Welcome to a journey through our diverse history as coffee pioneers, growers, millers, roasters, and innovators. This journey spans back four generations and two continents, where our love affair with coffee first began.
Tanzania, Africa. Picture this; Kilimanjaro the highest free-standing mountain on earth, towering above the landscape, snow nestled atop, whilst the tropical heat is tempered by the shade and cool breeze rolling flowing down the mountain across vast coffee plantations. Elephants slowing grazing and meandering past the house on their journey across the great continent that is Africa. This is the backdrop that greeted Bill and Anne Jaques (pronounced "jakes") every morning. This allure is what started the Jaques family on a multigenerational journey full of trials and tribulations to Tropical North Queensland.
Born in England, Bill Jaques was a bomber pilot during World War 2 and trained in the Royal Airforce in North Africa. After surviving the war and experiencing the wonder of Africa, he promptly managed to gain employment with the British government spraying for Tetsiefly in Tanzania. Bringing his wife Anne to start their family and multiple plantations in the country.
Richard, Lyn, and Nat were born and the second generation of agriculturalists was on the rise but unfortunately so was the unrest in Tanzania. After 20 years of farming in Arusha, many European farmers were having their farms and plantations nationalized and told to get out or face the consequences! The Jaques family was being forced off the land and out of the country, being allowed to leave the country with $USD2000 minus the value of their possessions. Lyn took off to America to make a life for herself becoming a Supreme Court Judge. Nat married a beautiful daughter of a Tea farmer from Kenya, Linda and Richard married a maiden Mariolyn from the Netherlands.
This was a blessing in disguise! They were drawn to Australia because of the similarities in climates and a gut feeling that this was going to be the best place in the world to start families of their own. Nat, Linda, Richard, and Mariolyn loved how fantastic and friendly everyone was in Australia, and persuaded their mother Anne to join them also.
Having been in Australia for a few months Nat and Linda were ready to go adventuring, in search of a place to put down their roots and grow coffee. They set off from Perth WA on a trip that would end in North Tropical Queensland in the town of Mareeba, which is on the tablelands west of Cairns. As soon as they arrived they knew this was their home! The climate, the trees, the landscape was so similar to their surroundings in Africa, it was uncanny! What a perfect place to grow coffee, and it is, Mareeba is now the coffee-growing capital of Australia.
They made some enquiries and found out that they were not the only ones to have had this idea, as they learnt coffee was in fact grown here at the end of the 19th century and had won awards in the London Coffee Markets. This was it! With their passion and enthusiasm, it was time to reignite Australia’s coffee agriculture, which due to high labour prices and a wipeout of coffee crops due to a black frost in the 1920s, had fallen on the wayside.
Their first port of call was to establish a plantation and begin planting coffee seedlings. It was at this time also that Nat’s brother Richard and his wife Mariolyn joined the team and so began the Jaques Brothers Coffee.
They secured a parcel of land on the western side of Mareeba and set to work planting the fields and bringing Jaques Brothers Coffee to life. Coffee trees take 5 years to reach a height and crop size allowable for commercial harvest. They planted out 100,00 Arabica coffee trees, which started the clock ticking to solve the biggest hurdle for them to overcome, the cost of labour. Traditionally coffee had always been hand-picked, with a labour force required to pick 100,00 trees being in the hundreds, which was just not viable in the economy of Australia.
The Coffee Harvester
During their journey around Australia, Nat recall’s one day whilst he was laying on a Gold Coast beach, being intrigued by a mechanical machine he noticed churning sand and filtering out any trash that had been washed up onto the shore. He was further intrigued when he saw a similar machine driving the streets with brushes, sweeping and vacuuming up dirt and debris along the gutters. This planted a very important seed, on how he might be able to adapt a machine to pick up coffee from the ground by another machine that has somehow shaken the cherries off the tree. His mind was never far away from how he might be able to overcome their labour hurdle. As time passed and their coffee trees continued to grow and produce small amounts of coffee, he began asking the question. Why let the coffee fall to the ground, to be separated by the rocks and dirt? Do I really need two machines to do the job of harvesting the coffee? Maybe I could combine the shaking and capturing of the bean? He began researching and discovered that berry picking in New Zealand was faced with the same hurdles and were using mechanical berry pickers to overcome the labour costs. With this discovery, the Jaques Coffee Brothers purchased a berry picker from New Zealand and brought it to Australia. The New Zealand berry picker however was not up to the task of removing enough of the fruit from the coffee trees. This did not deter them though and only served to spur them on to solving the puzzle.
