Brownes Dairy is Western Australia’s and, they claim, Australia’s oldest dairy company. The company traces its history back to 1886 when Edward Browne started his dairy farm 4km from central Perth, in an area now called Shenton Park.
Browne was born in Northern Island and spent ten years in New Zealand before arriving in Perth in 1885. Not content with his small holding, he established a second dairy farm in Bayswater in 1896 and in 1915 bought the bankrupt Dairy Farmers Cooperative Ltd, a wholesale operation in North Perth. It was this purchase that marked the true beginning of the Brownes Dairy operation.
In the 1920s Brownes established a milk depot in Brunswick, near Bunbury in the state’s southwest. Not long after, Edward Browne died, leaving the business to his sons Walter and Robert. In 1928 Brownes Dairy became a limited liability company. The following year, Walter completed his two-year diploma at Hawkesbury Agricultural College in New South Wales and became joint managing director with his brother.
The business continued to expand, acquiring the local Wattle Ice Cream company in 1930 and moving into the manufacture of butter and cheese. At the time, it was still common for milk to be delivered to homes in bulk, ladled into billies. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that chilled, bottled milk became the norm. The 1950s saw innovations including the packaging of milk in cartons, the launch of Western Australia’s first chocolate milk, Dairi Choc, in 1951, and the introduction of Browne’s yoghurt.
From the 1930s, the Peters ice cream and dairy company had been a major competitor to Brownes Dairy. In the 1950s, Peters became a shareholder in Brownes and in 1962 took over the business, forming the Peters and Brownes Group. The Browne brothers remained managing directors until the late 1960s when they retired.
Peters Ice Cream in Western Australia had operated completely independently of the Peters organisations in the eastern states since its foundation in 1929. It remained that way after the Brownes takeover. The Peters and Brownes Group was bought by the New Zealand-based company Fonterra in 2005. In 2009, the group was divided once more, when Fonterra sold the Peters brand to Nestlé. For the first time, the Peters brand was under one ownership throughout Australia.
The following year, Fonterra sold the Brownes Dairy operation to the private equity group Archer Capital Pty Ltd operating under the Dairy West name, returning the company to Australian ownership. It was not to last. In 2017 Brownes was sold to the Chinese-owned Shanghai Milk Ground Food Tech Co Ltd.
Brownes is no longer in the ice cream business. The company manufactures white milk, Chill flavoured milk, yogurt, cream, juices and dairy desserts. In 2018 the company revived operations at its Brunswick cheese factory, with most of the product destined for China.