Origins of Charley's
Our story is about taking some risks, doing things differently and having fun along the way. We aim to make a difference to regional Queensland and to Australia through innovation, value adding, eco- tourism and our premium product offering
Our story starts in 2003 when Charley’s founders, Chris and Lynn Jahnke, moved from Melbourne to tropical North Queensland to escape Melbourne’s cold and unwind from their busy handbag business. We’d been visiting for several weeks each winter and had fallen in love with the region. After looking at many properties from Mackay and northwards to Cooktown, we purchased a 400 acre (160HA) property at Mt Edna near Mission Beach in the World Heritage Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland, Australia. This is our Mt Edna property which Charley’s now calls home.
Mt Edna was a very run-down banana farm but we could see past it rough exterior to its decent infrastructure, good soils, gorgeous views, abundant rain, amazing flora and fauna and warm tropical climate.
In 2004 the Mt Edna property was starting to take shape, not as a rejuvenated banana farm but as a cattle property. We stocked our property with young Brahman cattle and readied ourselves for the challenge of switching from city life to Far North Queensland farmers. Little did we anticipate what lay ahead.
In March 2006, Cyclone Larry crossed the coast just to the north of Mt Edna. Packing windspeeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour it caused widespread devastation. The cyclone was followed by 100 days of rain, completing the destruction and hampering reconstruction efforts. Repairs to buildings and infrastructure took 18 months.
In February 2011 Cyclone Yasi brought a repeat performance, crossing Mission Beach as a category five cyclone, the largest storm in Queensland’s history. Again the region was devastated. Chris commented, “Wind at 340 km/hour is a powerful learning experience”. It certainly shaped our thinking!
With the fresh lessons of cyclones Larry and Yasi we now embarked on a new challenge. Due to its warm climate and abundant rain, Mt Edna Mission has ideal weather to grow tropical fruit.
Mission Beach’s green reputation was an important consideration. The World Heritage Wet Tropics region of North Queensland is very green with lush lowland rainforest foliage high in the minds of locals, visitors and the public. We wanted a wholly sustainable industry. We weighed up different scenarios incorporating ideas such as ‘food miles’, climate change and fair trade.
Chris had often lamented the typical Australian primary industry approach – a lack of domestic value adding and the practice of ‘shipping it out and bringing back the finished product.’ So a segment on ABC TV’s Landline program discussing growing cocoa in the Australian Tropics struck a very loud chord.
Cocoa is the main ingredient in chocolate; the other is sugar. Both of these are grown locally – so we could create a high value product and do so on location!
Months of research followed. This confirmed that tree to bar chocolate manufacturing was possible. The research also hinted at the emerging global chocolate industry transformation being driven by chocolate consumers. Although less advanced, this chocolate industry evolution is similar to the early stages of coffee and craft beer transformation over the last two decades.
With advice from the Queensland Department of Agriculture we planted our first cocoa seeds in late 2012 and launched Australian Chocolate Pty Ltd, the company behind Charley’s Chocolate, which was formed in 2013.