The dawn of Australian tea
Australia’s tea journey begins in the beautiful lush, tropical rainforest of Bingil Bay, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland.
In 1882, the four Cutten brothers discover Bingil Bay. They identify the area’s potential for farming and apply for a land grant. Four years later, they establish Australia’s first commercial tea plantation at Bingil Bay. Alongside tea, they grow coffee, spices and tropical fruit.
Harsh Weather Conditions
Over the coming years, the estate is battered by a number of cyclones. In 1918, an enormous cyclone crosses the Far North Queensland coast and causes widespread damage. At Bingil Bay, the cyclone is accompanied by a tidal wave, which has devastating consequences for the tea farm. Virtually nothing remains of the Cutten brothers’ farming empire, almost 40 years after it was established.
Tea makes a comeback
The future pioneer of Australian tea, Dr Allan Maruff, migrates to Australia from India in the early 1950s. He settles in a town called Innisfail, near Cairns. The lush, tropical environment reminds him of the tea-growing regions of India. As an enthusiastic botanist, Maruff commits to the idea of developing a tea industry in Australia.
Maruff learns of the Cutten brother’s lost plantation, and goes on an expedition to find it. Deep in the rainforest, he discovers thriving tea plants, some as high as 15 metres, and collects hundreds of seedlings and seeds from the undergrowth. He returns to Innisfail to start a tea nursery.
Maruff purchases 130 hectares of land in the Nerada Valley, nestled in the foothills of the Atherton Tablelands. He plants the very first row of tea using the seedlings he collected at Bingil Bay.
Nerada Tea Estates is born
The plantation grows 32 hectares of thriving tea plants, however Maruff has no efficient means of harvesting the plants. He works with local engineers to develop a method of mechanical harvesting, the very method that becomes crucial to the survival of the Australian tea industry. He harvests his first crop using an innovative five-tonne mechanical tea harvester.
Maruff approaches trading company Burns Philp to invest in his business, and together they form a joint venture called Nerada Tea Estates. The first tea-processing factory in Australia opens its doors.
Meanwhile, a group of local businessmen form the Tea Estates of Australia (TEA) and begin planting tea on a 80-hectare property not far from the Nerada Tea plantation.
New management and focus
Maruff is unable to fetch the prices he needs to sustain the business. Nerada Tea is eventually forced to shut down, and Maruff, the pioneer of the Australian tea industry, is no longer involved in the industry he created.
In a serendipitous twist of fate, Tea Estates of Australia buys Nerada Tea Estate’s assets and combines the two plantations. TEA makes the decision to market all tea under the Nerada Tea brand.
The new Nerada Tea brand is launched in the Queensland market. Throughout the 1970s, Nerada Tea grows through agriculture, innovative methods of mechanised harvesting and expansion of its processing and packing factories.
A new phase for Nerada Tea
The single-biggest expansion of Australia’s tea industry occurs in the 1980s, in which Nerada Tea becomes available nationwide and its tea develops a league of loyal consumers.
Two internationally renowned tea growers, JA Russell and James Finlay, establish a plantation on the Atherton Tablelands. They eventually enter a joint venture with TEA and together they build a new and highly efficient tea processing factory in Far North Queensland’s Malanda.
The Queensland Government and economy support its thriving tea industry. The new factory opens in 1991 by then Premier of Queensland, Wayne Goss. Shortly afterwards, Nerada Tea’s new packing factory opens in Brisbane.
The world’s largest supplier of Australian tea
Today, Nerada Tea is the largest producer of Australian-grown tea in the world. In 15 years, the Nerada Tea range has grown from five products to 85, extending its range from black tea to green tea, white tea and a range of infusions.
The Nerada plantation on the Atherton Tablelands is now home to more than 360 hectares of tea. The plantation delivers 6.6 million kilos of fresh tea leaves to the Nerada Tea processing factory every year. That’s more than 1.5 million kilos of black tea per year.
In 2018, the Nerada Tea plantation is the first Australian business to be awarded the Rainforest Alliance certification seal. This approval, identified by the green frog seal, means that our farm has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social and economic sustainability.