Road to health, white river of life?
Two English migrant boys enjoying very fresh milk at a farm school near Molong, New South Wales, 1958. Source: NAA: A12111, 1/1958/8/29.
A dairy farmer shifts milk in urns from his dairy to a pick-up point near Bowral, New South Wales, 1968. Source: NAA: A1200, L72218.
A glass milk bottle from the 1930s – 1950s. Source: Collection Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Photo: Sotha Bourn.
School children taking free milk at a school in the Australian Capital Territory, 1965. Source: NAA: A1200, L52519.
A 1930s poster from the Australian Milk Board, promoting a healthy lifestyle via milk. Source: State Library of Victoria (H97.252/18).
A milkman delivers milk to a woman at her home in 1950s Australia. Source: State Library of Western Australia (128097PD).
A milk processor and packer at the Bega Co-operative, Bega, New South Wales, 1995. Source: NAA: A6135, K27/2/95/101.
Milk in metric measurement containers, 1974. Source: NSW Government. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (d3_22502).
Milk remains a staple food for many Australian families. The activities below are designed to provide students with an understanding of how the supply and consumption of milk has changed over time, and how their own experiences of milk are different in some ways and yet the same in others in comparison to the milk experiences of their parents and grandparents.
The learning activities in this resource teach students to:
- observe and sequence
- research and contextualise
- empathise and speculate
1. Observe and sequence
- Students gain an understanding of the production, promotion and consumption of milk over time – what has changed and what has remained the same.
- Year 1 - ACHHK029, ACHHK030, ACHHS031, ACHHS032, ACHHS034, ACHHS035
- Year 2 - ACHHK046, ACHHS047, ACHHS048, ACHHS050, ACHHS051
- printouts of historical images (click on the images above to enlarge for printing or display)
Hold a class conversation about milk.
- Who drinks milk?
- How much do you drink, and what kind?
- Where does milk come from? (Cows, sheep, goats, soybeans – and for human babies, their mother!)
- What other foods are made from milk?
Introduce the first activity: inform students that some of these images of milk are from not very long ago, some were made when their parents were very young, and some were made when their grandparents were very young.
Show the class printouts of the historical photographs (the first six images above) and ask students to place them in a sequence from earliest to most recent. As they do so, ask them to explain their choice. What clues are they seeing in the photograph that it is very old or not so old?
Information that will help students place the photographs in time:
- Several states issued free milk to school children prior to 1950, and from 1950 to 1973 all Australian children aged 5 to 12 were given up to half a pint of milk to drink each school day.
- Around 1974, milk containers were converted from pint-sized glass bottles (568ml) to litre-sized waxed cardboard cartons. Today in Australia, milk is available in cartons and plastic bottles.
In some cases, the images could have been made at any time from 1930 to 1970. Use this ambiguity to discuss change and continuity. What hasn't changed? You may wish to draw the students' attention to changes such as:
- packaging (glass bottles, waxed cardboard cartons)
- supply (home-delivery, supermarket)
- diversification (full-cream cow's milk, skim, soy, goat etc)
Then show students the photograph of the milk bottle circa 1930–1950. (Note the difference between the medium – a colour photograph – and the object which is quite old.) Where would the object (not the photograph) go in the timeline?
Now show students the colour poster from the 1930s and ask them where this one should go in the timeline. How does it compare to advertisements you see today?
2. Research and contextualise
- By speaking with an elder in their family, students investigate one aspect of the history of milk, and assimilate that perspective by creating a brief narrative or picture.
- Year 1 - ACHHK030, ACHHS033, ACHHS036, ACHHS037, ACHHS038
- Year 2 - ACHHS049, ACHHS053, ACHHS054
- pen and paper or an audio recording device
- drawing materials or pen and paper
As a homework task, encourage students to ask an elder in their family (such as a grandparent) if they remember being given milk to drink at school. Is it a happy memory? Why or why not? If they don't recall being given milk at school, ask them what other milk-related memories they have. Did they have milk home-delivered? Did they ever milk a cow?
Record the elder's response either with an iPod or other audio recorder, or by writing some notes.
In class, report on what they heard, either in handwriting or by drawing a picture.
3. Empathise and speculate
- Students consider the government policy to provide milk to school children and imagine another policy for health promotion.
- Year 1 - ACHHS036, ACHHS038
- Year 2 - ACHHS052, ACHHS054
- Watch the video Milk – White River of Life, made in 1946 to promote the health benefits of drinking milk.
- Read the letter from the 'Free Milk and Nutritional Council of Western Australia' to the prime minister (9 December 1943 – first two pages of this National Archives file).
Talk to the class about the role of government in helping citizens to be healthy. Refer students back to the coloured poster and the photograph of school children drinking milk, and explain that in the past, the government wanted everyone to drink milk because they wanted everyone to benefit from the vitamins and minerals in milk. You might like to share some of the contents of the letter to the prime minister, to explain the circumstances that led to the free milk scheme.
Ask the students what they learned about the free milk scheme by talking to their grandparents. Are there disadvantages as well as advantages to the free milk scheme?
In small groups, ask students to think of another way the government could promote health among the population. What actions could people take to improve their health? How could the government encourage people to do that? What would inspire people to change their behaviour?
Students could present their idea in one of two ways:
- as a graphic poster, which they then show and explain to the class, or
- as a short play
In either case, students could present their idea in three parts:
- the problem their idea addresses
- how it works – what action is taken? How does it change people's behaviour?
- the result
Go to Feeding the family and the teacher support video.
Go to other pages in this resource:
We hope this resource makes teaching and learning history easy and fun. Let us know how it works for you and your students – we welcome your feedback.
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The curriculum links in this resource are drawn from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Australian Curriculum: History website.