The Dark History of Sugar and our Sweet Holiday

Picture taken by Rhiannon as we drive past fields and fields of sugarcane

The sign name for Mackay is M and SUGAR. Sugarcane is everywhere here. The industry is worth $2 billion a year in the state of Queensland, but its history is far from sweet. Sugarcane seeds arrived in Australia with the First Fleet of convicts in 1788, but it didn’t take off until it was planted in Queensland in 1862. The far north proved a perfect climate, but it was hard to find anyone willing to do the backbreaking cane cutting in the heat and humidity of the tropics.

According to the Australian Sugar Museum, people were used to the ‘cheap compliant labour of convicts’. Without convicts or slaves, it was near impossible to find anyone willing to work the fields.

Eager businessmen turned to the Islands east of Australia. They convinced, coerced and kidnapped people from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and elsewhere. Once in Australia, these Islanders found they themselves stuck in low-payed exhausting work. They were exposed to diseases and slave-like treatment. If they tried to leave, they were arrested and imprisoned. 30% of workers died.

South Sea Islander farm workers on a sugar plantation. Many are carrying hoes. Their boss is sitting behind them.
From the State Library of Queensland

Over 40 years 62,000 Islanders were brought to Australia. Then, in 1904, the White Australia policy was introduced and these workers were sent back to their home countries.

The beach near our campsite in Cape Hillsborough National Park

It’s hard to imagine this misery as we camp in the stunning surrounds of Cape Hillsborough National Park.

There’s no Wi-Fi where we are, just a lot of kangaroos, mountains, shallow blue waters and volcanic rocks ideal for climbing.

Touch training on the beach at sunset

On the road again . . . ‘winter’ in the tropics!

While much of the world continues to suffer with COVID-19, and Sydney faces another lockdown, we are feeling extremely lucky here in Queensland. We may not be able to cross borders, but this state that we now call home is 1.85 million square kilometres. If it were a country, it would be the 16th largest, and it has just 5 million people, mostly in the southeast.

This school holidays we’re headed to the Great North.

Last week Lee dragged the trailer out of storage (our home for a year in 2016). He opened it up, aired it out, sanded the rust off the poles, spray-painted them with something silver and toxic that wafted in through the windows as I was marking the final papers of the semester, and loaded it with surf boards, bathing suits, kayaks, a neighbour’s paddleboard, winter woolies and books.

The sun sets at 5.30 pm in Mackay this time of year.

With all the roadworks, it took Lee 7 hours to drive to 1770 (about 130 kms north of Bundaberg). He got there just in time for sunset. It’s winter in the tropics, and temperatures on Wednesday night got down into the high teens, so campers lit little fires on the beach.

The next two days were spent surfing in Agnes Waters, the sister town to 1770 and the last place to surf up the coast of Queensland.

nice little wave at Agnes Waters on 25 June 2021

Today was the last day of term 2 for the girls, I’ve finished the marking, and we’re packing our bags. Lee (love him) is continuing to drive our camper north, stopping over to camp at a golf course in St. Lawrence. Tomorrow morning at 8.40 a.m., barring any last minute lockdowns, the girls and I will fly to Mackay, where Lee will meet us and we’ll travel on to Cape Hillsborough National Park and set up camp. Holidays, here we come!

Aren’t we lucky.