Backward Glance – Ginger, the enduring spice
  • Wednesday 02 October 2019

“The British Housewife” a 1735 cook book, described ginger as a root common in the East Indies and many parts of America. The best is the soundest and yellowest in colour within.

The book’s recipes showed that ginger was used in the still room where beverages for the well and for the sick were concocted, as well as for everyday cooking and preserving, and in candied form as a sweetmeat.

Ginger had been suggested as a staple crop for the Buderim plateau as early as 1885 however it was not introduced until 1916.  

Robert Duthie, a Brisbane merchant, is credited with bringing the first ginger to Buderim, giving the seed to his friend Arthur J. Burnett to see what he could do with it. To the astonishment of all it grew!

Arthur Burnett gave seed to his brother, George Burnett, and Vince Crosby who also had success and who in turn gave rhizomes to other growers. 

By the 1920s too much was being cultivated for local use only and trading began with Duthie Bros in Brisbane and later with the Bengal Chutney Company, as well as on the open market.

In 1926 growers began to agitate for a guaranteed price to allow them to plant more ginger and in 1929 a meeting was held in the School of Arts, Buderim to discuss the advisability of forming an association to help the market and assist growers generally. 

The Nambour Chronicle reported on May 10, 1929 that after a full discussion was allowed, it was decided to form the Ginger Growers association of Queensland. 

Mr. S. A. Burnett was elected president and Mr. W.J. Smout, secretary. The membership fee for the association was fixed at five shillings. 

In 1930 the Ginger Growers Association met with Mr. B.H. Corser MHR seeking to have tariffs increased on imported ginger, citing that lack of protection was restricting expansion.

The Tariff Board opened a public enquiry and the argument put forward by Australian manufacturers was that it would cost Australian consumers more if the duties on ginger were increased and the resultant outlook for other primary and secondary industries would not be encouraging. The request was refused.

During the 1940s ginger imports dropped drastically and when Japan entered the war they stopped completely. As a result, the Government bought all the ginger, regardless of quality, at a guaranteed price. 

A new factory at Buderim was completed in 1942 in time to receive the 1943 harvest.

Ginger had been declared a commodity under the Primary Producers’ Organisation and Marketing Acts, thus it was necessary to establish a Ginger Marketing Board. 

In 1954 the industry collapsed with the Board facing the decision to either go into liquidation or rebuild the industry – after much discussion it was decided to plant more ginger. 

In October 1954 the Association asked Geoff Shrapnel to become manager and he took command of the industry. He got it on its feet, established export markets and made it very profitable. Geoff became known by many as the saviour of the ginger industry.

The industry continued to expand and by the 1970s it became clear that the Buderim factory would need more storage. A site at Yandina offered ample flat land close to the main growing area.

In 1982 the world market collapsed again leaving the Association with ginger it could not sell.

By 1984 sales had bounced back and in 1989 the formation of the public company Buderim Ginger Limited provided the impetus to expand its tourism attractions.

Success of the tourism venture continued to swell and more land was purchased for expansion.

One of the favourite tourist attractions was the Ginger Belle, an authentic replica of an 1880s paddle steamer.

It was constructed and owned by former farmers Ross and Jenny Robertson and operated in association with the Ginger Factory and tourist complex at Yandina. It carried 50 passengers and was built from steel and timber.

The paddle steamer was launched by Sir Walter Burnett on August 29, 1988 and provided river tours from the junction of the North and South Maroochy River to Dunethin Rock.

Tours operated three times daily, with Ross Robertson skippering the steamer, while Jenny Robertson provided a commentary on the river's paddle steamers, the area’s early settlement and its sugar cane and ginger-growing history. 

Subsequently, the Ginger Belle was transported to Longreach where she was renamed the Thomson Belle and now, as the Thomson Princess, operates entertainment and dining cruises six days a week.

Not to be forgotten was the Ginger Belle Tour Bus, which transported visitors between the Ginger Factory and the Ginger Belle, moored at Browne's Wharf. The site was chosen for its historical significance, located within a few metres of the original wharf which had been the limit of navigation for steamers, such as Tandorna Radjah in the 1880s.

The bus, which also provided visitors with an informative tour of a working ginger farm, was replaced by the Moreton loco and its passenger carriages.

The Moreton was built in Germany in 1901. The steam-powered locomotive was the first train bought by the Moreton Sugar Mill in 1905 and remained in service until 1967.

The loco was purchased by Ross and Jennifer Robertson who restored it over an 18 month period as a replacement for the Ginger Belle Tour Bus. The loco engine, with two carriages (replicas of the early Coolum trams), began operating at Yandina Ginger Town on Boxing Day 1992.

The iconic Ginger Factory has come a long way from its humble beginnings, offering shopping facilities, modern dining, educational tours and fun rides surrounded by acres of beautiful sub-tropical gardens and walks.

If you’d like to enjoy a taste from the past – here is a recipe from 1934 for Pear Ginger Jam.

Take 6lbs of pears, 3 ½ lb of sugar, 1lb of preserved ginger, ½ lb of green ginger, and a pint of cold water. Cut pears into quarters, add sugar and stand all night. Add ginger, add water. Let it boil until thick. Enjoy!

Thanks to the Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image: Ladies cutting ginger to be used on a float in a procession through Nambour, 1964