In 1888 Bundaberg was a centre of the emerging Queensland sugar industry. In that year a group of businessmen, led by local entrepreneur and sugar producer, Frederick Buss, formed the Bundaberg Distilling Company to manufacture rum from the sugar by-product, molasses: 22,500 gallons were distilled in that year.
Economic depression and disastrous fires in 1907 and 1936 caused interruptions in production. At the time of the 1936 fire it was reported that the precious product escaped into the adjoining Burnett River. The Daily Times of Bundaberg, 23 November 1936 noted, ‘Strong men stood with bowed heads and a suspicion of a tear in their eyes as they watched the bubbling toddy just stream past them.’
Bundy Rum has had a long association with the Australian digger, beginning during the South African Boer War and continuing through World Wars 1 and 2. In 1942 Bundaberg Rum and Cola was devised to meet demand from visiting American armed forces.
The Bundaberg distillery passed into the control of the adjacent Millaquin sugar refinery in 1912, which itself became part of the Bundaberg Sugar Company in 1975. Since 2000, Bundaberg Rum has been owned by global multinational beer, wine and spirits company, Diageo.
Today the Bundaberg distillery employs sixty people locally supported by a further 560 nationwide in production, sales and marketing. In excess of 390 million standard drinks are consumed annually, confirming Bundaberg Rum as Australia’s favourite spirit. A good corporate citizen, Bundaberg Rum supports a wide range of community activities and has become a leader in water conservation.
One of the best recognised mascots in Australian business is Bundy R Bear, the big white Polar bear created in 1961 to symbolise Queensland’s own Bundaberg Rum. It was the brainchild of Sam McMahon, to suggest that Bundaberg Rum would help ward off the cold of a chilly southern winter. McMahon also introduced the distinctive Bundaberg Rum square bottle, the brick, and three piece label.
Bundaberg Rum’s iconic brand has a deep connection with its Queensland roots and its consumers’ values. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the National Trust of Queensland included Bundaberg Rum on its first list of Queensland Heritage Icons.