Big Gumboot, Tully Sugar Mill and relaxing beach
Trip Start May 01, 2010
58Trip End Oct 03, 2010
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After a leisurely morning leaving Mission Beach at 9am and a short half an hour drive, we arrived in Tully. “Tully is rather proud of its reputation as the wettest place in Australia. Rather than cover it all up and deny it, the big 7.9m gumboot at the entrance to town announced to all that Tully received 7.9m of rain in 1950. Nothing like getting things out in the open straight away.”
Thankfully when we arrived at Tully it wasn’t raining so was able to get a photo of the Gumboot. Besides the gumboot and high rainfall, Tully is a sugar town with Tully Sugar Mills complete with high chimneys right in the middle of town. They employ 300 people during harvest season which extends from the Queen’s Birthday on 6 June till end of November and about 200 during the maintenance period for the rest of the year. The 100 seasonal workers then find work in the surrounding banana plantations as do the droves of young backpackers in Australia on working holidays.
During the Tully Sugar Mill crushing season, the mill operates 24/7 and processes around two million tons of cane from the plantations in the area. The mill not only generates it’s own power by burning fibre residue but also enough to supply the local grid which at times receives enough to close down their own power generators. We went on the interesting tour of the Mill which has been operating since 1925. We were surprised by the size of the industrial operation and impressed how everything from the Cane is used making it extremely ecologically sound. The by products are used for generating fuel using the waste fibres, the molasses for stock feed and the filter mud after clarification is high in nutrients and is given back to the sugar cane farmers to use as fertilizer.
The sugar cane plantations are privately owned and the mill is a cooperative which also owns 29 harvesters and 280 kms of 610mm gauge railway lines with 14 locomotives to bring in the cane from the area to the mill. In a season they produce about 300,000 tonnes of sugar and 50,000 tonnes of molasses. The total steam turbine generating capacity is 19.8 megawatts and the average renewable “green” energy exported is around 32,000 MW/hr. The sugar from this mill is all exported to the USA, Japan and other countries, except the small sample we were each given. We were told the Tully sugar is widely recognized for its high and consistent quality. Hopefully the Bundaberg sugar I put in my tea and coffee is also good quality. At least we are doing something right in always using raw sugar and not white sugar which has bleach, or brown sugar which we were told is full of chemicals.
The sugar cane industry in Tully dates back to the 1860’s when the pioneers first planted cane and harvested the cane with the help of Kanakas (South Sea Islanders) labour. The cane in those early days was crushed at small on-farm mills till after the first World War. This was when there was a surge in sugar production after discharged soldiers were resettled in the area and the town of El Arish was named after the town on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Initially the cane was sent to South Johnstone Mill which began operations in 1916 until 1922 when the Tully Mill was finally opened.
Our tour took us through the process of watching the cane brought in on the cane railway line with each bin carrying about 8 tonnes of freshly harvested cane. Each bin is weighed and then tipped into the hopper from where it goes by conveyer belts to the shredder which reduces the cane to a fibrous mass.
This then goes through the crushing mills to extract the juice and the remaining fibre is called “bagasse”. It is this bagasse that is used as fuel for the boiler plant which provides steam to power the entire factory including the electricity generating turbines. This means that what we saw coming out of the chimney stacks is carbon dioxide and steam. During the year the growing sugar cane uses the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, water and solar energy to grow. The steam from the chimney stacks is the result of water sprays that clean the exhaust gases by removing particulate matter. Besides the factory needs, enough energy is generated at the mill to power 5,000 homes continuously. After clarification, the cane juice is concentrated to a thick syrup in the evaporators where the juice is boiled under a vacuum which is very energy efficient. During the next pan stage, the syrup is converted to crystal sugar in the centrifugals which are perforated metal baskets spun at high speed like the spin dryer of a washing machine. From here the sugar is dried in large air conditioning units and then shipped out through Mourilyan Harbour.
During the tour and wherever we have been in Queensland we have not only not heard any one mention cane toads, but we still haven’t seen any. The way people talk in Western Australia about the cane toads marching towards our border, we expected to see them all over the place especially in the cane areas.
All this sugar made us hungry and thirsty, so we stopped at the next pretty beach town of Cardwell for local Spanish mackerel which we ate at a picnic table overlooking the ocean and Hinchbrook Island. Seemed fitting seeing the Spanish had just won the soccer that morning! We were surprised at how busy this town is and seems it is a popular family holiday spot during school holidays.
With renewed energy we set off once more. We slowed down for the town of Kennedy which consisted of a garage, store and a few houses and then drove onto Ingham where we were stopped at a Traffic light. It is a fairly big town, but we were disappointed not to see any Ingham chickens walking down the street. From there the road took us away from the ocean up a winding 1.5km climb to a scenic lookout over the valley with the cane fields. After coming down the hill again, we turned down Rollingstone turnoff, passed pineapple plantations and arrived at the Rollingstone Caravan Park mid afternoon.
We were given a drive through site and as we are here just two nights with no where to go we didn’t unhook the caravan. We had a good one and a half days to do our laundry, read and catch up with our travelpod. We remembered that at Wonga Beach each morning our neighbour would announce as he walked down to the beach that he must make sure it is still there! Here we can keep an eye on the sea while we sit outside our caravan enjoying our brunch and dinners. Three times a week the local fisherman comes through the caravan park selling his catch for the day. The first evening we had a kilo of very fresh and tasty prawns and the second evening, local Blue Salmon. During the day with the tide low, the sea was way out and the young boys were having a great time with their boards skimming across the wet mudflats. In the early evening we went for a beach walk when the tide was in and the water close to the caravan park. Hence the reason we can hear the waves crashing loudly on the beach during the night.
Nothing more to report from here. We leave again in the morning as we head to Ayr, about 150 km away, after deciding to skip Townsville where all the caravan parks are booked out because of the super car racing that is on this weekend.