How a Belgian brewer saved Melbourne

February 11, 2015

how-belgAuguste Joseph François de Bavay (1856-1944), brewer, chemist, bacteriologist and metallurgist, was born on 9 June 1856 at Vilvoorde, Belgium.

In March 1884 de Bavay arrived in Melbourne to take up the position of brewer with T. and A. Aitken’s Victoria Parade brewery.  Not only would he eventually save our city from a pending typhoid plague, he would reinvent Australian beer forever, saving us from bad water and bad beer!  And for good measure, he would also create the foundation for one of the world’s largest mining companies.

De Bavay, well aware of the importance of yeast in the brewing process, began searching for a way of avoiding wild yeasts which caused unwanted secondary and tertiary fermentations.  De Bavay soon became the Australian expert on yeasts.  In 1888 de Bavay developed ‘Australian No.2′, the first pure yeast used commercially in Australia and possibly the world’s first pure culture ever used in top fermentation brewing.  He followed this in 1889 with ‘Melbourne No.1′, which became the basis of colonial and Australian brewing.  Bad Colonial beer would eventual become a problem of the past and the industry was reinvented.

De Bavay regarded himself as primarily a bacteriologist.  In 1889 his charge that the city’s fire-plugs allowed sewerage and typhoid germs to enter the domestic water-supply resulted in a royal commission and the eventual removal of the devices; the purity of the city’s drinking water improved markedly and de Bavay was a popular hero.

He then turned his attention to the technological problems of mining at Broken Hill, especially the difficulties of ore extraction.  He developed his own process and eventually sold his patents dealing with extraction of zinc.  This ultimately lead to the establishment of the Australian mining industry and BHP – one of the world’s biggest mine companies.

He was a wine researcher and was also involved in the foundation of the Australian paper industry.  De Bavay was naturalized in November 1902.  He won Papal and Belgian honours.  His contribution to Australian life was great, yet he was never well known.  

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