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George Edgar Adams

Goondi Mill
Notice horse-drawn cane-cars

Mr George Edgar Adams was the manager of the ‘Goondi Plantation’ and had eight years experience in the cultivation of sugar, six years at ‘Goondi’, but had no experience in the growth of other tropical products. The name of the estate was ‘The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, Limited, Goondi Mill’ having 12,500 acres belonging to the company, with 2,300 acres under cane. The company paid 280 pounds annually to the Divisional Board for rates for the three years of its operation.

They did not sell their low class sugar but shipped it directly to the refinery, by sailing ships, or sometimes by steamers

The soil and climate were particularly suited to the cultivation, more so than in any part of the colony and the heavy rainfall had a great deal to do with it. Records were kept of the readings of the thermometer and the rainfall on the estate.

The first scrub was cleared by Europeans under contract, at first 10 acres, and then they took 10 acres more, and then 20 acres more, 40 altogether. Mr Adams paid them 3l. 10s. 0d. per acre for felling only, as they could not do any more because they had no money. The contractor lost money, and became a ganger with him for three year afterwards.

There were forty-two draught horses and twelve hacks, and seventeen bullocks but nearly all of the haulage was done by trams. When all work was completed there would be thirteen miles of permanent line, and about four miles of portable. More portable rails were coming, but had not reached there yet. There were two locomotives, and another one coming out. Horses worked the portable lines.

As far as ploughing was concerned it was so limited and he had only two or three ploughs and horses being worked by white men, who were new chums, the best to work at that.

He had plenty of white men who took contracts, and also several Chinese contractors.

In the two mills there were two sets of rollers, each double crushing and the cane was largely macerated. There was the triple effet and the vacuum pump. In trying to avoid any wastage, the chemists were employed to take an analysis of the cane as it came into the mill, and at the end of the season it could be seen how much sugar they ought to have gotten, and how much they actually obtained. This went on throughout the whole of the season, not an experiment, but continuous work. The average amount of juice to the ton of cane was 230 gallons. The chemists told them which was the best cane to grow, and which was the best season of the year to cut it. They also analysed the soil every year of the whole of the works.

All the machinery in the mill was made in England and Scotland but they made many additions from year to year and kept a regular staff of engineers and fitters all year round.

1,127 acres of cane was crushed during the season, with 2,400 ton of sugar made, and it was expected to crush 2,090 acres the coming season. There was 60,000 gallons of molasses which was run away. The mill centrifuged it four times, which gave four classes of sugar before they ran it away, as it did not pay the company to deal with it. They would have wasted more than it was worth to do it again

There were about 200 acres on which the scrub was felled and put under grass; also four acres of sweet potatoes.

The cane was cut four times before replanting. He had some fourth ratoons, which, on account of the drought, he had allowed to stand over; but it would have paid the company, if they had good seasons, only to take off three cuttings.

The soil was not being exhausted but some parts of the ground wanted a spell for four or five months. If it was possible to turn it up it would have greatly improved it, requiring two or three months. The soil on some parts of the plantation were 15 feet deep. He planted his cane by digging a hole 20 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 8 inches deep.

Irrigation would have been beneficial, even though this was the first year that they had had anything like a drought, but the company had no intention of doing it. It would have been very easy to do on account of the land all falling back from the river.

In 1886 there was 156 inches of rain, in 1887, 148 inches, and in 1888, 106.92. This season was a great deal too dry for this soil. If there had been more rain there would have been 20 per cent more sugar.

Mr Adams bought his cane from Innisfail at 11s. per ton, cut and delivered into his punt, where it was brought up eight miles. At the present price it paid to give that price to farmers who would grow sugar to sell to him.

The average weight of cane to an acre in a fair season was: Plant cane, taking it all around, would average about 27 tons to the acre on good land; first ratoons about 20 tons to the acre; second ratoons about 16 tons to the acre; and third ratoons about 12 tons an acre.

The cane grown included Rappoe, principally; also, meera otamiti, big yellow, lahina, striped Singapore, Daniel Dupont, cheribon, red rappoe, and a little from Fiji – treboe and lilliam green. The best varieties for sugar making were Rappoe and striped Singapore. For an all-round cane in the field and the mill, everyone liked meera the best in the mill, but rappoe was best in the field, and ratoons much better.

He had also gotten some cane from Homebush (Mackay), the Victoria (Ingham), Brisbane and a shipload from New South Wales, which all thrived well. He believed it was beneficial to change the seed after five years as much as possible.

Some of the Java cane plants were sent to Mourilyan where they planted them in an isolated place and intended to grow them, but Mr Adams thought it a great risk to do so.

Up to the present year lahina cane, which came from Hambleton, had always given a very poor percentage of crystallized sugar, but the previous year, on account of the drought which was a new thing there – the return was very good. Out of lahina and creole canes, the latter being the same as meera, the rappoe was the best variety, so far.

