Jock Waters: A true town treasure
By Taylor Clyne
December 20, 2017
Jock Waters is by all accounts a treasure to the North-East farming community. Nearing his 90th birthday next March Jock is still working as a herd tester for local dairy farmers, a job he’s been undertaking for more than 53 years.
Jock’s story is not quite like any other.
His quiet and unassuming nature, alongside his thick Scottish accent, has been embedded in the history of dairy farms and families for generations.
Jock’s acute memory makes telling his story easy, as we delve into his life over a cup of tea and a biscuit at the kitchen table, a tradition he’s undertaken with many families before myself.
Jock left the Orkney Islands where he was born to seek an adventure in Tasmania. As he remembers, he was to spend a fortnight holidaying here before returning home.
But, as all stories begin, Jock met a girl.
“I just rang and told them [his family] that I wasn’t coming back.
“I remember thinking this is the end of the bloody world,” he said.
Whilst the lady didn’t last long, Jock’s new life in Tasmania did.
During the late 50s and early 60s he worked as a station hand at Cape Portland, sowing and working paddocks.
“The first paddock that I ploughed when I came to the North-East is where the Rushy Lagoon dairy is now positioned,” Jock remembers.
It was in Cape Portland that Jock acquired the name that everybody now knows him for, because surprisingly his real name is not Jock, it's Magnus.
“I was working there one day and a fella said, ‘I’ll call you Jock,’ I replied ‘please yourself’ and it’s been that ever since,” he chuckled.
On the 14th of February 1964 Jock acquired a new job with the Department of Agriculture as a herd tester, testing the milk of every dairy cow for fat and protein content.
“That was when money changed.
“When I started working there I got 20 quid one week and the next week I got 40 dollars.
“I guess you could say a lot has changed.”
Jock remembers when he started it was just, mum, dad and the kids on the farms.
“Farms used to have between 40-60 milking cows. I remember looking down the lane on Wagner’s farm where they milked 166 cows thinking the line doesn’t end.
“That used to be the biggest mob and I thought they were mad!” Jock recalls.
Now the average farm has between 400-800 cows, with Jock’s largest current dairy to test being Stan and Geoff Cox’s at Ringarooma with 1100 cows.
Jock’s longstanding position as a herd tester is a vital part of the daily production on dairy farms. The job, described in the most basic form, captures individual milk samples from each dairy cow to undertake a cell count and give stats on the protein and fat contents.
The cell count, arguably the most important aspect of the sample, alerts farmers to bacteria traces in the milk.
Back in the day, Jock used to herd test 28 days a month, writing on each sample by hand.
“Back then I used to have to take two samples, one from a morning milking and one from a night milking,” Jock explained.
Here began the tradition of Jock sharing a hot meal with families on the farm and staying the night at their houses for his early morning shift in the dairy.
Jock essentially socialised with a different group every night of the week and has been dubbed the best-fed man in the North-East.
“I remember Jack Smith used to stay up talking all night long, well past midnight, and then amazed me that he’d be up at 4AM ready to go.
“I’ve seen it all, the good times and the bad times.
“I watched kids grow up - some amazed me that they turned into decent citizens,” Jock laughed.
When technology modernised to only require one herd test per farm a month, the tradition of having Jock stay for a hot meal continued.
“It’s a good place to live and the people are very important.
“They’ve always invited me in for a drink, and that's made all the difference,” Jock said.
Long-time Winnaleah farmers, Don and Elvie Steel remember his time with their family fondly,
“My first memory of Jock is of his thick Scottish accent - not many can understand him,” Don said.
“He’s always been dedicated to his work and he's very reliable.
“Lots of families call him Uncle Jock. He’s seen our children grow up and then seen their children grow up.
“He is the best-fed person in the North-East. Our kids used to say, ‘Jock must be coming tonight if we have desserts’.”
Don recalls one time Jock had his nephew over from Scotland to stay with him,
“While he was here he lost his sock in Jock’s house, then he came back years later and found it again!”
“I guess he didn’t spring clean regularly,” Don chuckled.
Like many people could relate, Jock has always ‘just been there.’
“We love and admire him like part of the family,” Elvie said.
In Jock’s younger days he liked to go fishing at Anson’s Bay with the locals.
“A few of us used to go out there, Geoff O’Halloran, Merv Forsyth and those guys.
“It didn’t matter when you wanted to go, they were always ready.”
More recently Jock returned home to Scotland to visit his surviving siblings in the Orkney Islands.
“I went back to visit my four sisters - they are all in their 80s. I also have two brothers who are deceased now.”
Returning back to what Jock describes as his ‘real home’ in Branxholm, he explains that he feels like he belongs here more than anywhere else.
“The farmers are my family now.”
As for the secret to a long life, Jock said he puts his good health down to good food and a bit of good luck!
Congratulations on an amazing working career, you truly are a town treasure Jock Waters.