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The days when arrowroot ruled the crop


The days when arrowroot ruled the crop

When primary production ruled on the Sunshine Coast, it wasn’t only about the fields of sugar cane. AUDIENNE BLYTH recalls a time when arrowroot was a commercial crop worthy of exhibition at the Brisbane Exhibition and Nambour Show.

A 1938 advertisement for arrowroot biscuits in the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Remember arrowroot? Grandma used it. Arrowroot was a valuable crop established in the early days of settlement in South-East Queensland.

It was grown commercially from the 1860s in the Pimpama district where early processing plants were set up. Arrowroot was easier to grow than sugar cane or cotton.

Palmwoods resident, Jenny Mackay, recalls her forebears, the Love family of Kiamba, came from the Pimpama district.

In 1927 Harry Atkinson built an arrowroot mill for Ben Love and his son Jim on Kiamba Rd. In the winter months, the mill processed arrowroot when the crop was ready to be harvested.

Residents recall large trays of arrowroot drying in the sun.

Many local farmers as well as the Loves were growing arrowroot at that time and supplied the mill. Railway loadings show that arrowroot was also sent away by rail to other processors.

In the early 1900s, William Hamilton operated a juice mill that processed sugar cane in the vicinity of Silky Oak Court, Yandina, on the banks of the North Maroochy River. Large slabs of sugar cake were sent to Brisbane for further refining.

The mill also processed arrowroot in season. He successfully exhibited his top-quality manufactured arrowroot flour at the 1905 Brisbane Exhibition.

In the 1920s, the Nambour Show featured sections for both white and purple arrowroot bulbs as well as manufactured arrowroot flour.

Long-time residents may recall cake competitions at shows or church fairs which always featured an arrowroot sponge cake. So light and delicious!

Arrowroot was recommended for babies and invalids because it is easy to digest. It is also gluten free.

Mothers were encouraged to feed their babies on Webster’s or Arnott’s arrowroot biscuits which were made from milk, butter and arrowroot flour.

Today, arrowroot biscuits from supermarkets contain very little arrowroot flour and look very plain next to all the chocolate-covered varieties.

Permaculture groups say arrowroot is enjoying a comeback as an easy vegetable to grow organically in the garden. You can make the flour yourself by processing the bulb in a blender and allowing the residue to settle.

After further washing, the residue can be dried in the open air and the resulting flour can be used as an addition to other flours in baking. It can also be used like cornflour to thicken soups and gravies.

The Australian Women’s Weekly always seemed to feature the use of arrowroot flour, especially in the 1950,s and these recipes can be researched on Trove.

Old timers may remember a party game at young people’s parties in the 1940s and early 1950s which required participants to eat an arrowroot biscuit then whistle God Save the King. Try it. It is much harder than you think!

Grandchildren may describe decorating plain arrowroot biscuits with funny faces for competitions at school fairs – that seems to be the only place I have seen them recently.

 Audienne Blyth is a member of the Nambour Historical Museum, open Wednesday to Friday, 1pm-4pm and Saturday 10am-3pm. All welcome.

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