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12 February, 2021

Sugar and sport on display at heritage centre

THE Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, situated in the small Northern town of Mourilyan, just south of Innisfail has recently been repainted and is ready for visitors in 2021, writes Greg Shannon.


THE Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, situated in the small Northern town of Mourilyan, just south of Innisfail has recently been repainted and is ready for visitors in 2021.

The complex houses the Australian Sugar industry museum where the cultural and physical history of the iconic agricultural industry, one that stretches from Harwood in NSW to Mossman in Far North Qld is on display.

Several new displays were set up during 2020 including one which highlights the connection between the sugar cane industry and sport through the years.

Many great sportsmen and sportswomen have grown up on cane farms or mill estates, or are part of families involved in cane harvesting and other sectors of the industry.  Many others joined the sugar cane industry for work.

This new display called “Sugar and Sport” provides a snapshot of more than 50 sporting identities from 11 different sports who have an association with the industry.

Most agricultural industries would be able to claim some high profile sports people from amongst their ranks and the main criteria to be included in this sugar and sport display is representation at state and / or International level.

The sugar cane industry has been developed through many decades of innovation and has involved significant migration, both from within Australia and from overseas. The impact of this migration is reflected in the industries cultural history which in turn can be highlighted through sport.

The 11 sports represented so far are rugby league, rugby Union, cricket, AFL, soccer, tennis, hockey, athletics’, lawn bowls, basketball and surf lifesaving.

For rugby league, the display features some very well known identities who have been associated with the sugar industry from the very foundation of the code in Australia.

In 1908, a young sugar mill employee from the Bundaberg region, Mick Bolewski exceled at both rugby union, and rugby league, and became a member of the very first Australian Kangaroo touring squad to the UK.

His career, along with several of his brothers who also played for Qld are on display.

Members of the Bolewski family are still involved in the sugar cane industry in the Burdekin region of North Qld.

Likewise, Bundaberg cane farmer Bill Heidke’s rugby league career is highlighted as he was the first Qld player to captain an Australian rugby league team in 1910 and his son Les also represented Qld and Australia.

In fact, Les is still the most capped Qld player of all time, having played 43 times for Qld between 1928-41, one more then Cameron Smith in origin between 2003-17.

Other connections between the sugar cane industry and rugby league include NRL club the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, a club who represent a part of Qld where much of the sugar industry exists and many of the clubs identifies have been connected to the sugar cane industry.

One of the club founders, Kerry Boustead grew up on the family cane farm near Silkwood, not far from the Australian Sugar heritage centre, and as a player made the Qld and Australian side in 1978, becoming the youngest player to play for Australia at that time.

Kerry’s brother Ian also represented Qld in 1976. Both their careers are highlighted in the display.

Other rugby league identities listed include Lionel Williamson who grew up on a cane farm and represented Qld and Australia in the 1960 is while working at the South Johnstone sugar mill.  Lionel’s grandson, Lindsay Collins is a current Qld state of origin player.

Further rugby league identities who have connections to the industry and whose careers are part of the display include Martin Bella, Greg Dowling, Billy Slater, Mal Meninga and Laurie Spina. Martin Bella (Sarina) and Laurie Spina (Herbert River) are still growing sugar cane.

Rugby Union is represented through 1904 Qld and Australian player Edmund Dore who developed a sugar cane farm in the Tully region where his family still farm while 1970s NSW and Australian player Declan Curran comes from a well-known NSW sugar cane farming family.

Perhaps one of the most illustrious sporting careers on display though is four time Olympian and current Australian Women Opals Basketball coach Sandy Brondello.

Sandy grew up on Mackay cane farm and her achievements in basketball are extraordinary, representing Australia over 300 times.

Also included is former Australian tennis player and current coach Nicole Pratt who also grew up on a Mackay cane farm.

In athletics World Triathlon champion, Brad Bevan’s career is a major feature of the display. Brad fondly recounts growing up on the family cane farm near Miriwinni, and attributes much of his success on the world stage to his upbringing on the farm.  Part of his training regime included running behind his father’s cane harvester, which travelled at a suitable pace for long distance running! 

Ranked No. 1 in the world 4 times between 1990-95, Brad also won five Australian Triathlon Championships.

Swimming is well represented with Brooke Stockham, whose family are Burdekin cane farmers. Brooke competed in two Paralympics, winning three Bronze medals in 2000 (Sydney) and another one in 2004 (Athens).

For soccer, the display includes the career of Steve Corica, the current Sydney Olympics A league manager who comes from Innisfail where his family have been involved in the sugar cane industry since migrating from Italy in the 1930’s.

This new display highlight just how an Agricultural industry has provided the backdrop for many sporting identities to follow their dreams to achieve great things.

Hopefully it serves to inspire visitors to the museum as well.

The sugar museum in the Australian Sugar Heritage centre is a volunteer run organisation and is open every day except Christmas day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday, 9-4pm weekdays and 9-1.30pm on weekends.

Greg Shannon is based in Tully, NQ and is a member of the QRL history committee and the historian for the NQ Toyota Cowboys as well as a director of the Australian Sugar Heritage centre. Greg originally comes off a farm in the Meandarra district of the Western Darling Downs.


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