Traditional cordials, aerated waters and soft drink manufacturing has a long association with Charters Towers. In the early 1900s local family names such as Frasers, Meilke, Kayes, De-Castres and Summers were all well known in the booming soft drinks and cordials industry.
Whitbreads’ soft drinks and cordials originated as ‘Wellington Aerated Waters’ established by Oliver Hocking in 1896. Hocking arrived in Charters Towers as one of many “Cousin Jack” miners relocating to North Queensland for the local gold mining opportunities.
In 1896 he launched a cordial and aerated water business to supply the population growth during the time. The factory was located at Wellington, before moving to Queenton, on the corner of Millchester Rd and York St. The soft drink and cordial factory operated from this location from the early 1900s through to 2011.
In 1928 Hockings’ son William R. Hocking took over management and ran the business until 1954. During this period the soft drinks and cordials company shifted names and was widely known as ‘Hockings’ amongst the locals.
At the beginning of 1954 two brothers from Winton, Jim and Alec Whitbread purchased the business. Hocking stayed on board to help them out but unfortunately, died later that year.
The following year after Hockings’ death, Jim and Alec changed the business’ name to the iconic ‘Whitbreads’ Cordials’. And with an abundance of opportunity, the two brothers branched out into separate business ventures. Jim took over the milk vendors, and Alec continued running the soft drink factory. In the early ‘60s, Alec employed his friend Len Ulett and his wife May to manage the business while Alec moved to Townsville.
Today, Len and May’s daughter, Debbie Urquhart (nee Ulett) is the current owner of Whitbreads’ Soft Drinks and Cordials.
The business thrived during the ‘60s with distributors servicing North and West Queensland. During this time, Whitbreads’ opened another factory in Townsville to keep up with demand. Sadly, in the early ‘70s, Alec passed away, leaving the business to his son John. In the late ‘70s, Len and May decided to depart Charters Towers. They selected to pursue the service side of the company delivering to homes, milk bars and catering to local events and weddings.
John Whitbread continued running his father’s business whilst moving into transport and bottling for Schweppes. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, glass bottles were industry standard, and the bottles were returned and cleaned with boilers and caustic tanks for sanitisation.
In 1987, John sold the business to Wayne and Kay Lestone. The couple continued the soft drink and cordial manufacturing tradition in the small country town. And went on to become one of the only privately owned factories still producing traditional flavours and tastes in the region.
During their ownership, the trend was to change from glass bottles to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) to move with the times much like Coke and Schweppes. Whitbreads’ began sourcing the new bottles from Townsville, and then with the closure of the local Coke-Cola factory, the bottles came from Brisbane.
In 2011, John Whitbread sold the business to Ian and Debbie Urquhart. The couple relocated the company from the original location on the corner of York St & Millchester Rd, Queenton. To the current Whitbreads’ site, 11 Chapel Lane, Charters Towers.
As lifelong long Charters Towers locals, Ian and Debbie Urquhart have strong family ties to the business. Today, they continue to uphold the historical connections and traditional reputation with the Tropical North Queensland and Charters Towers regional communities.