Although sugar had previously been refined in Australia from imported raw sugar, the move to local production began in 1862 when the first viable sugar cane plantation was established near Brisbane. The first commercial sugar mill commenced operations two years later.
The Australian Sugar Company was established in Sydney in 1842. In January 1855 it became the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, refining imported raw sugar. The company expanded its operations to Melbourne in the 1870s, with refineries first at Port Melbourne and later at Yarraville. However, CSR (as it later became) was not the first company to mill locally grown sugar.
The first sugar cane plantation was established near Brisbane by Captain Louis Hope and John Buhot, with the support of the Queensland government. Two years later, Hope started Australia’s first commercial sugar mill.
Labour was an issue for the new plantations. Convicts had provided a cheap labour force for colonists in earlier times, but by the 1850s transportation to the eastern colonies had ceased. Hope solved this problem by bringing in Pacific Islanders to work on his plantation.
This practice was widely adopted by subsequent sugar cane farmers, perhaps inspired by the slave system in the southern states of the USA. While some Islanders came voluntarily, many were “black-birded” and worked as indentured labourers under conditions that amounted to slavery. An estimated 62,500 Islanders were brought to Queensland between 1863 and 1904. Following Federation in 1901, the infamous “White Australia Policy” led to mass deportation of Queensland’s Islanders – a shameful episode that left many people displaced and alienated from their roots.
In 1891 an immigration scheme saw Italian labourers brought to Queensland to work in the canefields. This eventually led to a strong Italian presence in North Queensland, with Italian families dominating the sugar industry in some areas.
In the late 1800s, Colonial Sugar Refineries established sugar mills in Queensland and Fiji, to process domestically-grown sugar. In 1932, the company was granted a monopoly to refine all of the state’s sugar – a situation that continued until 1989.