The traditional arts and crafts are showcased within our Main Pavilion alongside local small bespoke businesses selling their wares.  Each year the Mullumbimby Agricultural Show Pavilion celebrates and commemorates a local industry or cause.  In 2018 the Pavilion theme is the Sugar Cane Industry.


Although sugar cane was first grown experimentally on the river perhaps as early as
1860,  cultivation specifically for the manufacture of sugar was not widely attempted until several years later. By 1868 there were nine sugar mills in northern New South Wales and these produced a total output of about 60 tons. The development of sugar growing in the region was watched carefully by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited which in 1868 announced that, in return for assurances that sufficient area of land would been planted to cane, they would erect central sugar mills.

The company then proceeded to establish three mills, which commenced crushing in 1870: at Darkwater on the Macleay River; and at Southgate and Chatsworth on the Clarence River. This move firmly established sugar growing on a large scale, and in a small number of years sugar had attained a position of agricultural pre-eminence on
the Clarence which it never lost. Indeed, the Macleay district soon proved unsuitable for cane growing and the Darkwater Mill was transferred to Harwood on the Clarence in 1873. On the Richmond River, experimentation with the growing of sugar cane  commenced in 1863, but the first commercial production of sugar did not take place until 1869.

By this time there were about 300 acres planted to sugar cane on the Richmond. By the end of the 1860s, the growing of sugar had commenced on the Tweed, too. The place of sugar in the economies of the Richmond and Tweed was cemented when the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited established central mills at Condong on the Tweed River in 1880, and at Broadwater on the Richmond River in 1881.

Sugar growing continued to expand until by 1891 it was ‘by far the main industry’ of the
lower part of the north coast of New South Wales, extending from Grafton to the Clarence Heads, from Casino to Ballina on the Richmond, and all along the Tweed River.
By that time the industry had spread away from the riverbank farms where it had begun. Notably, selection in the Big Scrub, the large block of elevated, rainforest-covered land between Byron Bay, Ballina and Lismore, had been driven in the 1870s and 1880s by the demand for land on which to grow sugar. Thomas Scott, for decades a strong advocate of sugar cane cultivation, visited the Richmond River district in January 1871. He took particular interest in the very heavily timbered ‘Duck Creek Ranges’, to the east of Lismore, which he believed had the potential to ‘elevate the Richmond River into a state of prosperity as a sugar producing locality…unsurpassed in any part of the globe’.
Shortly afterwards, Thomas Carter, writing in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, echoed Scott’s observations. Carter wished to bring to the attention of farmers on the Clarence, who were looking for land on which to grow sugar: a large tract of excellent brush land on the Richmond River. It is commonly known as the ‘BIG CEDAR BRUSH,’ and up to the present time has not attracted the attention of selectors to the extent that its advantages seem to merit.

In Carter’s opinion, the great fertility of the area and its freedom from floods far outweighed its distance from transport and the poor state of its roads, and it was ‘a place where thousands could settle and live in prosperity’. It is clear from the subsequent progress of the sugar industry that many farmers were attracted by these optimistic claims. By the late 1880s, several mills were in operation in the Big Scrub. In the south these included the mill and plantation at Rous, near Alstonville, set up by the Richmond River Sugar Company Ltd in 1884.

In the north, in that part of the Big Scrub which lies within Byron Shire, mills were erected at Ewingsdale and at Nashua. The Ewingsdale mill was erected by Edward Atkins, probably in 1887. The Northern Star in August that year reported that Mr Atkins ‘purposes erecting, very shortly, a sugarmill near the bay upon Mr H. Barne’s [sic] property’. The ‘original owners’ of this property, McAulay brothers [Neil and Alex], had
already planted about 120 acres of cane which ‘this season will be crushed’.
The mill would be ‘a good thing for the district’, and would hopefully ‘put new life into the drooping spirits of the selectors adjacent thereto’ who had suffered years of hardship and losses through lack of communication with any market. Some were selling out from ‘sheer discouragement’. Atkins’s mill seems to have been short-lived. He showed samples of the sugar grown by him to the Sectional Committee inquiring into the proposed Byron
Bay breakwater in November 1889, but he was declared bankrupt early in 1892, by which time, it is assumed, the mill had ceased operation.
Brokenshire (1988) states that Atkins established his mill ‘about 1880’ and that it operated ‘until about the turn of the century’, but this would appear to be a considerable overestimate. The same author states that the mill was situated ‘on the property of Mr George Flick, in Quarry Lane at Ewingsdale’ where ‘the rusted remains of a huge old molasses tank used in the operations’ were visible.
After the opening of the Lismore to Tweed railway in 1894, the growing of sugar cane seems quickly to have become oriented to the railway. By the end of the following year it was said that Tyagarah (which then included Ewingsdale in the south, and extended northward several kilometres towards Brunswick Heads) was ‘ahead of any centre on the Brunswick for canegrowing’. Several truck-loads of cane were taken by every train to Condong, and between the cane and the timber the railway employees were kept very
busy.  Evidently, if Atkins had stayed in business until the mid-1890s, he would have found the combination of the railway and the Condong mill too much to compete with.
The Nashua sugar mill was situated on the northern side of Skinner’s Creek, now part of the southern boundary of Byron Shire. Kirkland (1982) states that the mill was established in 1882-83, but no evidence is given; it is certain, however, that it was in operation by 1885 as it was mentioned in Colonial Sugar Refining Company correspondence that year.  In 1887 the Northern Star reported that it would ‘resume crushing’ in the coming season.  Operation of the mill was continually hindered by frost, which damaged the cane, and by siltation in the creek, which impeded export of the sugar. Consequently, in 1891 its owners, Sydney brewing brothers John and James Toohey, offered to remove the mill to Emigrant Creek in exchange for promises from farmers there to grow cane.

Such promises evidently were not forthcoming, for in 1894 the mill was relocated to Bundaberg, along with another from the Clarence which had also closed. A commentator at the time lamented the loss of the latter from the district, saying that it was a pity that it was not ‘secured for the sugar land of the Brunswick, where it would have been admirably located’. It seems unlikely, however, that another mill on the Brunswick could have survived for long, given the tendency at the time for small mills to succumb to competition from the big CSR central mills; the number of steam sugar mills in the Clarence-Richmond-Tweed Rivers district reached a peak of eighty-six in 1884, but declined to only thirty-one in 1890, and fewer than ten by the end of the century. By that time it was said of sugar-cane growing around Byron Bay that it was ‘practically dying-out’ on the hill country, and that dairying, ‘being more profitable, is taking its place’.
In future, due to the expense of getting it to the mills, ‘the only persons who will grow sugar-cane are those next to the railway line or close to the water’.


Online entries are now open for our Main Pavilion program for 2018.  Entering online prior to the show will ensure a quick drop off and helps our volunteers to set up the Pavilion for show time with ease.  We appreciate your assistance, if you are unable to enter online at prior to the show simply fill out the entry form below and bring  it along when you drop off your exhibits.

2018 Pavilion Program  – Full Program for all sections Main Pavilion (A4 Format)

2018 Children and School Pavilion Program – Childrens & School sections only (A4 Format)

Reference Sugar Cane history –
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