In the drought of 1938, crops died, fruit shriveled on the vine, blooms fell and flowers withered; nectar was so scarce swarms of bees descended on The South Gippsland Cordial Co, and in the space of a few days consumed four gallons of the syrup used to sweeten and flavour the soft drinks. The bees were so voracious, factory manager Norman Ebsworth changed production to night time, and to discourage the bees all syrup utensils and containers had to be thoroughly washed before break of day.

James Lawrence opened The South Gippsland Cordial Co. in Mine Rd, Korumburra, in 1895. Towns large and small had their own cordial and aerated soft drink bottling factories, delivering ice-cold drinks in an era before household refrigerators were commonplace. Known as “The Lyre Bird” Cordial Factory because of the distinctive lyrebird logo on its bottles and signage, the original factory served soft drinks for the next 20 years, becoming a household name.

Bee attacks not withstanding, selling flavoured and chilled sugary water must have been a lucrative business. In December of 1917 the “Lyre Bird” Cordial Factory was advertised for sale, “Freehold Land, Buildings, Aerated Water Plant, Assorted and Registered Bottles, 3hp Electric Motor and Sundries…The whole offered in one lot as a going concern, and if not disposed of will be sold in lots, as catalogued, as well as the Galvanised Iron Factory for removal – under instruction from Mr James Lawrence, who is giving up this Business.” (The Argus, Melbourne, 29 December 1917)

It passed through a number of hands in the first half of the 20th century, from a Mr William Dobell to Mr Ebsworth, then finally to Mr Colin Malcolm McLean in 1946. McLean with a canny sense of marketing dropped the old fashioned Lyrebird label, and in 1948 introduced the hip, modern, jazzy looking “Joe’s” label.

Of course the practice of making registered bottles that remained the property of the soft drinks company was common enough, as was offering a redemption for their return. Bottles were expensive, sugar water cheap. McLean actually made it a feature of his marketing, with the slogan



below the famous Joe’s musical staves logo. Joe’s was a household name throughout Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula for the next 40 years, repeatedly winning 1st place for best beverages at the Royal Agricultural Show, and surviving the encroachment of multinational conglomerates, but finally succumbing in 1986.


This small display of original Joe’s bottles can be seen at Mileto’s Courtyard Cafe, close to the top of the hill on Commercial Street (the South Gippsland Hwy), Korumburra. They also have just about the best coffee you can get in town, as well as delicious bacon and egg sandwiches and other delights. Not to mention some fantastic pictures of the famous Korumburra elephants…but as they say, that’s another story.


Drink Joe’s Ice Cold 30 FL 0Z

5 Responses

  1. Dianne

    I grew up at LeongathSouth.One of the souvenirs l took away with me when the farm sold was a Joe’s bottle. Orange was my favourite. Straight up.Also, as you know, an empty Joe’s bottle made pocket money for kids “very precious”indeed.
    Can’t quite remember how much the refund was…in old money and new. Do do?

    I am thinking about the state government’s refusal
    to support a similar scheme. Looked at the arguements against– I am not convinced. Especially following China decision to no longer take our recycled goods . Now we are dumping into land fill.
    Yep, I live in the city now, but I am not that far removed from the land.
    Thanks, I look forward to receiving that info.Then I will be off to see my local member with that Joe’s bottle tucked under my arm.


      Hi Dianne,
      Yes I agree with you I grew up in Maffra & later raised a family in Churchill, & Joe’s home delivered soft drinks was always a favorite with my family too. In my old age of 78 years, I have a weird hobby of collecting bottle caps, but sadly only have one (1) old Joe’s cap- a Lemon Juice & Soda. ( anyone about, with other Gippsland crown caps could pass them my way,please ring 0427149921 and I will reply–thanks)
      I believe the Victorian Government has plans for a fee for bottle recycling program in the works for 2 years time; don’t know why it cannot commence sooner though?
      cheers with sodas & beers,
      John Breheny.

  2. Craig

    Thanks for your comments, John.
    I have seen some bottles around sometimes, but not caps.
    Will keep an eye out for any Joe’s with intact caps!


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