In 1929, a number of Buderim ginger growers formed the first Ginger Growers’ Association with a view to developing the ginger industry in the area. Ginger had arrived with the First Fleet and Chinese settlers had also been growing it in Australia from the early 19th century. However, the formation of the Association marked the beginning of commercial cultivation and processing.
Ginger is native to India and Southern China but was used in ancient Rome and highly valued in medieval times for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Australia’s first white settlers brought both the ground spice and the ginger plant to Australia, while later Chinese immigrants independently brought ginger root from their homeland.
Initially, ginger was grown in private gardens and some Chinese market gardens. It was used in ginger cakes, ginger jams, curries, confectionery and ginger beer. As a medicine it was thought to relieve cold-related illnesses and digestive upsets and to be a stimulant.
Farmers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland began experimenting with the crop in the 1920s and by 1928 there were two major growers in the Buderim area: E. F. Elliott and A. J. Burnett. The Association applied to the Federal Government for tariff protection, as it was difficult for local growers to compete with cheaper imported ginger from China. This was opposed by confectionery manufacturers such as MacRobertson’s and tariffs were not imposed.
World War II created an opportunity for the industry when the imported product from China was no longer available. In 1941, at a conference of growers from Queensland and New South Wales, the Australian Ginger Growers’ Council was formed. Growers decided to handle production on a cooperative basis and over the next two years processing plants were developed. By 1946, there were processors in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Over the following decades, the ginger industry had a series of ups and downs. In the mid-1950s, when the USA banned the importation of ginger from communist China, the export market received a boost. Today, according to Agrifutures, the Australian ginger industry produces about 8,000 tonnes each year, with an estimated farm gate value of AU$32 million. About 60 per cent of the crop is sold fresh, with the rest being sold to processors to manufacture confectionery, pickled products, brewed drinks or paste for cooking.