Rating Childhood: The Local Dairy

Every suburban kiwi kid had a local dairy growing up. Much like European coffee houses of the 17th century the local dairy was a special community hub where kids could hang out front, share Spaceman candy cigarettes and free thought, eat ice-creams and debate schoolyard politics. In this hardcore expose of 80’s and 90’s suburban dairies we discuss virtues and vices and Penrose Road Dairyultimately rate the milk out of them.


Mixture lollies – Never had a $2 coin wielded as much power as it did in the sticky little hands of a kid going for a two buck lolly mix. There were two main options available, let the dairy owner pick your mix and risk getting crusty cough lollies and mint leaves, or dictate the action: “I’ll have five Pineapple lumps, ok…. and seven jet planes, ok… and 20 cents worth of snifters…. And how much am I up to now?” The dairy owner performs rough addition in his head as he reaches for a second little white bag. Good times.   

Arcade Machines – The late-eighties through mid-nineties were a golden period for street arcade gaming in NZ with local dairies taking a key role. The introduction of one or two spacies machines out front changed the vibe of local shops countrywide. It became more edgy with packs of hooded kids hunched over joysticks, accusing each other of “the cheaps” and occasionally someone would get hit with a skateboard. Even good kids started pinching coins from neighbours milk bottles for their daily fix of mastering invisible throws on Street Fighter 2. Gaming then moved into lounges and tales of the spacies machines faded into folklore.   

Street Fighter 2 screen
Giz your seconds bro.

Dirty Mags – You’d never even think about trying to buy one, and only the baddest kid would pull one off the shelf for a close up thumbing, but looking at the rack was free for all and it was magnificent. In the dark ages before internet smut, magazines were king, and the dairy was the crown palace. Shrewd lads would keep a keen eye on the recycling bins out back, waiting for the day when unsold magazines had their titles cut and were thrown out.

Pies – Before your local dairy invested in a pie warmer, snacks were limited to cold options, but the game changed and a hot feed was available before school, and anytime after. Forget the questionable meat quality and grab that last Big Ben Mince and Cheese before all that’s left is the Chicken and Vege – nasty. 


High prices – You’re all out of Lynx Africa deodorant, well just get some from the dairy, it will only cost about a million dollars. Convenience comes at a cost and a healthy mark-up has always been the prerogative of the Kiwi dairy. It doesn’t matter if the product has faded packaging and dust, if you desperate enough you’ll buy it. Anything more than a Crunchie bar, you gonna get stung.

Being someone’s house – Is it a shop? Or is it someone’s house? It’s not always easy to tell at the dairy. Can be a little awkward when three generations of shop keepers glare at you from the other side of the beaded curtain, but hey, their dinner always smelled better than yours.

Coke Bottle Lollies
I said SOUR coke bottles!

Getting treated like a criminal – From the moment you trigger the electronic chime on the way in to the moment you trigger it on the way out – you were under suspicion. Some kid pinched a packet of Tim Tams two years ago and now everyone is a potential threat. An elaborate set up of circular mirrors tracks your every move and you know that Grandma dairy owner is just hanging to break a broom over your back.

Near expired items – Unlike the supermarket, dairies push it pretty close on expiration dates. There probably isn’t a kid in NZ that wasn’t growled out at some point for lazily grabbing the milk from the front of the fridge and ending up with a 2litre that expired the next day.

7 Star RatingRating: 7 out of 10

A lot more character than the sterile convenience stores you find overseas and able to withstand the Star Mart challenge of the early 2000s. Not as clean, well ordered, or as consistently priced as a convenience store. But the local dairy has always been more than just a shop, it was a cultural experience, a place where heroes were made and any kid with a couple of bucks could be someone. 

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About Instant Dad

Instant Dad is every Kiwi dad – except better looking and more bloggy. He’s a faceless representation of all fresh dads in Aotearoa out there having a crack at parenting. Instant Dad likes to clown around, but the intent of this site is genuine - to help dads navigate the pitfalls of early-stage parenting.