Navigation Menu
This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Family history | The Farm | The River | David, Jenny and the Farm | Self-sufficiency and Aquarius | Cattle and floods | The landscape | Other on-farm agriculture | Buying and selling land | Poor economic times | Family partnership on the farm | Mill politics, harvesters and cane cutters | Changing methods | Chemicals | Market impacts and government subsidies | Generational change and succession | Impact on cane growing | Environmental issues | Politics of cane and the mill | Neighbours

The Farm

David: When they came here they bought the bit where the house is down here, down north, down along the river a little bit but when they came here it was – all the stuff that we were looking at on that flat down there was complete Tea Tree swamp.

Ok ‘cause we’re up on a bit of a rise aren’t we and we’re looking down and there are just cows on grass now.

David: Yeah, and they had somebody helping my grandmother in the house and she had a bell – she used to always take it with the morning and afternoon tea in case she got lost in the… in the swamp so she’d ring the bell. And they used to work, I mean they did a lot of work out there getting rid of the swamp, digging drains, getting rid of the trees and then they had cattle but it wasn’t too long before they started experimenting with a bit of cane too down on the ….towards the road. Because there was cane growing in various areas around here in little individual cane farms with little mills. But by the time I think they got set up I think there was a – the mill was well and truly going at Broadwater, so all their cane went to Broadwater. I’m not sure how it got there but in my memory it went on the river. But I presume it always did but earlier it might have got there some other way. Because they didn’t grow very much.

And do you remember where the other lots of land where they were growing cane? Because I mean today it’s pretty much a cane growing area isn’t it?

David: Yeah well when you go up on the reservoir, up to the top of the hill [behind the house], there was no cane on the other side of the river at all. And there was none south of here either…. This little pocket sort of – I mean there was bush down there. It started at Broadwater, there was none at Riley’s Hill either I don’t think.

Oh, and how do you know that?

David: I can remember seeing it. 1954, there was no cane over there cause we, in the ’54 flood we spent a lot of time up on the reservoir at the top of the hill looking at the flood and there were just cows standing in water over there. There would have been some …. What we call banks estate. Across the bridge at Broadwater and some, as soon as you got north of Broadwater, but none on the southern side of Broadwater except for here.

It’s jumping ahead a bit but when does that start to …

David: Oh probably ’66 or – there was sort of a boom in the cane, well, sugar price and people got into it. But the boom didn’t last very long and a lot of people went out of it again.

We’ll come back to that because I didn’t have any idea. So it was mostly cattle?

David: Yeah mainly dairy, all the other side of the river was dairy cattle and we had a little dairy farm we had about … in my lifetime about 30 cows only. But by the time I was here it was principally sugarcane. And they also had a plot of bananas down the riverbank. And other stuff that goes with dairy farms like pigs and corn and pumpkins and all that stuff.

From the time that your grandparents came, what do you call that ‘mixed”?

David: As soon as they got it cleared you’d call it a mixed farm.

Jenny: I’ve got a question. When you said they started growing the cane which was obviously in about the 20s or 30s was it?

David: Yeah.

Jenny: And they didn’t take it to the mill; everyone had their own little mills.

David: No, that was prior to that there were individual mills; there are still mills you can see bits of – old relics of mills on the other side of Woodburn.

Jenny: So it was too far to take it or some such thing was it? Because that mill there at Broadwater looks very old.

David: That mill there is more than a hundred years old so I imagine all of our cane went there, I don’t, I don’t know. Yeah I think it’s about 120 years old. But there was a family next to the…actually my aunty came from this family it was Macpherson and they lived at Swan Bay. They had a lot of property at Swan Bay and they had their own mill and you can still see, sort of, where the mill was and a bit of it along the river at Swan Bay and Meston’s had a mill at Woodburn I think.

Jenny: And isn’t there a big old piece of the mill at Haynes? As you turn from Woodburn to go to Evans Head, on the right there’s a great rusty big boiler thing, I think that’s from a mill, it’s lying in the paddock.

David: I don’t think there would have been a sugar mill though.

Jenny: Oh?

David: All the sugar cane was always grown as close to the river as it could because it got less frost.

So does that mean really that your parents, for this immediate area, were growing some of the earliest cane?

David: Oh my grandfather I guess. I can see in some of those records where he bought a tractor in I think it was 1926 or ’27 or something so that would have probably been when he was growing – getting in stud in sugarcane.

Print Friendly