Cemetery tour includes all the big cheeses

THE headlines have overflowed with news of the takeover of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter (WCB) by Canadian dairy giant Saputo.

And on Monday a hardy group headed out in the summer sun to undertake an unusual tour of the Warrnambool Cemetery with a distinct WCB theme to it. 

Secretary and research officer of the Warrnambool Family History Group, Ray Welsford, guided the tour which visited the graves of many of the founding fathers of WCB.

“We hold cemetery walks in the first couple of weeks of January each year and this year we decided to hold one on the Australia Day weekend,” Mr Welsford said.

“Last May it was 125 years since Warrnambool Cheese and Butter was registered so we have worked with the staff at the Cheeseworld Museum to gather some information.”

A group of history buffs accompanied Mr Welsford and were soon engrossed with some fascinating tales of the men who created the local dairy icon.

The first grave the group came across was that of Irishman Michael Dunne, who was inaugural director of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.

Dunne was born in County Limerick and married a Limerick girl, Sophie Rooney.

The couple were blessed with nine children but like many of their generation they suffered their fair share of heartache: one child was stillborn, one died aged three and another at 13.

Dunne was a prominent figure, serving as a Warrnambool councillor and as a partner in one of the town’s biggest businesses, Cramond and Dickson, who were drapers and storekeepers.

Next grave on the tour itinerary was that of John Stroyan Weatherboard, who was the first manager of the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter factory. Weatherboard may have been the first choice of directors to oversee the running of the new factory, but their relationship  soured after a period of time, resulting in the disgruntled manager quitting, citing frustration at not having enough say in the hiring of his staff. 

Mr Weatherboard went on to form the Camperdown Butter Factory. 

He died in Camperdown and his body was loaded on to the train and brought to Warrnambool to be buried with his parents.

He was the father of 12 children — his third son killed in the famous battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli.

Richard Milne’s grave was the next to be visited. 

Milne, a Scotsman,  arrived in Australia in 1855. 

He was a significant presence as a director of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter and fought hard — albeit unsuccessfully — throughout his lifetime to bring in a rule that only suppliers of WCB should be shareholders.

He was also a Shire of Warrnambool councillor and father of nine whose obituary in the Warrnambool Standard announced with great regret that he had expired. It said his death came as a shock despite him being “not very well but not at all seriously ill”. 

Another interesting figure from the past was Michael Burke, an Irishman who had headed for Australia to try to make his fortune on the goldfields.

Like so many others he failed in his quest and instead settled into farm life with his wife Mary and their eight children.

He was on the WCB board of directors for 50 years — 45 of those as chairman.

Life on the farm must have agreed with the Burkes as Michael lived to the ripe old age of 86 and Mary to 91, huge ages for that generation.

William McConnell was not so fortunate. This father of eight boys and a chairman of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter board died at 41. Reports of his death say he was taken ill at the Spencer Street Station while on business in Melbourne and an inquest into his death found he had suffered a major stroke.

Another early director was James Parker McMeekin, whose father carried the same name.

McMeekin junior owned hay and corn stores in Fairy and Kepler streets in Warrnambool and was one of the most respected and liked public men of the day.

The report of his funeral said motor cars were banked up for a mile on the journey from the church to the cemetery and the funeral directors had to bring an extra car just to carry the amount of wreaths received in his honour.

Although he was a man of note,  McMeekin Road in Warrnambool was not named after him — but instead after his brother Charles.

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