WHEN you think of Gladstone, what springs to mind?
LNG? The Port? The Great Barrier Reef? The amazingly well-written local newspaper?
Whatever it is, I bet the first thing that pops into your head isn't paddle pop sticks.
But it should be.
Do you know that Austicks in Gladstone is Australia's only manufacturer of paddle-pop sticks? Neither did I. Turns out they have been sneakily pumping out 1.6 billion of those babies a year, right under our noses.
Curtis Island, Schmurtis Schmisland.
This is big stuff.
From the outside, the Austicks factory doesn't look too different to any working site in our region. There are some trucks, there are some container-y looking things, there is a fairly squat, non-descript gray building.
But on the inside, boy oh boy. It is exciting stuff.
Looking fetching in our hair nets (paddle pop sticks are considered to be associated with food, so loose hair is a big no-no) I am lucky enough to be given a personalized tour by financial controller Madeleine Spry.
First up, we go out the back to see the logs getting de-barked. Basically, the big logs go through a machine with bark in tact and pop out the other side in the nude.
They are then transported into a big container where they are steamed overnight (stripped and then sauna-ed, who knew this factory would be so sexy) before they get put through another machine which shaves them into giant curly sheets.
The paddle pop sticks we all know and love are then cut from those sheets, waxed (no splinters for unassuming tongues) and sent through a vigorous quality control. If they are rough or discoloured they are rejected and turned into coffee stirrers.
Austicks pumps out 7 million sticks a day, 60% of which are distributed throughout Australia and the rest exported overseas.
So next time you enjoy a paddle pop, take a moment to feel proud that you are a member of the paddle pop stick birthing place.
And next time you stir your coffee, don't discard your stick without a second thought. The little guy is a paddle pop stick that never quite made it.