George Hadley
Interview with: George Hadley (GH)
Occupation: Cane Rail Supervisor, Moreton Sugar Mill
Interviewer: Gary McKay (GK)
Location of Interview: Moreton Mill, Nambour
Date of Interview: 27 August 2003

George Hadley started work at the Moreton Central Sugar Mill in 1959 as a 17 year-old apprentice fitter and turner. His father had worked in the Mill during the Second World War years until 1958 as a sugar bagger. After completing his trade qualifications, George progressed through the Mill, from locomotive fitter on steam and diesel locomotives, to become a shift fitter. He worked on many of the new installations brought into the Mill in the 1960s and 70s and became a senior staff member when appointed Cane Railway Supervisor. He is responsible for a team of drivers and fireman manning seven diesel locomotives, operating on 120 kilometres of cane rail track, hauling almost 1200 cane trucks. He has seen the transition from steam to diesel during his 44 years service at the Mill. George is married with four children. He is a solidly built, easy-going and knowledgeable man, whose passion outside of working hours is steam model railways. He hand-built the “Eudlo” model steam locomotive that is often seen in the Sugar Festival parades in Nambour.


Audio file

George Hadley oral history - part one [MP3 29MB]
George Hadley oral history - part two [MP3 15MB]
George Hadley oral history - part three [MP3 21MB]


GM This is a recording of an interview with George Hadley the Cane Rail Supervisor at Moreton Mill, Nambour, recorded by Gary McKay, Wednesday 27 August 2003, for the Maroochy Libraries The Last Crush Project.

George, firstly, thanks very much for taking part in our project. Could you tell us when and how you got into the sugar industry?

GH Basically, through my parents over the early years. I was bred and born with the local sugar mill and it sort of evolved from there where my father worked. I got used to coming and seeing him at work and visiting him and bringing his tea over with my mother as well when he was on shift work and it grew from there basically. When the opportunity became available to me to be endorsed as an apprentice fitter and turner at the Sugar Mill, I basically took that with open arms. And then working here all these past years.

GM What did your father do here between 1940 and 1958?

GH My father - before he actually came to the Mill - he used to work in a flour mill out at Roma, sewing the bags of flour for the flour mill and he decided he would like to move towards the coast and therefore applied for a job here at the Sugar Mill as a bag sewer. In those days, it was in big jute bags holding 163 pound (75 kgs) of sugar and they all had to be hand-sewed. So he took that job on here and sewed the bags for quite a number of years before he was then elevated to what they call ‘hopper man’ and he was the bloke that operated the hopper to fill the bags and put the correct weight in them and he did that for approximately 15 or 16 years. Soon after he retired then, they brought the bulk sugar side of things in and that side of the sugar industry was lost here at the Mill where they used to bag the sugar.

GM And now they do it automatically.

GH They do it automatically with a machine that works most of the time and has certainly sped things up a bit and you can now work things out a lot differently as far as the size of bags and where they produce them.

GM Just tell us about your own history in the Mill in terms of when you started and where you are today.

GH Well I started at the beginning of 1959, as an apprentice fitter and turner, basically in the workshop on overhaulage of machinery. Then when we had the steam locos here on weekends, I would be working on those on general maintenance. This basically led me to be the eventual loco fitter. One of the chaps retired and I took over the steam locos and then in 1963 seeing the first of the diesels come to Moreton Mill. I basically carried on then with seeing the steam locos pass through - the last on them ran in 1968 - and then it was diesels. I was then the diesel fitter looking after all the diesels (locos). Progressively, when I got the necessary qualifications, I became the shift fitter that is – the fitter that works on shifts during the crushing – and does all the running maintenance for the crushing. I did that for a couple of years there and then I progressed to shift engineer in charge of the Mill on shift and right up until about 12 or 14 years ago, I was shift engineer. Then they (Management) thought my experience in railways warranted promoting me to Cane Railway Supervisor in charge of the whole rail system throughout the Moreton area. That has been my job since then. It is basically a 24-hour a day job when we are crushing, because of derailments that can happen at any time of the day in the cane system. But over the last couple of years or more, I have got a few more bits and pieces to do, where a few of the people have retired and they have reduced staff levels, so I have had to flap my wings a little bit more and do a few more bits and pieces, like molasses sales, sugar sales, computers and all this sort of stuff. It was stuff I didn’t know a great deal about, but it was a pretty quick learning curve if you know what I mean. Especially with computers. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t know how to even turn a computer on, let alone anything else. Basically I am doing a lot of jobs now that I didn’t think I would ever do before. When I became the Cane Rail Supervisor, it more or less gave me a senior staff position. It is a pretty viable bit of equipment, the cane rail system, because a lot of people in the Mill think that the cane comes through the front gate, but how it gets there is another story. But it is a pretty big job.