There had been a bit of rust in the cane, but it did not do any serious damage and appeared in trebole, Lillian green, and black Java.

He had experimented with using manure, in the nursery only, trying six acres with lime, filter press cake, and superphosphate, with the filter cake giving the best return and that was only the refuse from the filter press in the mill.

With artificial manures, the result in the nursery was that superphosphate, alone, gave the best result. He tried lime and ashes, and it gave a return of 12 tons per acre; but the superphosphate gave a return of 50 tons per acre. The gain in favour of the manured cane was 38 tons to the acre, but that was only a few stools, and it may not have been sufficient to rely on.

There were Europeans, kanakas, and Chinese employed to work the estate. A return taken from the wages sheet, showed the labour, per diem, working on the plantation. This only showed wages men, not those working on contracts: In 1886 there were 99 Europeans, 191 Kanakas and 25 Chinese. In 1887 84 Europeans, 196 Kanakas, and 25 Chinese. In 1888 120 Europeans, 271 Kanakas and 44 Chinese. This showed that one European was employed for every two other men.

The kanakas averaged from six to eighteen pounds with the general average being nine pounds and cultivated, on the average, about four acres of cane each. Chinese were paid 15s. to 17s. a week, and found and board them. Europeans’ rate of pay was from 20s. to 60s. a week with board, with some special men, boiler makers getting as much as 80s. a week. All working hands were housed.

Mr Adams was unable to say how many acres a European would work if he was able to use a plough and horses on the land, due to insufficient experience. Kanakas would still be required to weed the cane even then.

In addition to boarding and keeping workers, other articles were supplied – clothing according to the Act – three shirts, four pair of trousers, a hat, blankets, and more if necessary. The men also got soap, knives, coat, pipe, matches and did not need to find themselves anything at all. They were also supplied with "flys" in the field to keep the rain off them and to enable them to get out of the sun on a hot day.

The kanakas were also given a piece of ground for cultivation, about 10 acres for the lot, in which they could make a garden, and grow bananas. Some did so, and some did not. They nearly all made their own gardens and had to fence them off from each other.

They were easily managed but Mr Adams had had to punish several, but it was all on account of the grog. If it were not for the grog they were the most tractable class of men to have. He had taken steps to prosecute the persons who supplied grog to them, and had obtained convictions against them, making the situation not nearly as bad as it had been.

There was very rarely any trouble between the labourers and there were no fighting, or at least very rarely, as these were easily stopped.

He could not get South Sea Islanders easily even though they employed their own ship, the ‘Nautilus’, which had run three voyages already. The cost per head to the plantation was between 20 and 22 pounds, not including the capitation fee paid to the Government.

The plantation was not full handed and was in want of another 150 men, for which the ‘Nautilus’ had just sailed.

There was a hospital attendant and the medical man came up once a week and examined the boys, for which he was paid 50 guineas a year. The mill subscribed to the hospital and the usual fees paid.

Mr Adams found kanakas the most suitable for field work on the estate. But when the first piece of scrub was felled it was done by European contract workers but they signally failed. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction as they were always changing hands.

During the year the mill broke down, and the men working in the mill were offered work in the field till it was repaired, but they said it was black fellows’ work, and would sooner stop on and do nothing till the mill was put right. A few of the men went into the field, but their labour cost too much, the work was badly done, and the heat was so great that they could not stand it. He had never required them to work with the kanakas and had never heard a white man say they were objectionable to the white population. They actually agreed that kanakas were absolutely necessary.

This was the only time that Europeans worked with kanakas in the field and now had a gang of about twenty white men at contract, who were doing very slowly and not getting on at all.

The average wages of European labourers not employed in the sugar industry was from about 25s. to 30s. a week and rations, and they had to live in tents. The Divisional Board paid 10d. an hour, or about 8s. a day, and the laborers found themselves. Only whites were employed in mill work but sometimes the white men fell ill and kanakas filled their places.

During crushing season they had some trouble getting labour at the wages they offered but had a great many enquiries for employment since.

He had no Javanese but employed Chinese as well as the kanakas. The Chinese were employed in pick and shovel work, and with the axe, principally on contract. The Chinaman was stronger physically, and more powerful than the kanaka, and was able to fell scrub, clear it, make roads, and make formations and excavations, better than the kanaka.

He did not think South Sea Islanders could do the work of the Chinese, but it could be done with Europeans. Kanakas did not shine in using the axe or in felling scrub. So if he employed more kanakas then he would employ more whites. He would be able to do without Chinese and it could be done easily.