An engineer and draftsman in Cairns were engaged and the design process for Coffee Shuttle One began. A few tweaks were made, in order to compensate for where the Berry Picker wasn’t quite up to the task. It was made tough and it was made to last. The harvester turned from blueprints to a magnificent beast, with this beast boasting the title of The Worlds First Fully self-contained Mechanical coffee harvester. One man, one tree, two seconds!
This was it, this was the moment one moment in 1985 that coffee could be commercially grown in Australia and be back on the world stage. Coffee Shuttle one is still in full operation at Jaques Coffee Plantation to this day, and forever into the foreseeable future.
The trees are now in full production! Coffee Shuttle One tested and fully operational, processing plants and roasting facilities set to manufacture, it had been a hard slog to get the plantation to this stage and finally, things were looking set, everything in place, everything except the economy, boom! The economy was brought to its knees with the recession that "we had to have", interest rates skyrocketing to unbelievable levels. Ten per cent, doable, fifteen per cent, pretty tough, twenty-two per cent! $1,000,000 in loans and interest of $220,000 per year for a fledgling business, the banks called it in and liquidation was initiated. The Jaques families Nat and Linda with two young children and Richard and the same, walked away again with just the shirts on their backs for a second time.
Being accustomed to hard work and full of persistence, Linda and Nat ventured out again to set about creating a coffee legacy. Linda worked hard as a nurse bringing in an income to allow them to purchase a virgin block on the eastern side of Mareeba, where the current plantation thrives alongside the beautiful spring-fed Emerald creek.
The 200-acre block of land was cleared and contoured for planting out, a nursery of 50,000 trees was established and with the children now starting to grow Jason and Robert helped dig in and get the trees out into the fields. After five years of hard work and the factories again created to handle the coffee, everything lining up perfectly to produce an amazing coffee. You guessed it... Kapow! A fruit fly was found in North Queensland and was a cause for alarm for the Department of Primary industries. The coffee plantations in Mareeba were targeted as a great big flytrap, bait them in and kill em. Unfortunately the chemicals and the concentrations they used effectively killed all 50,000 trees on the new plantation, whoops.
With everything lost and Linda working hard as a Clinical nurse long hours, night shifts and keeping the banks at bay from taking the farm again another nursery was made and another 25,000 seedlings were raised.
The next chapter:
After one year in the nursery planting out another virgin field of coffee was undertaken by the Family, with everyone now pitching in to hand plant out each individual tree out in the field. Then nurturing them for another 4 years to bring them to commercial production, what a hard slog again! Third time lucky is one way to frame it.
With coffee being still relatively unknown that it was grown in Australia, it was decided that to spread the word, public education was needed and a Plantation café and farm-gate operation were built by the Jaques boys in 2005, laying the blocks, rendering and fitting out a small café on the side of the roasting shed. Which has since grown to an award-winning Restaurant and winery style visitor centre, with coffee education and great coffee, food and tours being offered.
This was a turning point for the plantation and family as it allowed people to come in and try an Aussie grown coffee take some home, then order online and have it delivered fresh! Remember in 2005 an iPhone was still 2 years away! (here is a fun link to a website called Wayback machine which archives the internet! https://web.archive.org/web/20040404110116/http://shop.jaquescoffee.com/ ).
Meanwhile, in the background, a court case was underway in regards to the detrimental effects the fruit fly program had on the local coffee farms including the 50,000 trees destroyed on the Jaques Coffee Plantation. What a harrowing time that was, with the plantation back up and running, 25,000 trees grown to production, the cafe and farm-gate operation working, and to have the whole thing hinging on a court case. If the case was lost, everything would have been lost again. Lots of sleepless nights.
Fortunately, the final outcome of the court case was a success for the Jaques family and a handful of other coffee growers in the region proving beyond doubt the negligence of the DPI and harm was done. This allowed a huge weight to rise off the shoulders of Nat and Linda and begin to look even further forward! Another nursery was struck on the plantation and this time 65,000 more coffee trees were nurtured from seed to