The Bundaberg Distilling Company was formed in 1888 to supplement returns from the local sugar industry and to make use of molasses, a waste product from sugar refining. The first Bundaberg Rum was distilled in 1889 and the following year it was being sold interstate. In its early years the company struggled financially, first returning a profit in 1898.
A key figure behind the development of the distillery was Frederic Buss, a local businessman in the Bundaberg region. Buss owned many sugar refineries and mills as well as other local businesses. His first attempt to interest investors in a distillery was in 1885. At this time, waste molasses was being pumped into the Burnett River. He was unsuccessful. As well as doubts about the financial viability of the enterprise, there were moral objections. The temperance movement was particularly strong in the late 19th century and some saw the production of rum as an incitement to drunkenness.
However, in 1888 Buss was successful in forming a company with a number of local investors. It was officially incorporated on 22nd November. One of the shareholders, a Mr S.H. Bravo, was appointed as manager as he had distilling experience gained in the home of rum – the West Indies. In its early days the company was troubled by intense competition, floods and a depressed economy. The company was liquidated and re-formed with a new shareholding, eventually proving profitable in 1898.
The Bundaberg Rum distillery burnt down twice, interrupting production from 1907 to 1914 and from 1936 to 1939. After the second fire, burning molasses spilled into the Burnett River, setting it on fire. Initially, Bundaberg Rum was sold in barrels and bottled by agents. It wasn’t until the 1970s that all bottling operations were brought in-house.
Queenslanders are very loyal to their local drop. A Roy Morgan Research survey in 2015 found that while 5.4% of Australian adults consume some kind of rum, that figure rises to 9.8% in Queensland. And most of that is Bundaberg Rum – or Bundy, as it’s commonly known. Almost 6.0% of Queensland adults drink Bundy in an average four weeks, well in excess of the Australian average (2.4%).
It’s a two-way street. The company supports its loyal customers. After the devastating 2013 floods in Brisbane Bundaberg Rum released the special limited edition Road To Recovery bottle. Each bottle bore the name of a flood-affected street, and sales raised over $250,000 for flood relief.