I’m soaking up the warm summer sunshine on a wooden park bench in the middle of Crows Nest. It’s cooler up here on the Darling Downs, and Brisbane feels a lot further away than a 2-hour drive. Dusty 4WDs, many with caravans, cruise past down the main street. The bottle in my hand is cold and slick with condensation, and the first sip produces flashbacks of childhood. Dark sweet liquid fizzles on my tongue and I recall brown crates on the back of noisy delivery trucks in quiet Brisbane streets. Hot summers, carefree days, and small hands clutching glasses filled with an ice-cold drink. The Double Sars in my hand teases out both memories and a smile.
In the 1970s Kirks and Tristram put smiles on a lot of faces in Brisbane. Both were established soft drink makers who delivered bottles of Creaming Soda, Ginger Beer, Passito, Squash and Sarsparilla. The tastes of an Australian childhood. Yet, Kirks and Tristram would, like many factories across the country, be bought out by multinationals over the years.
Crows Nest Soft Drinks – established in 1903, decades after Kirks and Tristram – is one of the few cordial and soft drink factories to buck that trend. “We are one of about 8 independent companies left in Australia that still make soft drinks and syrups,” says Tanya, co-owner of Crows Nest Soft Drinks. Tanya Rosenberg and her husband Murray bought the operation with friends and business partners, Alex and Terrie Davidson, in 2014. “Murray was away a lot working in the mines. We had a young family and we wanted something different. Alex had sold his bakeries in Toowoomba and he was looking for a project.”
That project would see both couples taking over one of Queensland’s longest-running cordial factories, with 60-year old equipment still in working order but held together with fencing wire. “It was hard at the start,” admitted Tanya. “Getting the production processes running smoothly and building up the brand.” Yet, in 2017, they moved to a larger building around the corner. “The locals backed us, and we now have a loyal following across Queensland.”
And back them, they did. The local IGA supermarket stocks a wide selection of their 20 flavours. As does the bakery. And the pub. Even the local museum on the edge of town offers a small selection. I asked the Museum Manager about the town’s soft drink history and she led me to a feature wall covered in black and white photos of a 1900s Crows Nest. There are pictures of bullock teams and steam engines. There were pictures of Ray White’s 1902 auction shed – where his real estate empire began. She told me: “The Soft Drink Factory is now located in the old National Bank.” Then adds, “And the old soft drink factory, is now a very popular cafe, Harper’s. It’s very popular with car enthusiasts and motorcyclists.”
But it’s not just the enthusiasts who keep showing up. “Covid has been good for Crows Nest,” said Tanya. She tells me that grey nomads have poured through town over the previous 18 months. Perhaps they pause their travels to discover the town’s timber and cattle history, or its links to real estate royalty. Maybe they simply stop for a good coffee. Or to taste an old-fashioned soft drink and possibly rediscover a few childhood memories.