Sugar Prospects around Rockhampton (Yeppoon)
(manually translated from original scan 02 Jan 2012, Andrew Thompson)
This article is sourced from The Queenslander, 4 August 1883, wherein the reporter extols the virtues of establishing a local sugar industry.
Its subsequent go-ahead would prove a black stain on local history, leading to the disastrous collapse of the Yeppoon Sugar Company, and the dislocation of thousands of indentured labourers coerced from the South Pacific to work the sugar plantations, then abandoned.
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Andrew Thompson, editor | historian
The Queenslander, 4 August 1883
Sugar Prospects Around Rockhampton.
[BY OUR AGRICULTURAL REPORTER.]
THE selectors and land owners around Rockhampton are only now beginning to realise the possibility of establishing the sugar industry in their immediate neighbourhood.
Years ago those who felt certain that if tried it would succeed used their best endeavours to prevail upon the enterprising farmer and capitalist to combine and make a commencement in this direction. More than one meeting was held, and earnest consultations were engaged in by those most interested, with the hope that a good start would be made, and a degree of life infused into the agricultural industry. But doubts as to the fitness of the locality and soil – for the growth of sugar-cane prevailed in the minds of the capitalists, and they shrank back from encouraging the impecunious selector, and nothing was done at the time.
A while after a company – the Pandora – was forced into existence, so to speak, and land was purchased on the reserve some eleven miles from Rockhampton, and a first attempt was made. The success which has crowned these early struggles of the sugar industry is now beginning to bear fruit, and not only has a second company, called the Yeppoon [Sugar Company], been successfully launched, but the first steps have been taken towards starting the industry on much of the coast country, and it is gratifying to note that former mistakes are being corrected, and that the prospects of selectors and landowners are brightening.
After seeing the recent show at Rockhampton, where I had ocular demonstration in the exhibits on view that sugar-cane was as much at home in that district as in any other to the south of it, I took a quiet tour of inspection over some of the most promising country in the neighbourhood for the purpose of forming an opinion as to its suitability. I had a pretty intimate acquaintance previously with the whole of that part of the coast country, my former estimate of which as to its capacity for cane growing was confirmed on this occasion. I believe that a considerable portion of the country close to the coast, commencing from the mouth of the Fitzroy, and continuing up to Broadsound, could not be applied to a better purpose.
Some portions will be found too low-lying and wet and others too poor for putting under cane; but there is a large quantity of available land admirably suited for the crop, and I was glad to find that land is being selected and bought up with the intention of forming sugar plantations. On the stretch of country between the mouths of the Fitzroy River and Cawarral Creek, much of which is exceedingly promising for the crop, some 1280 acres have, I learn, been taken up for this purpose.
The soil there is mainly sand, having a free admixture of decayed vegetable matter in it, and in many cases a large quantity of broken shells. This land will suit the cane plant admirably if managed and cultivated intelligently. The nature of the soil will render artificial fertilisers necessary almost from the outset, but as compensation for this item of expense the cost of working the land will be very much less than in the case of stronger and richer soils, and possibly, in the long run, the advantage will be with the lighter soils. Experienced Queensland cultivators especially will be disposed to agree with me in this, for many have found to their sorrow the great difficulty and cost of properly working rich and strong black soils.
As this stretch of sandy country is all found at a low level, water will not be difficult to procure on any part of it by sinking proper wells, although most of it is without any very permanent surface supply in dry seasons. The formation of the country also offers the utmost facility for laying down tramways—a very necessary labour-saving contrivance in hauling such weighty crops over the land in the shortest possible time – and, being loose sand, this will form an important item for consideration even at the outset. Following up the coast, much of the land in the immediate vicinity of Hewittville (Emu Park), although differing materially in the quality of its soil, will be found well adapted for cane production.
Small cultivators in the immediate locality have already proved this by the cane they have raised in their fields and gardens. Going yet farther north, Mulambin, owned by Mr. James Ross, contains large areas of excellent arable land, capable of carrying good crops of cane; indeed, a small portion has already been under cultivation with the Black Java variety, one held in little esteem by Queensland cane growers generally, on account of its short and stunted growth, but the small patch now showing on Mr. Ross’s property is sufficiently robust and long to give rise to quite an opposite opinion. Had Rappoe or the stronger growing Cheribon been tried there instead, the suitability of Mulambin lands for sugar would have been more decidedly manifest.
One feature of all the lands mentioned is that frost is either not felt at all, or so slightly that it would never damage the sugar crop; and it may be well to state in this connection that experienced planters in some of the colder districts of the sugar industry distinctly state that the density of the cane is increased by slight frosts, and that they are therefore desirable rather than otherwise.
