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Learning activities

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:

The slideshow below illustrates how the supply and consumption of milk has changed over time.

A3 printouts

1. Observe and sequence


  • 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 five 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 (568 ml) 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


  • 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


  • imagination!


  • Watch the video below, 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).
Milk – White River of Life, 1946 11:24

Milk and its health and nutritional benefits, demonstrated through a domestic science class on milk and milk-based products and their use in cooking.

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.
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