Any visitor to the far north of Queensland, or even NSW, cannot help but notice the sugar cane. This warm coastal land has been growing sugar since it was first settled by Westerners, at first using Pacific Islander and Indigenous Australian labourers, but now highly mechanised. The smell of sugar hangs over the towns near the sugar mill, a heavy sweetish molasses kind of smell, spread by the constant smoke belching from the tall chimney stacks.
Cane trains are shunted into the mill in a constant flow, keeping the production line moving. Their narrow gauge tracks line the roads, with warning signs frequently placed along the verges.
In the fields sugar cane appears at every stage of growth from newly planted to fully mature. I cannot help but imagine the rainforest that once stood where the cane grows in its neat machine friendly rows.
Farmers are busy meeting their commitments to the mill. Empty cane carriages stand waiting to be filled, harvesters bustle along the fields, spraying chaff and dust into the air.
As we left the coast and began the long climb up to the tablelands I said “Bye Bye Cane” but it turned out there was still more cane on the mountainside, and on the Atherton Tableland. We saw this harvester just near the base of the mountain range.
At least the birds are finding some goodness here … no doubt laden with superphosphate and other fertilisers that also find their way into waterways and out into the Great Barrier Reef where nutrients from farming and poisons from mining are gradually killing off all the life.
One fellow traveller commented to us on the damage sugar does to human health, and the damage our farming practises are doing to the Reef, and thought we might be better off without sugar altogether. What do you think?