Day 138: Home-grown remedy

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Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
A collection of Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas memorabilia

Good for boils, carbuncles, wounds, burns, sores and even piles, Dr Lucas’ Papaw Ointment has been a staple on Australian shelves for more than a century and if you venture just 20 minutes from the city centre you can meets its makers.

Lucas Papaw Ointment

The factory in Acacia Ridge has a small museum attached which tells the story of the famous salve and has artifacts from Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas himself, as well as machinery that was used as recently as 1999.

His remedy is one of Brisbane’s famous and enduring success stories.

“Papaw ointment, made from the fruit of the most wonderful tree in the world,” says one yellowing brochure.

Another ageing document recommends Dr Lucas papaw pills for “constipation, liver and kidney complaints”. There’s papaw gargle for “throat troubles, catarrhs” and papaw “digestive mistoids for indigestion, flatulence, acidity and biliousness”.

Dr Lucas Papayate is recommended for adenoids as well as “cysts and styes on eyelids”.

The museum also has original packaging for Dr Lucas’s Pile Ointment at 2/9 a tin.

Dr Lucas’s story is there, along with the pith helmet he wore when out butterfly hunting. His famous collection of butterflies is now kept in a South Australian museum.

Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas, maker of the famous papaw ointment
Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
The original label

He was born near Edinburgh in Scotland in 1843 and was already a practicing doctor and father of three when he arrived in Melbourne in 1876.  He moved to Brisbane a decade later.

His life story and the origins of his famous ointment make fascinating reading.

The ointment used today is the same formula developed by Dr T.P. Lucas – unchanged in more than a century.

In October 1890, he purchased a 16ha farm, May Orchard, near Beaudesert Rd, at Acacia Ridge to grow papaws and experiment with their remedial properties.

By 1900, the family had moved to the farm while he maintained his medical practice at 160 Adelaide St (not far from the Edward St intersection).

In 1911, Dr Lucas bought a large single-storey Queenslander on the southeast corner of Sydney St and Moray St in New Farm where he established the Vera Papaw Hospital.

And it’s a picture of the Vera sanatorium that still vouches for the authenticity of the product on the front of every genuine Dr Lucas Papaw Ointment product.

The house was lost in 1985, when it was moved to Beaudesert and an apartment block went up on the site. It has since been demolished.

Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
Vera appears on the front of every genuine Lucas product
An apartment block is now on the Vera Sanatorium site at New Farm

Dr Lucas, “an eccentric Queensland writer, scientist, inventor, medical doctor and utopian dreamer” died in 1917, aged 74.

The business though has remained in the family for five generations with a sixth now coming through.

Until 1988, the operation continued from a humble wooden shed at Acacia Ridge, although a modern factory on the original site now produces about four million tubes and jars a year for a huge national and international market.

The recipe though, hasn’t changed – just the efficiency of manufacture and packaging.

The museum has the scales used by Dr Lucas from 1910, to weigh the ingredients for his various remedies. They were used in the manufacture of Lucas Papaw Ointment until 1999.

Another machine on display was used by Dr Lucas to mince the papaw fruit after the skin and seeds had been removed.

Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
The original scales for weighing the papaws

It was hand driven and wasn’t replaced by an electric motor until the 1950s. It was eventually retired in 2002.

Until 1988, when a filling machine and plastic tubs were introduced, the older metal tins were still filled by hand. Staff are still employed to peel the fruit by hand ready for the fermenting process.

Papaws are supplied by a farm dedicated to the purpose on the Atherton Tableland.

In 1996, one cask a fortnight would be filled with fresh pulped papaw, weighing 117kg. Two decades later, there were enough papaws peeled and pulped to fill three casks a week.

Lucas Papaw Ointment factory
That’s a lot of papaws to be peeled and de-seeded.

Testament to the success of Dr Lucas came at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival when comedian Lawrence Mooney asked women in the audience how many had a tube of Lucas papaw ointment in their handbag. Almost every woman raised her hand.

“I’ve never seen a single ad for this stuff but it’s in every woman’s handbag across Australia,” Mooney said.

That’s what the test of time delivers.

The museum at the Acacia Ridge factoryis open Monday-Friday during business hours.

2 COMMENTS

  1. My handbag tube has disappeared and I’m bereft. Must replace it. Thanks for this backgrounder on my lips’ best friend.

  2. Brilliant article about another enterprising Scot who researched the qualities of a plant, which I’m sure he never encountered in his native country, and made a fortune selling his products.

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