Getting a job selling parts to the dairy industry in 1966 was a sign of good things to come for Colac’s Chris Knight.
Not only did Chris go on to forge a long and successful career supplying milk extracting equipment to local dairy farmers, the job also marked the start of his collecting hobby.
Today he’s living on the farm land he grew up on just east of Colac with his dairy machine sign collection taking pride of place around the home and sheds.
Chris likes to collect a lot of things but nothing beats his assortment of milk machine signs.
“They’re special to me because they were from my industry,” he said.
They’re unique and beautiful in their own right.”
The signs vary in size, colour and rarity, but most have a special place in Chris’ life.
“I know what they are and in most cases I know where they come from. I sold and installed milk extraction equipment for dairies and often there was old stuff that they were going to throw out so I’d say can I have the sign. It started from there many moons ago.”
Chris, 66, set up The Cow Shop in Colac in the mid-1970s before selling the business several years ago.
Having grown up on a farm, Chris was keen to continue working in the industry and he’s become a strong supporter of the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of Australian dairy.
After collecting signs from local farms, Chris started hunting for more at auctions, old dairy factories and antique stores.
“I came across a group of them in Mount Gambier but thought nothing more of them. Then one day the young fella rolled into the shop and said they’re all for you so I got another 10-15 signs.”
He thinks nothing of driving four hours to an annual sign sale at Flowerdale.
“I just keep the collection niggling along,” he said. “I’d go to Flowerdale just to buy one sign but it has to be worthwhile.”
There’s a small but dedicated market for collecting dairy signs. Chris recalls one person travelling from Western Australia to the Flowerdale auction for a rare sign that eventually cost him more than $11,000.
Some of Chris’s prize possessions include a rare King Milker from New Zealand and signs for Southern Cross Milking Machines, Alfa Laval, and Eclipse. Finding a brass sign for Ridd Dairies is on his `bucket list’ of items.
While Chris likes to expand his collection; there’s no way he’s going to be parting with any of his treasures. “There’s quite a quantity in the house and others scattered around various sheds. People can look but they’re not for sale,” he said.
Chris has displayed some of his collection at the Colac Heritage Festival and likes to see the reactions when people visit his home.
“When you don’t know what they are you tend to stand there gaping at them,” he said.
His wife Lorraine supports his hobby, and she’s pleased it doesn’t take up too much room.
“Once she was in an antique shop in Queenscliff and saw a Simplex milking machine sign. She thought she’d never seen one before, so she bought it and gave it to me for Christmas. I was on top of the world for days.”
First published in Leading Agriculture Issue 10