I grew up in Bundaberg sugar cane country. Bundaberg is defined by its rich red volcanic soil and endless sugar cane fields. Millaquin and Bingera Mill process sugar cane within the Bundaberg district. I have many vivid memories of cane burning, sheds filled with piles of raw sugar, giant rum vats and rich sweet smells experienced during countless school excursions to these mills. It left a lasting imprint in my memory.
While travelling from Cairns to Mission Beach I had the chance to revisit two of my favourite North Queensland Mills: South Johnstone and Babinda Mill.
The mills were very quiet during my visit. The crushing season is June/July and November/December. A hive of activity occurs during crushing and still guides the cycle of life within these communities.
Locomotives now transport tonnes of freshly cut cane to the mills via hundreds of kilometres of cane train tracks. Cane harvesters cut the cane green now. Gone are the days when the sky would be filled with the glow of afternoon cane fires.
Before the invention of the cane harvester the cane was cut by hand. Many of the early cane cutters would build houses (The Queenslanders) in the off-season. The Queenslanders that are dotted around Northern Queensland are testimony to their labour and the plentiful supply of timber in the area. Queenslanders were built entirely of native timbers.
I know it must sound strange ‘A girl like me completely moved by places like this’. But there are things I find in these places that speak to me directly. They remind me of my home town and childhood summers. These industrial spaces have dramatic volume and light; almost like the cathedrals and mosques I have since visited in my adult life. They also have an honesty in material and planning that respond to the process, scale of industry and function.