Emu Ridge visit Eucalyptus oil Distillery in Victoria
We took a few weeks holidays and look what we found 2 Eucy stills. One run by Robbie and work for the dole helpers operating every second weekend as a tourism project and at Mickeys Distillery an old relic that was last used in 2011, the State Forest stopped harvesting in that area unfortunately. Not much different to what they did to us, but we were harvesting on private land not government land. We were fortunate to have established our plantations on our own land and as a result the mongrels couldn’t touch us and we are lucky to still be harvesting today. We are proud to be one of only a few remaining commercial stills left in Australia today.
Below is a story of fellow distillers:
Geoffrey Robin Collins better known as Robbie was born at Rathdown Street Carlton on the 3rd June 1939 to Fred and Sarah Collins.
Due to the early death of Robbie’s father, his mother took him to live with his grandparents Bob, Mary and Aunty Jean Grieves at Rheola. His mother went to work in Melbourne to help support him.
At school age Robbie attended the Rheola Primary School No 59. At the age of fourteen he took his first job at Harold and Janet Prenton’s. Robbie was milking cows and picking apples. My first wage in 1953 was 2lb pounds and 10 shillings per week.
In 1955 Robbie started another job on Stan and Alice Catto’s farm milking cows and doing general farm duties. His wage then 7 pounds a week. Robbie milked sixteen cow’s morning and night by hand which was a big job. He then had the pleasure of using the first cow milking machine in the district called a Lister which was driven by petrol cutting milking time in half.
In 1956 Robbie started a new job as a bulldozer operator for the Robertson Brothers Earth moving company sinking dams and road making. Unfortunately Robertson Brothers cease operation in 1964 and Robbie became unemployed.
During the time of bulldozing and sinking dams he met and married wife Margaret and had three children Julie, Pam and Robyn.
In 1964 when Robbie was unemployed there were not a lot of jobs available in the area.
Robbie’s luck changed when Jack Hansen approached him regarding cutting eucalyptus leaves. It was an offer to good to turn down.
So a new era began for Robbie cutting eucalyptus leaves. He had not done this sort of work before but didn’t take long to find out. It was hard slogging work cutting with choppers and hoes for a eucalyptus distiller Mr Reg Matthews on Mr Reg Holt’s farm.
Jack and Robbie cut leaves together for a few months and their wages were around 16 pounds a week each. In 1965 when decimal currency was introduced he was employed as a tractor driver being paid $40 dollars a week. Even when Robbie became permanently employed at the Korong Shire, he still cut eucalyptus leaves at the weekends and on holidays to make sufficient income for his family.
In 1975 Robbie teamed up with a work mate on the Korong Shire, Mr Tommy Webb. Tommy and Robbie started cutting leaves for Jim Ghan from Inglewood. Jim use to cart leaves for distilling from the Wedderburn area to his Inglewood factory. Jim payed $2.50 lb for cutting and the vats would produce 80 to 100 lb of eucalyptus oil. For one month Tom and Robbie would produce around 400 lb of eucalyptus oil. The eucalyptus oil was sold to a company in Melbourne Felton Grimwade and Bickford Pty Ltd. Robbie cut leaves with Jim for a few years. Sadly it all came to a halt when Jim lost his life in a car accident. When this accident occurred Tom and Robbie had to stop cutting eucalyptus leaves and look for a factory to distil the eucalyptus oil. It took sometime to find an old eucalyptus factory seven miles from Wedderburn at a place called Woolshed Flat. This factory required some maintenance.
Tommy and Robbie contacted the owners Les & Eric Nisbet and asked if they could restore to distil eucalyptus leaves. The brothers agreed so Tommy and Robbie set to work in restoring the old factory. It took them a few months before it was workable. Once the repairs were finished they started distilling their own leaves and made it a profitable enterprise.
Tommy and Robbie worked the factory together for a number of years and then Tommy decided to give away the eucy leave cutting and work cutting fire wood. This left Robbie working the factory with the help of his wife Margaret, daughters Pam and Robyn and an old eucalyptus cutter from StArnard Mr Jim Hines. Jim worked and cut leaves for the factory and the Collins family were able to entertain tourist’s who visited the site to see the production of eucalyptus oil.
In 1997 Robbie’s daughter Robyn started a business called Loddon Discovery Tours. The tours would stop at the old factory which made it very famous in the coach tour sector in Victoria.
In 1994 when Robbie retired from the Korong Shire, Les & Eric Nisbet of Wedderburn gave him a Stew Pot that they had worked in Les’s backyard for many years. This was a very important gift, because it showed how the old pioneers worked over 150 years ago. It was the way Eucalyptus Oil was distilled in Australia since 1852.
Owing to the vast interest taken by tourist’s visiting the old factory, seeing the eucalyptus oil process Robbie approached Wedderburn Tourism Inc about placing the Eucalyptus Stew Pot at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve as a major tourist attraction for Wedderburn. He requested the Stew Pot be owned owned by the community.
Robbie operated the Eucalyptus Stew Pot as a volunteer for Wedderburn Tourism Inc from 1998 through to 2006.
Wedderburn Tourism Inc engaged their first contractor in 2006 and now Robbie supervises and passes on his considerable knowledge to contractors and work experiences participants about eucalyptus oil production in Australia.
Robbie is very happy that he has been able to past on his knowledge to Wedderburn Tourism Inc about the history, heritage and culture of processing eucalyptus oil.
Eucalyptus oil is a very important part of Wedderburn’s history as well as the history of Australia.
Eucalyptus oil was the first indigenous export which has been produced for 154 years and continues to be sold both in Australia and around the world.
So theres a bit of history bout this lovely guy we met Robbie and some Victorian history for you. If you would like to know more about our South Australian History and Kangaroo Island in particular see this link.