For the past 20 years, Les Whitehead has started his day at 3am.
The Wagga man is part of the city’s underbelly, an army of locals keeping the city running, while the rest of the world sleeps.
In a Daily Advertiser exclusive, the men and women behind the scenes will be revealed and their stories shared across a three-week Night Shift series.
They are the residents who go to sleep when most rise and wake when most turn in.
They are the locals who aren’t seen, but whose absence would be noticed; the milk and cheese of the city - so to speak.
But that is literally what Mr Whitehead and his wife, Anna, bring to the table.
Mr Whitehead, like the good, old-fashioned milkmen of the past, has worked in the dark, to supply the milk for coffees, yoghurt for cereal and cheese for sandwiches.
Instead of the 9am to 5pm grind, Mr Whitehead has braved the cold and sacrificed sleep to Wagga residents and small businesses have their dairy fix.
And this all happens while you’re sleeping.
From humble pastures, Mr Whitehead’s small business grew from a one-man-band and ute, to a seven-man dairy delivery service.
“I was made redundant from my government job about 20 years ago and I just wanted to be doing something,” Mr Whitehead said. “So I gave it a go.”
As a milko in the ‘90s, Mr Whitehead he delivered dairy to 10 shops and about 50 houses across Wagga.
Fast-forward two decades, Les Whitehead Dairy Products drops off about 6000 litres of milk to 250 customers across the region.
Mr Whitehead said a lot had changed across the years, but the early hours of milk delivery remained the same. Arriving at 3am, he said staff had the trucks loaded and on the road before 6am.
People don’t realise what these guys get up to in the morning. It’s crazy.Anna Whitehead
Excluding Wagga deliveries, the seven truckers drive a combined average of 1000 kilometres to Uranquinty, The Rock, Henty, Coolamon, Temora, Cootamundra, Young and Harden each day.
Anna Whitehead said it could sometimes be a thankless job.
“People don’t realise what these guys get up to in the morning,” Ms Whitehead said. “It’s crazy.”
But she said residents would certainly notice if there was suddenly no milk at cafes, schools, defence force bases, IGAs and Foodworks across the Riverina.
Without milkos, she said residents would be having their coffees in the afternoon.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not human until I have my coffee,” Ms Whitehead said. “And who’s having breakfast in the evening?”
As a point of pride, she said delivering wholesale milk locally meant money stayed in the Riverina.
It comes amid a war against commercial giants and supermarket chains, with “small business servicing small business”, as her husband said.
“It goes from farmers, to processors, to us and on the customer,” she said.
“Over the years we’ve supported sporting teams, school canteens and the blood bank.”
We're a small business servicing small business.Les Whitehead
In fact, if you’ve ever indulged in a milkshake at Wagga’s Red Cross Donor Centre, you now know where it came from.
For more than 50 years, Anna and Les Whitehead have called Wagga home.
It is the reason the pair call themselves locals.
“We’re not blow-ins,” Ms Whitehead said. “If that’s important?”
While there were benefits of getting up early, Ms Whitehead said there were also challenges.
She said knocking off close to noon, meant there was time for drivers to go to the shops before closing and time to be home to see kids or grandkids, and have dinner.
“But for 1000 years we rose and slept with the sun, so it’s not a natural thing,” Ms Whitehead said.
“It can mess with your sleeping patterns.”
She said the awkward start time also impacted on social lives, with a 3am kick-off, six days a week, making late nights on the town a painful venture.
But ultimately, it is the efforts of residents, like the Whiteheads, that often go unnoticed, with work well underway before twilight welcomes the dawn.
Do you know someone who helps keep Wagga running at night? Let us know.