The workers who helped build a Buderim sugar farm
Joseph Dixon (1842 – 1929), a pioneer and the biggest land selector on Buderim, in his Diary & Reminiscences (1875 – 1928), has left an account of the South Sea Islanders who worked on his sugar plantation.
About 62,000 South Sea Islanders, also known as Kanakas, were brought to Queensland between 1863 and 1904 to work in the sugar or cotton industry.
Some were kidnapped, blackbirded, or otherwise induced into indentured service.
By 1908, they faced compulsory repatriation to the islands under the White Australia Policy and the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901.
Dixon writes that in1876 he set up the first sugar mill (on what was to be the Sunshine Coast) at Buderim.
He explains how the industry needed reliable labour by South Sea Islanders and that white men were likely to go on strike and thus the harvest would be lost.
At first, he employed 10 South Sea Islanders to help plant and clean the growing sugar cane crop.
In the crushing season they cut and loaded the cane for the mill.
The men had arrived by steamer after their journey from different Pacific Islands. Dixon supplied them with food, clothing and accommodation.
These conditions were subject to government inspection.
He said that it was good policy to feed them well and so he grew two acres of sweet potatoes to provide them with their favourite food, along with corn beef.
After a year or two, Dixon sent for a second group of South Sea Islanders who arrived at Maryborough on the Roderick Dhu.
Dixon met them and they travelled to Gympie by train but since the train line had not yet opened south of Gympie, they set out to walk the 40 miles to Buderim carrying all sorts of luggage that included yams, coconuts and breadfruit.
He was surprised to see a woman with a new baby among the group and gave up his horse for her to ride.
She was later of great assistance to Dixon’s wife with household tasks.
The walk took them three days.
Travelling along the old Cobb & Co route, they reached Mount Bottle and Glass at Cooloolabin and he pointed out to them their new home in the distance at Buderim.
Dixon set up a school for the children of the Kanakas. He recalled the celebrations at Christmas with a roasted pig and fireworks.
Being religious, the Islanders loved to sing and took part in the singing of hymns with great gusto.
The Salvation Army held prayer meetings and established holiday camps at Maroochydore for them.
With many of the Islanders deciding to return to their homelands, the farmers of Buderim turned to fruit growing and so the departure saw the end of an era of sugar growing in that area.