Then and Now

Cot­ton, cat­tle and en­ter­pris­ing mi­grants have helped make Biloela the town it is to­day, writes Chris Ryan.

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Look­ing at the old ways and new face of Biloela

LIFE WAS hard and un­fa­mil­iar for the first cot­ton farm­ers in cen­tral Queens­land’s Cal­lide Val­ley. It was the 1920s and the mi­grants – many from Eastern Europe – tilled fields around Biloela, 120 kilo­me­tres south-west of Glad­stone in the Ba­nana Shire. They lived in a largely un­de­vel­oped area – build­ing houses made of iron sheets atop hard dirt floors and swel­ter­ing through long, hot sum­mers.

In March 1934, The Courier-Mail re­ported: “Among the cot­ton grow­ers of the Biloela district are a former gen­eral of the Ural Cos­sacks who fought in the Great War and a Rus­sian Or­tho­dox priest.” By this time, Biloela’s Greek com­mu­nity had grown large enough to war­rant a fly­ing visit from Or­tho­dox arch­bishop Ti­moth­eos Evan­gelin­i­dis, who chris­tened chil­dren and gave a lec­ture while there.

“Mi­grants have earned them­selves a won­der­ful place in our his­tory,” says Rose­mary Mun­roe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Biloela En­ter­prise. Mun­roe is im­pressed by the way new Burmese refugees have be­come a part of the com­mu­nity in re­cent years. “We were thrilled to bits when we saw young cou­ples come here, have ba­bies and send their lit­tle kids to school.”

The new ar­rivals have found a dif­fer­ent town to the one in which a Cos­sack gen­eral scratched out a liveli­hood. While cot­ton is still im­por­tant, wheat, sorghum and a range of herbs and spices are be­ing grown. The cat­tle in­dus­try is thriv­ing and the Cal­lide Mine and Cal­lide Power Sta­tion also pro­vide steady em­ploy­ment. Set­tlers mov­ing into Biloela in the 1930s, when cot­ton pro­duc­tion peaked (above)

Richard Tan has wit­nessed much of the town’s growth. The doc­tor moved to Biloela with his wife in 1968 and has since de­liv­ered some 3000 brand-new res­i­dents. “When we first came here,” he re­calls, “there was still a DC-3 do­ing the mail run from Bris­bane.”

Tan has also had a hand in de­vel­op­ing some small-scale ru­ral en­ter­prises that speak to the breadth of in­dus­try in “Bilo”. He breeds squab pi­geons for restau­rants and black-skinned Silkie chick­ens for the Chi­nese medicine mar­ket. He also raises Low­line cat­tle and is re­build­ing an aqua­cul­ture ven­ture de­stroyed by Cy­clone Mar­cia in 2015.

To­day, the town is hoping to wel­come more new­com­ers with its Sand­stone Won­ders tourist cam­paign. The ti­tle is in­spired by the ma­jes­tic nat­u­ral land­scape of the re­gion, which can be ex­pe­ri­enced on a four-wheel drive trip through nearby Kroom­bit Tops Na­tional Park. From the 800-me­tre-high plateau, you can look out across gorges carved over mil­len­nia – or back to­wards the Valen­tine Plains, where you’ll see a patch­work of land de­vel­oped by gen­er­a­tions of mi­grant farm­ers.

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