I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

From small things, big things grow....

While sugar has been the longest lasting, most profitable crop grown here there has been much experimentation since the first European settlement in the Valley in finding alternative or supplementary crops. Tobacco achieved some commercial success over a number of attempts and physical evidence in the form of drying sheds dotted around the district, and a tobacco press still preserved at the Tyto precinct give mute testament to that industry.  Rice was another, and today the Biasi, Accornero and Russo families are venturing on a 21st century experiment with production of that crop. However it is not the first time that rice was grown in this district.   
Rice was possibly introduced to Australia by Chinese gold prospectors coming to Australia for the Gold Rushes. In the 1860s rice was being grown by the Chinese in North Queensland to supply the northern gold fields. However it is the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme that makes large scale rice production possible. By 1928 Australia was growing enough rice to supply its own domestic consumption needs and had in that year even produced an excess of 3 000 tonnes that could be exported. Rice was grown in paddies and depended on a ready supply of water. In order to encourage a domestic industry, the Federal Government, in 1927, imposed a duty on imported rice, but also came to an agreement that rice would not be grown outside Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA).  
In 1930 it was reported in the Northern Miner in relation to the Herbert River Valley thatSome interest is being shown, no doubt on account of the restriction of the extension of the acres of sugar cane lands, in the introduction of new crops into the district. Mention has been made in previous letters of the growing of pawpaws at Abergowrie. For some time past both tobacco and rice have been grown on a small scale on Frank Fraser Ltd’s land at Blackrock, and last week several excellent examples of rice were on view at Messrs Hardv and Venable’s office Ingham, grown by Mr. Mackie at Blackrock. The tobacco grown is reported to be looking splendid, and a fine crop is expected from it.”
Nevertheless a commercial venture of rice was understood to be hampered by legislation as this Townsville Bulletin report of July, 1946 testifies: “At the last meeting of the Bowen Chamber of Commerce it was stated that in response to representations from the local chamber, the following additional chambers have expressed themselves as favourable to the action taken by Bowen regarding the removal of restrictions on rice growing in Queensland — Ingham, Warwick, Gympie Traders' Association and Ipswich. The Brisbane Chamber advised that thev are still in communication with the Department of Agriculture on the subject.” In September of that year in response to a question by Mr. Theodore (Herbert) of the Secretary for Agriculture and Stock, the reply was given that rice seed had been obtained from overseas and indicated that rice growing in Queensland conditions would be trialled. On further enquiries by the Townsville Chamber of Commerce in 1950, the Federal Department of Commerce and Agriculture stated that there were no Federal restrictions on rice growing and that in fact “Agricultural production is a State function, and there is no restriction on rice production. At the same time, growers would be well advised to consult the State Department of Agriculture before going in for cultivation on a large scale. At present, rice is grown commercially in Australia only in the Murrumbidgee irrigation area. There, the competing demands of fruit and other crops for the limited quantities of water available make it necessary to control the area put under rice. This, however, is not with the' intention of restricting rice areas, but to make the best use of the water."
In 1967, centred on the flood plain soils of the Burdekin delta, a small rice industry began. A long grain, high quality rice was produced for which there was a ready market.  At the same time what has been described as a “tiny lower Herbert, rice industry” also took off.  Hampering this fledgling industry was availability of a suitable water supply.  An alternative way of growing rice which presaged the way that the Biasi, Accornero and Russo families are now growing rice in the Herbert River Valley was shown possible by a Mrs. A.E. Maddern of Yuruga in 1950: “An Interesting experiment with rice seed, carried out by Mrs. A. E. Maddern, of Yuruga seven months ago, has proved successful. Of six grains of rice planted, three germinated and matured. Known as Dry Land rice, the seed was grown under ordinary district conditions, with very little cultivation, just being watered casually. A sample brought to town showed a well matured plant, the rice thickly clustered on the stems showing excellent development, a rough estimate being about 6000 grains of rice to the one rice seed. The seed was received from a sister of Mrs. Maddern's at Redland Bay, Brisbane, who also experimented at the same time but the seed failed to respond to growth.”
Traditional paddy field. Image sourced from: Ingham, Richard. "Gene breakthrough could boost rice yields by 20 per cent." PhysOrg, August 22, 2012. Accessed August 4, 2106.http://phys.org/news/2012-08-gene-breakthrough-boost-rice-yields.html.  
Rice grown "dry land" method. Image sourced from: https://twitter.com/canegrowers/status/575443544359374848
“Detailed Historic Timeline of the Australian Rice Industry,”  Sun Rice, accessed August 4, 2016,
Courtenay, P.P. “Agriculture in North Queensland.” Geographical Research 16 (1978): 29-42. Accessed August 4, 2016. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8470.1978.tb00313.x.
Queensland Parliamentary Debates [Hansard] Legislative Assembly.  September 3, 1946. Accessed August 4, 2016. https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/hansard/1946/1946_09_03.pdf.
“Ingham Notes.” Northern Miner,  June 7, 1930, 2.
“Rice growing.” Townsville Daily Bulletin, July 6, 1946, 1.
“Ingham area.” Townsville Daily Bulletin, March 10, 1950, 5.
“Rice Sowing In North Queensland not Commonwealth. Controlled. Babinda Chamber of Commerce.” Cairns Post, November 4 1950, 1.

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