Discovering and exploring the source of local economy can be an exciting adventure for any traveler. In Mackay, sugarcane and coal are the major sources of income and employment. As luck would have it, friends of ours, Malina and Pete, own a sugarcane farm, so, off we went with great excitement to get an up-close look at a working sugarcane farm! This adventure came with the added possibility of a platypus sighting in a nearby creek, which sweetened the deal beyond cane farming alone.
Dotted with individual family farm houses, the fields stretched out before us, tiered in layers representing the various stages of sugarcane growth. We reached the Takagaki family farm which has been passed down through four generations. Pete’s grandfather acquired the farm after emigrating from Japan in 1901. Although the farmers are now required to work outside the farm to supplement their income, the sugarcane provides for the land, the equipment and their basic needs. I couldn’t help but admire their love and dedication to a lifestyle that required more to sustain them than it could give. On arrival our host pulled out a pocket knife, cut a large stalk, carved its sides away and handed Lynne and me each a piece. Sinking our teeth into a stalk of this sweet fibrous sensation was a juicy delight.
Clouds of white herons followed closely behind a tractor that was turning up the soil. This field would be allowed to sit fallow for a year after having given five seasons of abundant yields. I couldn’t resist and climbed up into the cab for a ‘once around’. The herons, now joined by hawks, dove behind us scooping up the insects that were being exposed. Continuing on our exploration we followed alongside a harvester; a powerful, multifunctional, Transformer-ish machine, being driven down the rows, chopping, separating and collecting the stalks of cane while simultaneously spitting out the scraps. The chopped stalks were discharged into a clever contraption pulled by a tractor. These tractors appeared alongside the harvester in smooth procession, with hardly a break.
They would deliver the cane, in their clever contraptions to a cane train and return, again and again. In the distance, steam rose from the Racecourse Mill’s boilers; the cane’s final destination. Approximately 400,000 tons of refined white sugar is produced here annually. The ingenuity of mankind was brilliantly on display, as a task that at one time broke that backs of hundreds of laborers has been transformed to a process accomplished by a few drivers.
The herons and hawks were also in abundance for this operation, but, something else caught our eye. It was a bandicoot running for its life! Trying to escape the jaws of the harvester, the little bandicoot scurried across the newly flattened terrain looking for cover. I screamed with excitement “A BANDICOOT!” I had never seen one so close. I had only ever seen a bandicoot once and at such a distance it was the size of a peanut, “that doesn’t even count”, I explained. With that, barefooted Pete jumped out of the truck in an act reminiscent of The Crocodile Hunter, chased after the little critter and snatched it up. We were able to get a good look at this terrestrial marsupial omnivore, and give it a loving pat. I’m sure it would have bitten and scratched me to bits if given half the chance but, thankfully Pete held on tight.
Touring the farm-house and surrounding buildings we noticed how simple this existence seemed. It had been an eventful day out, filled with insights into a way of life that is rapidly fading. These pieces of land, cultivated by the same families for generations, require a love for the earth and an understanding of nature. Mal and Pete embrace the simple pleasures of life on a farm which, despite having to find additional work, affords them the time between harvests to travel the country in their caravan. During their journeys they have seen a variety of lifestyles but, in the end, they always return to the farm. We now understand more fully that when supplementing our food or drink, within the little granules there is much more than just sweetness, the sugar holds the dreams and hard work of generations of very sweet people! We hope that after reading this you will think of and appreciate the farmers who bring you that small spoonful of sugar, satisfying your sweet tooth.
PS … I was grateful for the bandicoot sighting because despite our searching the creek, we had no luck finding a platypus. ~ Awwww!
Travel On! Join us as we travel into the unknown.
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