Chemicals Be Gone, By Gum from The Australian Eucalyptus Oil Company
Fifth-generation eucalyptus oil distillers have started a natural cleaning revolution. The Australian Eucalyptus Oil Company is on a mission to help people cut toxic chemicals and fragrances from their lives. Bec Marshall investigates.
When pioneering Anne McKean took out a license to distill eucalyptus oil out the back of Bendigo in 1895, she could never have imagined that the same business would be operating five generations later – or that her products would play such a powerful role in stopping the sinister rise of toxic chemicals in modern-day homes.
Today, that business is known as The Australian Eucalyptus Oil Company and it’s just opened a shopfront in Noosa Junction to complement its thriving shop in Bendigo and online store.
But back in the late 1800s, Anne’s product was known as Helping Hand Eucalyptus (and later Bygum Eucalyptus) and her distillery was situated in a tiny town called Arnold. Or Arnold West, to be precise.
As family stories go, it’s impressive. Anne used to go out into the bush every day, walking three kilometres in and three kilometres out, with a sack on her back to collect eucalyptus leaves.
She would come home, stew them in a pot, skim the oil off the top and trade it for spices and other goods when bartering with travelling salesmen.
Over time, the market and Anne’s operations grew, and she employed local cutters to collect leaves and distill the oil in larger volumes.
Family archives feature a magnificent series of stunning black and white photos capturing Anne’s enterprise. Taken by Vincent Kelly in 1923, they show a remarkable outdoor set-up with a large shed and still, and groups of cutters with piles of gum leaves and horses and carts.
But perhaps the most striking image is that of Anne, resplendent and imposing in black period dress, standing to the left of the still. Smoke billows from a nearby chimney and you can properly imagine the heat and the dirt and the smell in this great show of industry.
Although she’s turned sideways and her face is not visible, Anne’s posture, the no-nonsense grasp of the closed umbrella by her side and the direction of her gaze speak volumes. She watches the action before her intently, supervising the men at work.
“It was very unusual for a woman to start a business back then,” said Tony Taig, Anne’s great-great-grandson and now Managing Director of the company.
“It’s a pretty incredible story and people are always amazed to hear about how it all began.
“We got our first licence in 1895 and we’ve been cutting the same trees to make eucalyptus oil ever since. We cut them off at the stump and you think they’ll never grow back again, but they do. Every two years we do the same.
“So, ours is one of the most sustainable businesses in the world.”
It’s also one that produces the strongest smelling eucalyptus oil in the world, thanks to the Blue Mallee source trees, known for having the strongest scent of all the eucalyptus varieties.
Anne, who died in 1928, passed on the business to her daughter, then her granddaughter Avis Taig who in turn passed it on to her sons Jeffrey and Peter.
The Taigs established one of the first commercial distilleries of eucalyptus oil in Victoria in the 1960s, selling most of their products in bulk to other companies who added it to their own products.
Tony came on board when tragedy struck the family.
“My father died 13 years ago, and I remember talking to the doctors when he was crook,” Tony said.
“Being a farmer, dad was exposed to a lot of chemicals, but the doctors said that while farm chemicals can be bad, you don’t use them all the time. They said one of the worst ways to get chemicals on your body is in cleaning products.
“So that sparked my mind into thinking we’ve got one of the best natural cleaning products in the world with eucalyptus oil, we should try and make cleaning products out of it.
“I worked with another person to create a multipurpose cleaner and laundry powder, and then after that we expanded into other products and now, we’ve got something for cleaning every part of your home as well as essential oils and body products made with Castile soap – which is the most natural soap you can get.”
Tony moved to the Sunshine Coast with his wife and two children last Christmas, choosing to open a store in Noosa Junction.
Unlike many businesses, COVID-19 was a blessing for The Australian Eucalyptus Oil Company.
“We made a sanitiser in about day after the pandemic started,” Tony said.
“My wife started noticing some chatter on social media and she suggested we start selling it. We had it ready within a day and it went crazy.
“We were supplying chemists and we went from 25 customers in our store per day to 180; and our online orders went from 20 a day up to 200.
“We ramped up production and we had to get family and friends to come in and help us – we struggled to get on top of the orders for about a fortnight, but we eventually got there.”
These days, the business has 20,000 customers across Australia and enjoys a 4.9-star rating out of more than 2,000 online reviews.
“Customers love the no chemicals and the fact that they’re not smelling those weird fake fragrances. We are completely non-toxic and we use real essential oils that are made in Australia,” Tony said.
“We also have a ‘My Blend’ range. So, for example, if you like grapefruit orange and lime, we can make it up for you for your own special cleaning products.
“Heaps of people say to us that they used to go to a certain place for holidays and it always smelled like lemon myrtle and eucalyptus… and they want to feel like they’re back in that spot when they were a kid again. So we make it up specially for them.
“Whatever way we can, we are trying to get people to use less chemicals.”
And that can only be good for our bodies and the environment.
The team at IN Noosa love to stay clean as naturally as possible so we’ve put together the essential “IN Noosa Clean Cleaning Kit” – and you have a chance to WIN IT!
Say goodbye to chemicals and hello to a healthier household!
This competition has now closed.
TIME TO COME CLEAN?
In 2018, a Norwegian study measuring lung function in people over a 20-year period found that using cleaning products can be as harmful as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
In Australia, common cleaning product ingredients like ammonia, phthalates and volatile organic compounds are linked to respiratory diseases and cancer. Some toothpaste and shampoos also contain harmful ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Chemicals used in household cleaning products are safety-checked by a federal government agency known as the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme. They are responsible for advising state and territory government regulators on the safety of industrial chemicals used in Australia.
Do natural products cost more? Ultimately, no. For example, Tony’s laundry powder costs $27.50 for a 1.5 kilo pack. It’s more expensive upfront, but it lasts longer and works out cheaper in the end. Tony says you only need 15 grams per wash, compared to other brands which require 90 grams.
Isn’t it time to come clean?