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Agricultural Heritage

The very roots of this region relate to food production. Shaped by migrants who arrived in the late 1800s, the region’s history, agricultural innovation and food exports continue to underpin the economy today.

Fast Fact

Australians love bananas. Almost 90 per cent of the #1 selling fruit comes from The Tropical Coast. An average of 480,000 cartons are exported every week of the year. That’s around 28 million individual bananas consumed every week!

Explorer Edmund Kennedy arrived on the coast near Cardwell in 1848 and was followed by thousands seeking their fortune on the goldfields. In the 1870s, the Mulgrave, Russell and North Johnstone rivers were worked for alluvial gold, before the red cedar timber became sought after in the region. Many local pubs haveperiod pictures of timber cutters standing over the rainforest giants they felled with their massive crosscuts saws, and of animals hunted for food and sport.

From the 1880s land in this region was cleared for agriculture including sugar, coffee, tea, fruit and dairy cattle. The Tropical Coast’s sugar industry began in the herbert Valley around Ingham, in 1870, and in 1884 the Cutten Brothers planted Australia’s first commercial tea plantation at Bingil Bay near Mission Beach.

Chinese migrants were the first to grow bananas in the area. The Chinese population arrived here after the northern goldfields became exhausted in the 1870s and turned to farming bananas in a number of areas. In Innisfail, the Lit Sing Gung - Chinese Temple (1940) is a reminder of the Chinese influence in the area.

Sugar became the predominant crop, shaping the modern cultural landscape of The Tropical Coast, with towns developing around the sugar mills and immigrants arriving to provide labour. From 1863 to

1904 about 62,000 Pacific Islanders were brought to Queensland under a system of indentured labour, while European migration, mostly Italians, Spaniards and Croats, started in the 1890s. Many of the living quarters for the workers, known as cane barracks, can still be seen from the road in areas such as The Canecutter Way and near Mirriwinni. In 1929 a quite different contribution to local architecture was made by cane cutter José Paronella, who built a Spanish castle, now known as Paronella Park.

Today, sugar mills are a large employer of skilled workers and operate in Ingham, Tully, South Johnstone and Gordonvale. Learn more about the industry at The australian sugar Industry museum at Mourilyan which displays insights into the history of early farming through to today’s modern processing and manufacturing of sugar.

The horticultural industry is dominated by banana production and many overseas travellers come to work on local farms. Living in backpacker accommodation, these important workers are picked up by the farmers each day in buses to work in a range of farm and packing jobs in a season that does not stop.

As well as sugar cane and bananas, tropical agriculture produces wonderful fruits such as pineapples, papaws, rambutans, watermelons and lychees, along with many lesser known exotic tropical fruits. Coffee and tea are both grown around Innisfail, as are different foods such as vanilla and pepper. Tropical fruits are used in locally made wines and port, ice cream and dried for snacks. Purchase local fruit and vegetables at roadside stalls with an honesty box, or stock up at one of the local weekend markets. 

aquaculture and cattle production are also important primary production industries in the region. Farmed prawns and barramundi are grown, and live-catch seafood such as mackerel, barramundi, coral trout, prawns and mud crabs are harvested from local waters. Beef cattle are bought from large outback stations to be fattened up for sale on the sweet grass pastures of The Tropical Coast.

With so much food heritage to see, you will logically want to finish the journey from “paddock to plate” by sampling the finished product at any number of our wonderful eatery choices across the region. Don’t forget to ask what is local.

Photo Courtesy of TakenByGio and Feast of the Senses
Photo Courtesy of TakenByGio and Feast of the Senses