WHEN Nestle managers in Switzerland chose Dennington to a build a huge dairy factory in 1909 there were probably a few puzzled reactions in the business world.
Their choice to establish one of the company's first manufacturing bases outside Europe on the banks of the Merri was a bonus for Warrnambool district farmers and workforce and set in motion 100 years of continuous production on the site since February 1911.
At its peak it employed almost 800 and during the First World War was the largest milk condensory factory on the planet.
As well as manufacturing a range of dairy products including baby formula, its output was expanded to Milo and coffee which left a distinctive aroma floating across Warrnambool for more than 50 years.
The factory even had a rail service from 1919 to 1957 ferrying employees from Warrnambool, plus a fleet of buses which picked up workers for shifts which ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It was a place where employees made lifelong friends and found marriage partners.
Each November since 1937 the company held an annual dinner to honour staff who had 25 years or more service.
The tradition now continues with 180 retired staff members and 40 other long-serving employees who transferred to Fonterra when it took over the Dennington plant in 2005.
For many years groups of itinerant workers would be brought in to help with the peak spring milk intake and they were accommodated in huts near the football ground.
Several sports clubs today had their origins in the Nestle tradition of involving the local community.
The Nestle Bowls Club was built on the site of a former piggery used to get rid of factory waste. A rowing club was also established nearby and a cricket club established for the town.
Inside the factory compound were club rooms, tennis courts, a badminton court and two full-sized pool tables.
Former 42-year employee David Kelson said the former Nestle sports and social club organised lots of activities for staff including basketball, golf and picnics.
"It was a great place to work," he said.
"Up until the mid-'80s factories were self-sufficient and at Dennington we made our own cans and packing boxes and employed our own electricians, boilermakers, welders, painters and other trades.
"We had our own transport fleet for picking up milk from farms and going to Melbourne with products."
According to local history book By These We Flourish, Nestle purchased 21.9 acres (nine hectares) of land at Dennington just before it took over the Farnham Cream and Butter Company which had started in 1889 on the Merri west bank.
Nestle chose the other side of the river and started construction in 1909 with employee cottages on the southern side followed by factory buildings made from large sandstone blocks capable of withstanding earthquakes. The extra building strength was prompted by a major tremor in 1903 which hit the district.
Unfortunately for heritage fans the row of terraced cottages was demolished in 1987 despite a petition with 2000 signatures and an appeal against a demolition order.
The state government overturned the heritage listing and allowed Nestle to demolish for expansion.
Records show the first milk intake was two days old and sour, but the company's stringent quality rules soon triggered a revolution in farming shed hygiene and top quality milk.
The first year's output was 150,000 cases of sweetened condensed milk, but when the war came production leapt to 520,000 cases a year.
It soon became the largest and later the only exporter through the port of Warrnambool with 17,513 tons shipped out in 1932-3.
However, increasing siltation of the bay and soaring railway costs prompted the company to choose, Portland, Geelong and Melbourne as ports.
World War II brought another surge in demand for dairy food and by 1946 the factory was processing more than 113 million litres of milk a year and had 700 suppliers.
It set a world record one-day milk intake although By These We Flourish says it was widely rumoured much of the extra milk went straight into the Merri because the factory could not handle it all.
A coffee-making section was added in 1948 which continued production until 2000.
Mr Kelson worked in that section for about 40 years where he was a taste-tester, sipping up to 150 sample cups a day to determine if batches had the correct flavour.
"The company would bring in raw material in green coffee beans and sample every bag," he said.
"All products would be checked against standards."
Today Mr Kelson still has the occasional cup of coffee, but prefers tea.
Yesterday he was in the background at the official centenary celebrations as a guide in the factory history room where he has helped compile memorabilia including photographs and records.
"I've got the original 1919 milk ledger and there are 7000 photographs showing the history of the factory and its people."
Tomorrow Mr Kelson he will be back again when the history room opens from 2-4pm with a free display and refreshments.