THE MILL TURNS 120 YEARS OLD

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Pic­ture: SUPPLIED

Early days: the Mossman Cen­tral Mill in 1912

Cel­e­brat­ing the mile­stone: From left – Col Graves, Robert Young, Don Fowler and Bernie Jack

Pic­tures: MOYA STEVENS

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

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