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 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Condong Sugar Mill c1897.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection. No: TH38-13

Europeans were initially drawn to the heavily forested Tweed Valley in the 1840s by the promise of profits from harvesting the highly-prized red cedar trees. By the 1870s however, the supply of red cedar in the region was virtually exhausted and the potential of the area’s rich alluvial soils for agricultural industries had been recognised.

Farmers in the area experimented with a range of potential crops, including coffee, tobacco, cotton, millet and even opium, but it was sugar cane that proved to be the most promising. The first experimental crops of sugar cane were grown in 1869, but it was difficult for individual farmers and small mills to make a success of sugar cane farming. What was needed in order for the sugar industry to become properly established in the Tweed in the 1870s was a large workforce, one that was relatively unskilled, could do hard, manual labour and wouldn’t cost land owners a lot of money in wages. These workers were required to clear, drain and grub the land, meaning removing stones, trees and other plants, and then to grow and harvest the crops.

 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Cane barge. Loading cane onto punts on the river using a shin stick. The cane was pulled from the field to the river bank using horse and slide, then placed onto skids so that a shin stick could be put underneath the cane to lever it onto the barges.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection. No: Th101-17

The other major factor in developing the sugar growing industry was the decision by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (now known as CSR) to establish plantations and build a large sugar mill at Condong. By the end of the 19th century the foothills of the Tweed River Valley had been largely cleared and replaced with sugar cane plantations.

Florence's Story

 - Copyright Tweed Shire Council

Interior of Condong Sugar Mill showing endless chain moving sugar cane into mill, hand loaded from cane punt. c1890.

Tweed Regional Museum Collection. No: TH38-25

“In 1878 Mr. Haley and Mr. W.R Isaacs came to the Tweed to find out the possibilities of growing sugar cane for a large mill. … There was a great deal of discussion as a few of the farmers were doubtful about trying a new crop, instead of the corn and potatoes they had always put in…but eventually the matter was decided and Condong mill was built on the South Arm and Mr. Isaacs became the first manager."

Florence Bray, quoted in Daily News 115th Birthday Supplement, 2003

Did you know?

Although sugar cane is easy to grow, in order to produce sugar from it expensive machinery is needed to crush and refine it. Also the cane must be crushed almost as soon as it is harvested. The first small sugar mills built in the Tweed did not produce very good quality sugar. They used hand operated rollers to crush the cane and boiled the juice over open fires. Later, larger mills were built with more sophisticated machinery that was driven by steam.

Sugar - Further Reading

The Story of Sugar Cane - from Paddock to Plate (external link)
Canegrowers Australia.

The NSW Sugar Industry (external link)
New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative Limited

Sugar Australia Industry Information (external link)
Sugar Australia

Caldera to the Sea: A History of the Tweed Valley by Joanna Boileau
'Caldera to the Sea' is available for purchase at the Museum, and both Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads Council offices and also at the Coolamon Cultural Centre in Murwillumbah, Tweed Shire Council.

The Other Side of the World: International Migration to the Tweed 1940s to 1960s by Johanna Kijas.
'The Other Side of the World' is available for purchase at the Museum, and both Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads Council offices and also at the Coolamon Cultural Centre in Murwillumbah, Tweed Shire Council.

Tweed River South Sea Islander Community Inc.
PO Box 1220
Kingscliffe NSW 2487
Ph: (02) 6674 4571

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