Land of Milk

A Taiwanese Screen for the Hunter Valley Dairy Company

This elegant Taiwanese screen is both functional and beautiful. But loaded with symbolism, its greatest purpose is its meaning. The plum blossom branch depicted in the central panel, with its delicate buds and flowers that only appear in winter, represents strength and endurance; the two birds perched together seem to symbolise a friendship or partnership. The screen’s Chinese characters translate as ‘Plum blossom flowering in winter’.

Presented in 1978 to the Hunter Valley Co-operative Dairy Company by the Nan Chong Hong Ltd. of Taiwan, this screen commemorated the dairy company’s 75 years of production and its enduring business partnership with the Taiwanese powdered milk importer.

Better known by its brand name OAK, the company was established in 1903 and rapidly grew as the Hunter Valley dairy industry expanded. With its main factory established in the 1920s at Hexham, and other factories and distribution centres, including at Morpeth, the company grew to be supplied by 1200 dairy farmers in the region. By the 1950s, it had become one of Australia’s largest dairy product manufacturers. In 1949 the company reported a record profit of £59,505, attributed to the ‘fantastic market’ for powdered milk in the ‘East’ – countries of Asia, including Taiwan.

Before coal mining became the Hunter Valley’s principal industry, dairy farming was widespread and earned more than a third of the region’s rural income. By the early 1960s, the Hunter Valley produced more than 40 million gallons (over 151 million litres) of milk each year! As the saying goes, the Hunter Valley really was a ‘land of milk’ (and honey, which was produced there too).