GM What is the most important part of your job as the supervisor of the rail?

GH Basically, it is to keep the Mill crushing. If we have derailments or something to that effect, we have to get the line and everything repaired and re-rail bins etc, and to be able to keep the Mill crushing. When you start shutting down a Mill – even if it’s for half an hour or an hour – it is pretty vital as far as the finances side of the place is concerned. It is a pretty big responsibility that you have got - to keep the Mill operating - and that is what we tend to do.

GM A derailment must really throw a spanner in the works?

GH It does, it does, because you just don’t know how serious it is and it can be very serious operation actually. Not only the derailment of bins, but people and employees that can get hurt as well. Yes, so it can be very serious.

GM What is the most challenging part of your job in keeping the cane coming through the front gate?

GH One of the most challenging parts is making sure the cane is here at the Mill. Mostly the system is operated by the cane inspectors, but the rail supervisor has to have the locos there to pick up the cane when it is ready. The farmer is on an allotment system each day – he has so much cane to cut – then we have to supply empty bins - or in the old days cane trucks - to suit that amount of cane that he is to cut and when he has finished it then he places it at his loading point and then it is our responsibility then to get it to the Mill. This can happen with a lot of ease sometimes; especially in dry weather it is not too bad, but with wet weather the line sinks and moves. In the olden days, where there was no gravel (ballast) under the line, and it was only sitting in mud in a lot of places and as the wheels of the locos and the bins go over the joins in the rail it gives a pumping effect on the ground underneath, it goes up and down and when you put about 60 or 70 trucks over it and you get two bumps for every truck, and you end up with a big puddle of slush underneath the rail and it is a...

GM It digs itself in?

GH Yes, basically. This is where we have a lot of trouble with wet weather. Now there is more ballast used and that has improved that a lot. We still have sections where there is mud and dirt under the rails at this stage.

GM And we have got about 120 kilometres of rail?

GH Yes approximately 120.

GM Seven (diesel) locos?

GH Yes.

GM And 1200 bins?

GH That’s right.

GM How many drivers?

GH Well, normally there is a driver and a fireman on each loco. There is no guard because we have no vans at the end of the load because it is a completely contained system. But our system is only allowed cane haulage on the system and this has been a requirement and even in the easement rights when the easements are drawn up, that it is only for cane haulage.

GM Now, the boiler failure at the Mill. Were you here when that happened? (1981)

GH I came on shift about two hours after the boiler failure happened and my shift engineer mate that was on before me said, ‘You have got a plate of black spaghetti in the boiler!’

GM That is how Jim Attewell described it.

GH I went had a look in the boiler straightaway and that was a very good assessment of the boiler tubes that were in the boiler. They were mainly the fire box tubes and they were anything up to 50 or 60 feet (17–27 metres) long some of them and they had become overheated and all fell in a pile on the grate, and I tell you it was a sight to see. It took us, I forget now but about six to eight weeks to repair it all, which means we had to pull all the sides off the boiler and all the boxing or cladding to remove all the tubes and then put all the new ones in and have them all oxy-welded in and then all the new concrete and all the insulating material had to be put in and we had to work, and the chap who was with me, we had to work 12 hours a day for six (sic: three) weeks continual to get the boiler in operation again.
(Editor’s note: The boiler went off line on 1 September and was back on line again on 22 September 1981)

GM Meanwhile the cane is standing there.

