Water bubbling up from a bore beneath the Hamilton Inn in central Tasmania is touted as the purest mineral water in the world — an ancient elixir that is at least 7000 years old, stored in fissures between dolerite rock from the Jurassic period about 200 million years ago — and John Stevenson is keen for the world to taste it.
The Sydney businessman bought the hotel seven years ago, aware that the previous publican Terry Charleston had enjoyed a degree of fame in Tasmania for discovering and bottling this water. Stevenson wants to take things further, confident that Europe, Asia and the United States will be prepared to pay a handsome price for this most exclusive drink.
The rare water source was discovered by accident. Terry sank a bore in his backyard in 1985 because he was in dispute with the local council over the cost of water services to the hotel. Determined to find his own water, he drilled a series of bores around his property and hit only impenetrable rock beneath the subsoil — a common feature of the Hamilton region.
He then noticed that a cherry tree in the garden had died, showing signs of damage from excess water. So he had one more bore sunk next to the tree. It split a gap between two rock masses, and at a depth of about 30 metres pure water began to flow — so pure that the vegetables he irrigated with this new water source grew to exceptional sizes.
“There’s something in this water,” he mused, and so he sent samples to mainland universities to get carbon tested. The results startled everyone. Not only is the water ancient, but it is the only known mineral water that contains natural fluoride. It also predates modern pollution, pesticides and radiation influence.
Thrilled by his discovery, Terry broadcast his find widely and bought an old soft-drink bottling line to start selling the water under the Charleston’s Mineral Water of Tasmania brand. It was instantly popular in Tasmania and enjoyed some distribution in Australia’s mainland states, but a mix of escalating business costs and limited marketing crippled his business, and production ceased.
When John Stephenson learned in late 2002 that the hotel was for sale, he noted that the famous bore came with the property. While his hotel management company — one of seven businesses he is involved in — has bold plans to eventually develop the Hamilton Inn into a boutique accommodation and conference centre, it is the water that gripped his imagination.
Having worked in management consulting and business finance structuring, John could sense that strong business potential existed in marketing exclusive water to a global client base. So he ordered $1.5 million of machinery to start producing a range of waters in different packaging. Three bottling lines are in various stages of being constructed in a production plant behind the hotel to deliver still waters, sparkling waters and waters added to fruit juices and alcoholic brews, in PET plastic containers and glass.
Before a drop was bottled, John held meetings with interested international clients and negotiated the foundation of supply contracts to companies overseas. Europeans, who cherish the health value of pure spring waters, are especially keen, with strong interest also in the US, Japanese and Singaporean markets. Knowing there’s a viable market, John is now striving to get a production plant built quickly, and is taking a leading hand in proceedings.
A mechanical engineer by trade who went on to complete an MBA in legal studies, John has learned that his family tree, which contains many consecutive generations of engineers, dates back to George Stephenson, a pioneer of locomotive steam engines.
But this isn’t making the creation of a new water bottling plant any easier. John has spent much time learning about the local water table, determining the appropriate flow levels for the bore — analysts have calculated that extracting 60,000 litres a day will not damage the vast water source — and designing a facility that will process the water to exacting world standards. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of science involved in trying to get perfectly clean water into a perfectly clean bottle,” he says.
He hopes that success with this endeavor will bring some prosperity to the region. When production for the water is in full operation, it will create up to a dozen local jobs. John is also seeking expertise from other local identities, including Harvey Warren, formerly of Tasmania’s famed Coo-ee soft drinks, who will be working as an engineer at the Hamilton water plant.
“It will lift the whole community once we get this going,” says John.
It’s ironic that water production could prove a saving grace for Hamilton, because trouble sourcing enough water for proper cropping prevented this town from becoming the capital of Tasmania. The Governor already had a residence here by the time convict labour built the inn in 1826, but the soil’s inability to grow anything more than surface crops saw the anticipated population of 2000 people dwindle away. Now there are only 200 people in town, which means that the prospect of a new industry to process mineral water is tantalizing.
At the height of Terry Charleston’s success in the late 1990s, busloads of tourists used to come to the Hamilton Inn from Hobart, lining up at the front bar to order glasses of the famous mineral water drawn from the ancient cavern below. John is confident those days will return.
“We have something unique here,” he says. “It deserves to win international attention because it can’t be found anywhere else. It’s a perfect symbol of Tasmania — clean and pure. I’d be surprised if the world doesn’t beat a path to our door for it.”
“Water Drop” Dyanna @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
Photos of Hamilton Inn and Waterview courtesy of Hamilton Inn
Did you enjoy this article?
Please let the author know by leaving them a comment below!
And, subscribe to our free weekly digest!
Simply add your email below. A confirmation email will be sent to you.