Eucalyptus, by gum – so that’s how it’s done

Volunteer eucy cutter Robyn Vella at the working stew pot in Wedderburn.
Volunteer eucy cutter Robyn Vella at the working stew pot in Wedderburn.

When you think of a distillery tour, tipples such as gin and whisky usually come to mind. But a tourist attraction in Loddon Valley is giving visitors a glimpse into the production of Australia’s first indigenous export.

The region is the only place left in Australia where you can see every facet of eucalyptus oil production.

The interactive Inglewood Eucalyptus Distillery Museum in Inglewood is set on the site of the old Jones distillery in the heart of “eucy” country.

Together with the working eucy stew pot at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve in nearby Wedderburn, it tells  of the industry’s  links with the region and  the history of blue mallee eucalyptus oil production.

A working model of the old steam boil eucalyptus distillery stands outside the Inglewood museum.

Distilled from gum leaves, fragrant cure-all eucalyptus oil has been known and used by Indigenous Australians for millennia.

Shortly after the First Fleet landed in 1788, surgeon-general John White sent a sample of the oil back to England for testing, having noted its wondrous properties in healing the soldiers on his ship. There it was discovered that the oil was far more effective than English peppermint, the usual oil at the time for disinfecting.

Popularised by Joseph Bosisto, the oil was in  high demand during World War I. It was used to control a meningitis outbreak and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919, which killed up to 100 million people.

For 90 years, Australia produced all the world’s eucalyptus oil before losing its monopoly to China, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Russia and Chile.

At the museum, you can find out how important the eucalyptus industry has been to the local district.

In 2004 the museum was bought by eucalyptus producer Bosisto’s and subsequently donated back to the Inglewood community.

“The story of eucalyptus oil really is unique to this area,” said Bosisto’s executive director Tegan Abbot.

“The blue mallee is native to the Inglewood-Wedderburn region and simply does not grow well anywhere else, apart from around West Wyalong in southern NSW.

“These trees yield the best medicinal oil that can be produced in the world.”

Loddon Shire Council’s tourism and marketing officer Robyn Vella is also a volunteer eucy cutter in Wedderburn, working with her father to cut and process the oil at the stew pot.

“The eucalyptus stew pot is the first way they made eucalyptus before the steam boil came to fruition, “ she said.

“Visitors come on site and they see how blue mallee eucalyptus oil is produced from start to finish in the stew pot.”

Located on the northern side of Inglewood, the museum is about 50km west of Bendigo and two hours from the centre of Melbourne.

Work is under way to build a miniature railway around the site, and there’s also a cafe with souvenirs and natural products for sale.

The working eucy stew pot is at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve in Wedderburn.

You can also find out more at the Eucalyptus Discovery Centre at Loddon Shire Visitor Centre loddon.vic.gov.au/visit

This story originally appeared on The Senior