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XXXX marks the spot for one of state’s favourite drinks

The XXXX sign at the Sandgate entrance to the Hornibrook Highway.


XXXX marks the spot for one of state’s favourite drinks

CHRIS CURRIE delves into the State Library of Queensland’s collections to explore the industrial and social history of one of our most-famous brands.

Few brands are more associated with Queensland than XXXX beer, brewed beneath the unmistakable neon sign at Brisbane’s Milton brewery.

The early days (and successes) of the company can be told through many of the items held in the State Library’s collections, ranging from photographic negatives to early company records to commemorative tea towels and even recordings of advertising jingles.

A dive into the microfilm of the many archived Queensland newspapers shows that the first “exceedingly palatable” beers were produced out of the Milton site in September 1878, including Castlemaine XXX Sparkling Ale.

At the start of the Great War in 1914, the company’s directors made the decision to concentrate solely on brewing a beer to suit the tastes and climate of Queensland. That beer, launched in February 1924, was called XXXX Bitter Ale – the same recipe still consumed by many Queenslanders today.

That year also saw the first iteration of the company’s mascot, ‘Mr Fourex’, appear in a series of newspaper advertisements. The character was thought to be the work of influential The Courier-Mail cartoonist Ian Gall, whose original pen-and-ink creations also call the State Library home.

As to the inspiration of the character, an answer has never been definitively found. The History of the Castlemaine Perkins Brewery, produced by the company in 1993, reported that “no one can confirm” the identity of Queensland’s famous mascot.

Recent examination of a Mr Fourex ceramic beer stein held  in State Library of Queensland collections gave no more clues.

Records show significant growth for the company  through the 1920s and ’30s, following the 1928 merger between the then Castlemaine Brewery and rival Perkins and Co. Ltd. The company sunk some £50,000 (nearly $5 million today) into the brewery to nearly double its output.

Post-World War II, the company continued its rapid growth. In 1959, the highly visible XXXX neon sign was placed atop the Milton brewery and, in 1988, the seven-metre-high Mr Fourex neon sign  joined it.

Throughout its history, the company has been closely associated with outdoor and sports advertising. A 1939 photograph shows a giant  XXXX sign atop the Sandgate entrance to the Hornibrook Highway, while another favourite nostalgia item is a  1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games commemorative beer bottle, produced by  Castlemaine Perkins.

The company’s 1991 sponsorship of the Queensland Maroons coincided with the release of XXXX Gold, marking the beginning of two successful dynasties. A copy of Andrew Trimmer’s advertising poster features a rampaging Queensland elephant (‘The Forward Pachyderm’) in a Maroons jersey, scattering NSW Blues players in its wake.

In 2009, Castlemaine Perkins was inducted into State Library’s Queensland Business Leaders Hall of fame. In a State Library digital story, former CEO Frank Burnett succinctly summed up the company’s secret to success: “There was a bit of a joke at the company: if it moved, we sponsored it; if it was still, we painted a Fourex on it!”.

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