Small sugar farmer agency in the tropics 1872-1914 and the anomalous Herbert River Farmers' Association

Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka (2019) Small sugar farmer agency in the tropics 1872-1914 and the anomalous Herbert River Farmers' Association. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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One hundred and thirty-six years ago six immigrant small selectors formed the Herbert River Farmers’ Association (HRFA). On the Herbert a plantation mode of sugar production began in 1872. The selectors there, used the HRFA to actively participate in the transition of the tropical Australian sugar industry from plantation to small, family farms by 1914. Associations such as theirs formed the cornerstone of the institutional foundations of a globally unique and successful industry farmed by small, family farmers.

Principal exponents of sugar industry organization history have consistently dismissed the small sugar cane farmers’ associations. Broader sugar industry scholarship however, identified them as having contributed to the demise of plantation production and the development of farm-based central milling. This assessment recognized that the HRFA and fellow small associations promoted small farming and that their members proved that white, small sugar farmers could farm in a tropical environment without detriment to their health and could provide a reliable supply of high-quality cane.

Agricultural associations in sugar growing regions in the period 1872 to 1914 were dominated by white elite planters, practising an exploitative mode of production that used unfree or indentured coloured labour. Furthermore, land was not distributed equally to planters and small farmers alike, denying the small farmers, white or otherwise, the type of independence that came to characterise Australian white, small, sugar farmers. Land ownership and the freedom to form associations allowed the small selectors of the Herbert River Valley in tropical north Queensland in the late nineteenth century to negotiate with the planters in a way that the tenant farmers and share-croppers in other sugar growing regions could not.

Accounts of the origins and nature of the sugar industry agricultural association movement focus exclusively on the planter associations while small sugar farmer associations are virtually invisible in the scholarship. Agricultural associations were vehicles both planters and farmers used to access rural extension, promote agricultural skills and innovation, and lobby with one voice. A top-down approach has made for a void in the understanding and appreciation of the development and role of small sugar industry agricultural associations in Australia. The Australian small sugar farmers’ association was unique in the global sugar industry association movement and the HRFA was the first of its kind in the plantation era in tropical Australia.

Item ID: 62235
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Herbert River; agricultural associations; sugarcane; sugarcane farming; small sugarcane growers; sugarcane planters; tropical north Queensland; Ingham
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui.
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2020 00:17
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History @ 10%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 60%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History @ 30%
SEO Codes: 82 PLANT PRODUCTION AND PLANT PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8203 Industrial Crops > 820304 Sugar @ 50%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9499 Other Law, Politics and Community Services > 949999 Law, Politics and Community Services not elsewhere classified @ 25%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified @ 25%
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