1878 Banana plantations in Queensland

Chinese banana plantation Queensland - Queensland State Archives

The banana is believed to be indigenous to the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, the Philippines and New Guinea, but has been widely known beyond these areas for thousands of years. There are references to bananas in India as early as 600BC and they were growing in southern China as early as 200AD. >History of Bananas

The first banana plants were brought to Australia by Chinese migrants, probably as early as the middle of the 19th century. In 1873 gold was discovered in the Palmer River area of far North Queensland, attracting Chinese miners. After 1878, many of the miners returned to coastal areas such as Cooktown, Cairns and Innisfail (then called Geraldton) and planted bananas, sugar cane, pineapples and other crops.

The success of the plantations in North Queensland led to the establishment of trade with the southern colonies. Chinese fruiterers in Sydney supplied outlets locally and in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The most popular banana, Cavendish, was bred in greenhouse conditions in the UK and arrived in Australia via Fiji where many of the Chinese merchants owned banana plantations. When tariffs were imposed on imported bananas there was an additional incentive to support the development of the local industry.

In 1891, Herman Reich established the first New South Wales plantations in Coffs Harbour and the surrounding areas. Chinese merchants also began growing bananas around Mullumbimby. In the early 1900s, Chinese traders controlled over half of the banana trade in Sydney and Melbourne.

Today bananas are grown commercially in Western Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, but more than 90 per cent of the Australian crop comes from far north Queensland. Bananas can no longer be imported because of the threat of crop disease, so all the fruit you see in the supermarket is Australian-grown.

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