1867 First Australian mineral water bottled

Hepburn Springs in the 19th century. Postcard: SLV

Although various mineral water springs were discovered in Australia through the 1820s and 1830s, it seems the first Australian mineral water to be bottled commercially was Ballan Selzer Water.  The spring was located around 80km northwest of Melbourne.  Messrs Morton and Joeke were granted a Crown Lease in 1867 and set about constructing a plant to bottle the water. “In the course of a week or two,” said the Kyneton Observer, “the Ballan Selzer Water will have become a recognised beverage in Melbourne, and throughout the Colony.” Ballan Selzer was being marketed by Rowlands Soft Drinks of Ballarat, as late as 1914.

Ballan mineral springs bottle

“Taking the waters” was a fashionable pastime in 18th and 19th century England and Europe. Remarkable healing powers were attributed to mineral waters and, in Australia’s early days, bottled water was imported from various sources, including India. During the latter half of the 19th century, various natural mineral sources were discovered around Australia, some of which were soon commercialised. Many of these had been known to Indigenous people since time immemorial and esteemed for their healing powers.

Australian mineral water in the late 19th and early 20th century

In Victoria, early settlers discovered mineral springs at Hepburn as early as 1838 and the Hepburn Mineral Springs reserve was established in 1865. The area has the highest concentration of mineral springs in Australia, but commercial bottling did not begin here until the early 20th century.

In 1889, the Board of Lands and Works made a Crown grant of more than two acres of land in the township of Hepburn in the shire of Mount Franklin, on which the springs were located, to a Mr G. Alan. The lease was later transferred to the Hepburn Mineral Springs Proprietory Company for 21 years from 1905.  The water was successfully bottled in 1911.

An article in The Herald, Melbourne, in 1924 extolled the virtues of the “wonderful radioactive mineral waters” which were said to contain “natural radioactive gas”.  At that time radioactivity was deemed a positive thing. The article quoted Professor Scammell of London who opined that “radioactive treatment for the restoration of youth will make the monkey gland treatment become a back number”.

Zetz Spa water at the spring, Ballinore, NSW

Meanwhile, another Australian mineral water bottling operation had been established at Clifton Springs, near Geelong. The first commercial bottling operation there began in 1875 and by 1880 more than 5000 bottles were being sold annually. By the 1920s, though, the springs had become polluted and were closed.

In Queensland, water was discovered rising naturally from the ground near Helidon, in the Lockyer Valley. The first person to bottle and sell Helidon water, in 1879, was a chemist, Reginald Larard. He originally called it “Oogar Dang Water”, reflecting the Aboriginal name for the springs, but it was later marketed as Helidon Spa Water.  In the 1950s, the Helidon Spa Water company merged with a competitor to form Helidon Gardner Pty Ltd, trading under the brand name Kirk’s.

In New South Wales in 1886, would-be coal miners discovered a mineral water source in the course of their explorations. The artesian water from the Zetz Spa at Ballimore, near Dubbo, was introduced to the market in 1898 and was acquired by Tooth’s Brewery in 1902. Its sales continued until 1977 when competition for the mineral water market increased.

Australian mineral water renaissance

The 1970s marked the beginning of a new wave of popularity for bottled water. An article in the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1979 remarked on a 50 per cent increase in the consumption of mineral water over the previous three years.

Among the brands available at that time were Zetz Spa and Taurina, a brand drawing its water from the Helidon district and launched in 1975 by an Italian builder named Carlo Zaccariotto.  The Hepburn/Daylesford area was also producing the Hepburn Spa, Deep Spring and Bisleri brands.  The article also flagged the anticipated Australian launch of imported Perrier by Amatil. “It could be the start of a new growth industry,” the Weekly said.

And so it proved. It wasn’t long before the big multinationals saw the potential of the bottled water market. By 1982 Amatil (formerly British Tobacco and now Coca-Cola Europacific Partners) had acquired the Taurina Spa brand and launched Mount Franklin, from the Hepburn area. In 1986, the company acquired Deep Spring and Bisleri from Beecham.

The bottled water market – both sparkling and still – continued to expand. By 2008, it had a more than 10 per cent share of the non-alcoholic beverage market. By 2018 it was worth over $700 million despite blind testing showing that most people could not tell the difference between bottled and tap water.

To be sold as mineral water, the water must come from springs or wells.  The mineral content depends on the source and can include sodium, bicarbonate, chloride, sulphate, potassium, magnesium and sometimes iron and fluoride. The name of the product is not necessarily an indication of its origin. For example, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners’ leading brand, Mount Franklin, is water from “various sources”. Much of it comes from Springbrook in the Gold Coast hinterland.

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