Still further north, and towards Yeppoon, is the estate owned by Mr. Robert Ross, called Taranganba, and on this again there are good opportunities for establishing the sugar industry. Most of the soil suitable for sugar in the two estates just mentioned is of a light loamy character, and when once well broken up will be worked with greater ease than stronger black soil land, and, judging from the amount of decomposed rock of which it is composed, it should produce cane of full, or more than average, density. Adjoining the estate of Robert Ross is the rising marine township of Yeppoon, a pretty little place no doubt, and one that would be of especial interest to botanists on account of the dense scrubs in the immediate vicinity and the great variety of forms of vegetable life to be found therein, but visitors can only choose between the sandy beach and the dense scrub; the lack of open forest country to roam at large in will always be found a drawback. By way of variety, however, it will probably receive a full share of attention from visitors notwithstanding.
The Yeppoon Sugar Company’s land is not in the immediate neighbourhood of the township, but a few miles back from it, and one of the difficulties to be surmounted in working it to advantage is its inaccessibility. Although close to Woodlands station, a quiet and breezy retreat nestled among the hills of the coast range, it is hardly to be approached from that side, as the gradients of the hills are mostly very steep and long; and to get at it from the beach there is a wide belt of loose sand and heavy marshy land to be traversed, which will make it troublesome and tedious to haul heavy machinery to it from that side. However, difficulties are not necessarily insurmountable, and possibly, with some assistance from the Gogango Divisional Board, this one will be overcome without much trouble.
The site chosen for the plantation is unquestionably a good one, being close under the coast range, only two or three miles from the open sea in a direct line, and consequently out of the way of injury from frosts, which seldom visit the sea side of this range, and when they do they are so very slight as to be unnoticeable. Only a short distance from the range on the other side, however, heavy frosts are quite the rule on all the low lands, and this is probably to be accounted for as much by the strong tenacious clay sub soil of most of the land there as anything besides, for in older agricultural countries it has long been a recognised fact that cold clays and ill-drained lands are more subject to frost and more injured by them than lighter and better-drained lands.
The land chosen for the pioneer plantation in this locality is at least moderately fertile, and the average rainfall is sufficient to warrant the expectation of good steady growth in the cane the year through. Besides this, from the hills above streams of pure and cold spring water are constantly flowing on to the land, which will be of immense service for the working of the machinery and all other useful purposes, and if irrigation should be found necessary a full supply could probably be obtained by well sinking for such a purpose. But, in my opinion, irrigation will be of little real benefit to the sugar planter. Deep and thorough cultivation is more to be relied on for producing a cane of high density than any amount of water, and no sugar-grower can afford to do without it.
Canes of excellent growth, beautifully dean and fresh, with regular long joints, were exhibited at the Rockhampton show by Mr. W. Broome, of Woodlands, grown in the immediate vicinity of the Yeppoon Company’s land, which augurs well for the prospects of the new company. Much of the land purchased by the company is a rich black friable loam, somewhat sandy in places, and, although not tenacious of moisture as clay lands are, will, with deep working, be very retentive of it without being injuriously so. Possibly no better land for the purpose could have been found for pioneer work, and, as the company is well launched and means business, it will not be long before it will be able to give a good account of itself, and I unhesitatingly predict for it a full measure of success under proper management and direction.
Much of the adjoining country on the Woodlands Estate and outside of it is well adapted for sugar-growing, and the extensive marshes lying between the coast range and the beach could, without much outlay, be converted into productive ricefields. The border of sandy scrub land commencing at the Yeppoon township, and continuing along the coast for miles, appears to me to be a choice spot for a cocoanut grove, and if put to that use would in a few years be come exceedingly attractive and also lucrative. Some of the richest of the Woodlands country is a deep chocolate loam, carrying grass in good seasons long enough to hide horses and cattle from view.
Considerable portions of the coast range are of this nature, and this rich abunbance of good grass and herbage clothes the hillsides to the summit. Probably this soil, which is apparently of volcanic origin, will, if used for sugar-growing, give trouble at first in the making of sugar, on account of the iron present in the soil in such quantity. But experience in other parts of the colony shows that this is no insuperable obstacle, and can be readily and certainly met when fully understood.
And now if I stop at this it is not because I am of opinion that more northern lands in this district are unsuitable for the sugar cane. In time it will probably be found that no other industry is more inviting to the landowner or the capitalist, and when that is the case it would not be at all surprising if large sugar plantations extended, in favourable localities, along the coast into the Broadsound district.
Let the present ventures prove successful, as in all probability they will, and labour and capital will soon work changes in these neglected coast districts and convert them into centres of population, with thriving industries of all kinds around them. This, I believe, is no exaggeration of the prospects of the near future.