The kanaka was found more suitable for field work, such as weeding, trashing, planting, hoeing, and such like. A white man was generally in charge of thirty boys and was not expected to work in the field. These gangers were simply there to superintend the boys and see that they did their work, and were paid from 25s. to 30s and all found.

Some of the land now under cultivation was let to Europeans, and the balance by Chinamen. Out of the 2,700 acres cleared, 2,500 was done by Chinamen. 500 acres was leased to Chinamen, paying no rental on a clearing lease. They planted 100 acres the first year, 200 the second year, and 200 afterwards, and they were paid a fixed 9s. per ton, delivered on the trucks, on account of them getting the land free.

In all his correspondence with the General Manager on leasing land to white farmers if they would plant sugar on it, he was only too willing to start such an idea, provided the men could see their way to work it.

Kanakas employed in field work did not suffer in health with the results of the previous two or three years being very good. But with Europeans, three of his best men were then living at ‘Victoria Plantation’, as they could not stand the heat, suffering with malaria fever, diarrhea, and dysentery, which often used to be fatal and he used to lose a great many men. It was getting better every year for the men health wise but the men complained of the heat and said the work was black fellow’s work.

The employment of aboriginals was not a success, employing them out of charity, and then he generally brought along all his relations. They were decidedly most unsatisfactory labour.

There was a very large amount of timber on the estate, and a great many stumps were still in the ground. It was generally thought in the district that it took five years before the land was rendered fit for ploughing, but Mr Adam held that it took seven years. The land was exceptionally heavily timbered, much more than most plantations, and cost more to clear it.

The cost would have been from 6 to 8 pounds an acre. Some would cost 30s. an acre, and others 8 pounds, to make it so that a plough could be put into it. That was not including the first ploughing, but rendering it possible to put a plough in. Some of the stumps that were difficult to take out would be burnt out. The silky oak could not be burnt out.

It cost from five to seven pounds per acre to clear and burn off, according to the timber, and did not include making roads. This was for contract with the men working on the job making 25s. to 30s. a week. The land could not be stumped under 30 or 40 pounds an acre and had occurred, but at one place more than twice the sum as stumping all depended upon the season, whether it was wet or dry.

When the land was cleared of stumps Europeans, with horses and machinery, would be able to do a great deal of the work done by black labour, and there was no doubt of it.

The cane suffered from grub this year and he tried to get rid of them. He limed the oil, turning it up and ploughing it. The lime was efficacious if put on in small quantities; but it was not proof in all cases. The grub did considerable damage to the crops and carried off some 20 acres in the year, just as if it was frost-bitten and got half of what ought to have been obtained in the crushing. The cane was destroyed, but it was replanted again. He did not expect the grub to show before next February or March to any extent. There were plenty in the ground. He had to allow 25 acres of his best land to lie fallow, and was trying to kill the grub that way. It had suffered a little from drought as well.

Dr Hortmann recently visited after returning from a trip to Java, where the company had sent him. He had just discovered a new disease that was attacking the cane fields there, called ‘sereh’. 50 acres of cane had previously been imported from Borneo to the plantation where they were planted. They took them out as soon as they heard of the disease and burnt them all and had since allowed the land to lie fallow.

The first question of all for the improvement of the depressed state of the sugar industry was the settlement finally of the labour question, as white labour would not do. At that time everyone was frightened at the results likely to come about. The second was some way in which they could meet the sugar bounties, by having a preemptive tax placed on other sugars coming into the country. No sugar was coming in at this stage.

As long as plantations were allowed to use the kanaka or suitable labour that could be got with certainty, then the question was settled as far as farmers were concerned, and it would enable them to carry on, and all the sugar estates would be worked properly.

If Mr Adams had a plantation of his own then he would have expected to shut up if he was prevented from employing kanakas and it would have the effect of closing a very large number of plantations.

The closing of this mill would be disastrous for there was nothing else for Geralton (Innisfail) to depend on. There was no other industry of importance in the area.

The current price of sugar would not permit of employing Europeans, even if they could be obtained at 15s. a week and their board, as at Townsville, because they could not stand the heat. 15s. a week was for new chums who did well in the mill, but nowhere else. He was unable to do the work of a kanaka in the field as they got diarrhoea and dysentery. In all batches of new chums there were a certain amount of black sheep, but after they had been culled out, the remainder worked satisfactorily. Mr Adams was well satisfied with those he had gotten as mill men, taking them all around.

There were different rates for different work about the mill, and if a man showed himself anxious and pushing, he got up higher in the department and got better wages. They had tried an alteration in their hours of labour.

Everything was done to encourage them to remain at the mill. Any man who got under 25s. a week wages, got 2s. 6d. a week bonus if he remained during the season.

A case came before the Divisional Board of a contractor saying he would have to suspend work as the men he employed said they could not stand the heat. They refused to work until the weather became cooler.

Goondi Mill 1930

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