History of mineral water use
Mineral water has been used for therapeutic purposes around the world for many thousands of years, there is archaeological evidence of mineral springs in Asia during the Bronze Age (circa 3,000 BC), and biblical references allude to the practice of bathing and drinking.
In ancient Greece, springs were believed to have supernatural powers, and to be the dwelling places of gods. Therapeutic centres called Asclepieia, after Asclepius the mythological God of Health, were built at mineral springs throughout the Greek realm. The Romans followed the practice, establishing baths across their empire, perhaps the most well known of those being in Bath, England, still operating today and profiled in a later chapter.
The natural mineral springs and mineral waters of Victoria were recognised from the early to mid 1800s and their commercial development followed soon after European settlement. The history of the discovery of natural mineral springs pre-dates the discovery of gold. In 1836 Captain Hepburn found and named the Hepburn Mineral Spring. During the 1850s gold rushes, many natural springs were found in Central Victoria as the forests, creeks and gullies were explored and dug over for gold. Gold seekers, many of whom were familiar with the mineral springs of their European homelands, relied on the pure spring waters for drinking. It wasn't until the early 1900s however, when gold had all but disappeared, that the therapeutic qualities of natural mineral water was popularised.
The commercial development of Victoria's natural mineral water resources has followed several different paths including bottling, carbonation, recreational facilities and bathhouses.
The period from the 1890s to the 1930s was the golden era of natural mineral water in Victoria. The bathhouse at Hepburn Springs was developed, and although bathing and consumption of the water was the main attraction of the springs, socialising formed an integral part of the attraction of the area. Since this period the Central Victorian Spring Region has been referred to as the ‘Spa Centre of Australia'.
A similar history occurred at Clifton Springs located along the Bellarine Peninsula. A grand hotel was constructed at the springs in the 1880s to provide a range of treatments, as well as providing public baths on the foreshore. Later, the spring water was piped directly into the hotel to twelve bathing rooms from which a range of therapies, including massage and electro-hydro baths, were provided. The water was bottled at the site with over 32,000 bottles sold in 1888 in a profitable operation. Sadly, little evidence remains of the hotel or the springs at this site.
While some of Victoria's natural mineral springs are located on private land, many are protected by public land reserves. Reserves were declared at Hepburn Springs in 1865, at Blackwood in 1879 and at Kyneton in 1913.