THE MILL TURNS 120 YEARS OLD
Agroup of long-term employees, past and present, and former directors of the Mossman Central Mill Co gathered at the Exchange Hotel last Wednesday to celebrate the day, 120 years ago, when the Mill crushed its first cane.
Speaking at the gathering, the last chairman of the Mill prior to it being sold to Mackay Sugar, Mr Bill Phillips-Turner, said the history of the Mill was one of firsts.
“The Mossman Mill suffered from the tyranny of distance, being the most northern mill in Australia and still is,” Mr Phillips-Turner said, “and I believe this made the Mossman sugar industry think outside the square, remembering there were no roads and flying on an aircraft was still a dream.
“Mossman was the first sugar mill in tropical Australia to crush in excess of 100,000 tons of cane, the first on the planet to have a ‘continuous pan’ and the first to install a process control computer,” he said.
“We were also the first to develop the 10 ton canetainers (a container that can be fitted for both road and rail cane transport), and Low GI Sugar,” he said.
In 1893 some settlers in the Mossman area met at the Masonic Hall in Port Douglas and established the Mossman River Central Mill League and collaborated in an application to build a sugar mill.
The list of names of these industrial pioneers reads like a Who’s Who in the Douglas Shire – Johnston; Pringle; Wofleben; O’Brien; Tunnie; Spon; Rose; Wilson; Jones; Kent and Hart.
They used the security of their land to get a mortgage from the Queensland government as provided by the Sugar Works Guarantee Act of 1893 which funded the cost of the plant.
The land owned by the founders of the Central Mill and others expected to join in the enterprise was estimated to be 2660 acres of cane, with an additional 3850 acres that was identified in the district as suitable cane land.
In 1894, the Mossman Central Mill Company Ltd was registered and floated with 35,000 £1 shares.
The following year, 20 acres of Wilson’s farm on the eastern side of the township was purchased by the company for £200 and a Glaswegian engineering company, A&W Smith, was contracted to build the machinery.
In March 1897 infrastructure was purchased for the necessary transport of the cane, being three miles of portable tramline; 12 sets points and crossings; 1 locomotive 8½ x 12 for £1435; 300 sets of truck wheels and axles and 300 cane trucks.
Mossman’s population, although slowly growing, was not able to support the Mill’s operation and the increasing cane cutting.
“In a tropical climate combined with primitive living conditions, it was extremely difficult to keep workers for any period of time,” Mr Phillips-Turner said, “so early in 1897 the directors decided to engage 100 young men form the Pacific Islands.”
These men, known as Kanakas, were allotted to cane growers to help with harvesting crops and their wages were deducted from the price of the cane.
During the Board of Directors’ meeting on 23 August, 1897, the agenda was put on hold while the directors went to witness the first crush by the Mossman Mill.
Although earlier than scheduled due to a fire at Bonnie Doon, the first cane to be crushed by the Mill was fed into the crusher by Mrs Annie Rose.
Ms Carissa Mansfield, representing the Mackay Sugar board of directors, said when she addressed the 120th anniversary gathering that she was proud that it was a woman who put the first cane into the mill.
“Talk about women in male dominated industries – it seems we got it right back in 1897,” Ms Mansfield said.
The first season saw 33 growers provide a total of 27,905 tons of cane which produced 2965 tons of raw sugar.
Since then, the Mossman Mill has been the economic backbone to the township and a major contributor to the Shire.
Mr Phillips-Turner acknowledged many people who have worked for and served as directors over the years.
“Former staff here today include Des Landy whose father Charles and grandfather both worked for the Mill for 50 years-plus each,” Mr PhillipsTurner said, “and John Zeigler, Lewis Sciacca and Jim Malone who have all past the 40 year milestone at the Mill.”
Former Mossman Central Mill Board members mentioned included Barry Murday, represented at the function by his widow Joan, and Carey Phillips-Turner, the oldest living former director.
“I would also like to acknowledge Don Murday who was a former director and is a great grandson of the first Mossman Central Mill board chairman, JD Johnston,” Mr Phillips-Turner said, “and Laurie Taylor, wife of the late Tom Taylor who was a general manager for many years.”
Mr Phillips-Turner said the sugar industry was vital to Mossman in 1897, just as it is today.
In April Mackay Sugar announced it will sell the Mill to ease a cash flow issue, after only five years of ownership.
“I’m sure that with the innovative crew at the Mill and farmers and harvesting contractors in the field, the Mossman sugar industry will weather the rough waters and sail into calmer seas,” Mr Phillips-Turner said.
He concluded the formalities with a quote from a former chairman who wrote, “The success of the sugar industry in Mossman back in the 1890s is a tribute to the energy, courage and persistence of the pioneers who never accepted defeat.”
Talk about women in male dominated industries – it seems we got it right back in 1897 Mackay Sugar’s Carissa Mansfield
Early days: the Mossman Central Mill in 1912
Celebrating the milestone: From left – Col Graves, Robert Young, Don Fowler and Bernie Jack
Harold Osborne, Doug Jones, Sammy Brischetto and Alan Johnstone
Kerry Phillips-Turner (front left), Deb Murday, Carey PhillipsTurner, Joan Murday, Romona Verri and Frances Andrews
Noeline Johnstone and Laurie Taylor
Don Murday and Gregg Watson