Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 03/11/2004, pg. 13

A MYSTERY benefactor has offered $15,000 to help Warwick on the Darling Downs save its 60-year-old cheese-making tradition.

The offer was made after dairy processor Parmalat announced the factory would close and last week sacked 28 cheese and butter-makers and other factory workers.

Parmalat bought the Warwick plant six years ago, but said production costs were too high and decided milk from the Warwick area would be trucked to its Labrador factory on the Gold Coast.

Local dairy farmer Lynda Hemmings called a meeting and a person who attended offered to fund a $15,000 feasibility study for a new cheese-making operation.

Mrs Hemmings said the gesture was an amazing vote of confidence in the dairy industry from an outsider who believed in supporting small local industries.

“He’s not a dairy farmer, he’s not related to the industry and he’s not from Warwick. He just believes this industry should be kept going,” a delighted Mrs Hemmings said yesterday.

“We want cheese-making to continue. We have the expertise in Warwick.
Our cheeses have never been marketed to their full potential.”

The town’s cheese-making tradition began during World War II when a government factory was built in 1942 to help feed troops.

Since then, Warwick cheese-makers have won national and international awards in dairy competitions, entering their cheddar cheeses for many years and branching out in recent years into soft cheese types including vintage camembert, light camembert, traditional brie and blue vein brie.

The most recent award was a champion product award for Warwick double brie at the Dairy Industry Association of Australia national innovation awards in August last year.

Mrs Hemmings, who works at a local employment agency as well as on the family farm, said the town needed more local industries to provide employment opportunities.

She said a three-person committee would meet some of the sacked cheese-makers on November 18 to discuss the logistics of opening a new cheese factory.

“I think it would be just a shame to lose this industry from Warwick,” she said.

“I want to try and keep our cheeses local.”

Australian Workers Union southwest district secretary Dudley Watson said only 14 workers and maintenance staff were left at the Parmalat factory and they would be finishing work early next year.

Mr Watson said the closure was a shock to the staff, who had been given assurances their jobs were secure.

“Workers got a false sense of security because Parmalat spent millions upgrading the factory in the past couple of years,” Mr Watson said.

Copyright 2004 / Courier Mail