Co-op had some 225 suppliers following the closure of the Toogoolawah Condensed Milk factory.  Several technical improvements combined with a strong market for their products enabled the Esk Co-operative to prosper until WW2, when it had to fight for survival.  However, the Co-op continued to trade profitably and in 1951 the possibility of purchasing the Toogoolawah Co-op was raised, but rejected, as was the idea of opening retail stores in Esk and Toogoolawah. Eventually the Co-op did purchase the Thompson & Francis store in Toogoolawah in 1956, followed by the purchase of the David Richards store in Esk in 1960.  In 1973 the Esk Butter Factory closed due to a combination of economic circumstances, an increase in margarine sales, Government de-regulation of the dairy industry, and two severe droughts had all been too much for the Co-op to contend with.  The stores in Esk and Toogoolawah still traded well, developing from serviced to self serve in 1962, and then continually evolving into the stores we have today. The produce store in Esk closed in 1977 because of the decline of the cattle industry, aligned with the resumption of extensive prime quality faming land for the Wivenhoe Dam.  In 1979 the Co-op changed to a Co-operative Society, bringing to an end the association with dairying that began 73 years earlier.  Also around this time the produce store in Toogoolawah closed.   The latest chapter of the Co-op’s story sees associations with Metcash (IGA & Friendly Grocer) and Danks (Home Timber & Hardware), the three banners under which the Co-op now trades.  In December of 2005 the Esk District Co-op opened a new Hardware store in Esk, which won the 2006 ‘Store of the Year Award’ at the Hardware Association of Queensland Awards.  2011, we said thank-you to Bernie Moore, our longest servicing employee of 49 years of loyal service to the business, it also brought once in a life time flooding to the main street area of Esk, with the Friendly Grocer & Esk Home Timber and Hardware stores suffering and having water flow through both of these store for the first time ever.  Board members, Staff and there were Customers coming in off the street to work endlessly to have both the stores turned around and reopen for trade in one and a half days after the flooding.  “Amazing effort”   Later that year after the flooding, the flooring and floor coverings were replaced in the Esk Grocery store.  April 2012 after much tolerance from Staff and Customers of Toogoolawah, the Toogoolawah store was completely refurbished and now trades as a modern IGA grocery store.  August 2014, new shelving and a relayed was completed to freshen the Esk Store, 2014 saw the Esk Friendly Grocer store win the “Retailer of the Year Award” The Esk District Co-op is a community focused business, employing approximately 85 staff and supporting local business and organizations.    
© Cindy’s Webb
Esk District Co-op
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