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REMEMBER Nambour's sugar mill with it's sickly sweet smell?
And the cane trains that built Nambour?
Nambour Sugar Mill's crushing began in 1897, when most cane was grown in and around Nambour.
By 1967, when the Sunshine Coast was officially named, the mill's tramway was 70 miles long.
The first steam locomotive purchased in 1904 was "Moreton”, then a number of cane trains were bought by the mill while the region was still called the North Coast.
08/09/09 184976Harvest starts on Rodney Apps' Valdora cane property. WARREN LYNAM / SUNSHINE COAST DAILYWarren Lynam/184976
"Petrie” was purchased in 1968, making it officially the first Sunshine Coast cane train.
That same year also saw the introduction of two-way radios on three of the mainline diesel locos.
In 1969, the cane train "Bli Bli” was involved in a bridge collapse and driver Eric Butner was trapped in the upturned cab. Kev Kriedemann the fireman was thrown clear and neither suffered serious injuries.
Two mobile cranes were brought up from Brisbane and "Bli Bli” was lifted back on track and taken to the mill for repairs.
The last diesel loco purchased was "Coolum”, in 1974. Seeing it dash from the Howard St yard to catch up with a departing train was a wonderful sight.
The useful small locos - four V8 petrol engine Malcom Moore "rail tractors” originally built by the Australian Military Forces for World War Two - did all sorts of duties. Two were re-powered with Ford diesel engines and continued working until the mill closed.
1988 cane season, Lex MackayContributed
In 1976 the sugar mill was taken over by Howard Smith Industries and in 1988 purchased by the Bundaberg Sugar Company.
In 1989 the rail line to CSR in Brisbane closed, so road transport had to be used to the refinery, while the trams continued to transport cane from farms to the mill.
In 1991 the mill was sold to an English sugar company, Tate & Lyle, and six years later its plant and tramways were overhauled.
In the early days a cane cutter could cut a ton a day and by the late 1960s and early 70s, cane cutting techniques and equipment had greatly improved and a top cutter could cut and load 10 ton a day.
By comparison, a modern harvester does 400 ton a day.
The cane industry was a prime industry by 1967 when the Sunshine Coast was named.
The "season” or the "crushing” always began with the first cane fires - beautiful yet scary ordeals, when the farmers would set cane alight to burn the trash.
Historic: Farming: Sugar CaneCane train, Nambour Sugar MillCutting sugar cane by handPhoto Sunshine Coast Daily Archives12July 1972SCANNED November 2003Sunshine Coast Daily Archives
This hardly affected the sugar content and it removed a lot of the dead, sharp leaves of the cane, which otherwise cut the cane cutters. It also killed vermin in the fields and drove out snakes.
There were a large number of Eastern Brown snakes in the cane fields on the Sunshine Coast while another big danger to cane cutters was constantly being stung by bees attracted to the sweet burnt cane.
By the 1970s, sugar was Maroochy's biggest industry and cane was still sometimes being cut by hand. This was because of the hilly terrain which was not suitable for cane-cutting machines.
During harvesting season, wire cane bins were towed through Nambour, entering the mill through a gate on Mill St after passing in front of the cane inspector's and engineer's cottages.
Between 1980 and 2003 more than 1000 hectares of cane land in Maroochy Shire was lost to urban development, even low-lying flood-prone cane fields could be developed into estates.
This meant some cane was being brought to the mill from up to 70km away.
As it's important that cane is crushed soon after harvesting to maintain its sugar content, this had a significant impact on the functioning of the mill.
Lex Mackay during the 1988 cane harvest.Contributed
The price of sugar also fell and a crisis was reached in 2002. The closure of The Morteon Sugar Mill in 2003, after more than 100 years of crushing cane, left 200 cane farmers, some of whom had been farming cane for three generations, wondering what to do.
Now only about 10 cane farmers remain. Most of the cane land has been converted into housing estates, while the handful of growers that remained diversified into things like pineapples and cattle.
Some farmers removed the tram tracks from their properties but the majority of the tramline was removed by Bundaberg Sugar, part of an agreement with landowners from whom the tramline was leased.
For many years "Bli Bli” had been plinthed at Muller Park, Bli Bli. In June 2011 it was moved to Nambour to join the collection of the Nambour & District Historical Museum.
"Moreton” runs at The Ginger Factory tourist attraction at Yandina.
The tramway that passes through Nambour is an important characteristic of Nambour and cane trains in the main street feature on many old post cards.
That section was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 2005.
This article first appeared on www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au
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