GH Yes, all the green cane was standing there. The amount of cane that we had burnt at the time – that falls over (deteriorates) pretty quickly when you leave it standing in the field - so they had to cut it and transported it all to Maryborough mill some 120-odd kilometres north of Nambour and that was a major job in itself trying (to do that) because the trucks up there are all committed to their own work and so consequently they had to try and throw in a few trucks from up there to come down here to take trucks of cane from down here (to Maryborough). It was a massive job really.

GM Maryborough don’t have a rail system then?

GH No, Maryborough doesn’t have a rail system. At that time, they had a little bit of rail where they sort of put cane in some bins for their night-time processing and try to keep the mill running 24 hours a day, because some of the trucks that carry the cane cannot run all night, so they used to store some (cut cane) in old Queensland Railway wagons just to see them through the night. But they don’t have a rail system, as we know it; it is all road transport.

GM Now that was in 1981 when the boiler collapsed. What was the year when the Bli Bli loco went into the river?

GH It would have been approximately around 1968 or 1969, somewhere in that vicinity.

GM Tell us about your involvement in that and the work that you had done on the loco that had probably ended up saving someone’s life.

GH During the slack season, prior to the crushing, I had done a major job on it (“Bli Bli” loco) and rebuilt the engine and rebuilt the gearbox and as normal turned the wheels and getting it ready for the crushing. During trial periods prior to the crushing - and that was a matter of only just a few days - we were having a little bit of trouble with the gearbox. One of the gears had a bush inside of it and it kept moving and always in the wrong direction, so we were trying to get this fixed and we left the floorboards of the cab just sitting on the floor until we got to the stage where we were satisfied that the gearbox was okay.
They went across this bridge and it was the first night of the crushing (season) - they had delivered some empties over to the other side at Perseverance Bridge and they were coming back. The bridge was actually only rebuilt as a new bridge the year before, but what actually happened was, we had a very severe drought then and the saltwater had come right back up to Perseverance Bridge; in fact it came almost all the way back up to Nambour - to the showgrounds in Nambour at the time. What they call a saltwater cobra - it is like a worm like a white ant in normal timber or houses; it’s a similar sort of thing, it looks a bit like a mulley grub and it eats its way through the piles and timbers. Those piles weren’t encased. All the piles on the bridges that we have got are cased in a concrete pipe and then they are filled with sand, so it prevents this cobra from getting into the piles themselves. This had never been known at this particular bridge before so they hadn’t put the concrete pipes around it when they built the bridge 12 months previously and during that period of time, one of the piles got this cobra (worm) in and when the loco went across they just felt it move. When you are first crossing a bridge after any time, they do move about, the wooden bridges. They are stable; they carry the weights okay, but they move. They felt a bit of movement and anyway when they turned to come back, they found out that the pile wouldn’t take the weight of the loco and it gave way and the loco just rolled sideways off the bridge and into the water with eight trucks of cane - it was wholestick cane at that time - on the top of it. Now it is not a very nice feeling if you are trapped in the cab of a loco about one o’clock in the morning, pitch black and eight or ten trucks of cane all over the top of you, and knowing just where to go.
As it was, the fireman that was out on the end of the trucks to hook them up, that was his first trip, first night on the job. He is still driving locos at the moment; I think it took the breeze out of him for a while

GM What is his name?

GH Kevin Kriedemann He was the fireman at the time and today he still drives locos here at the Mill and also he is our bridge carpenter as well. He got a pretty abrupt sort of a lesson on bridges.

GM And it was a tall bridge.

GH That’s right, it would be about 15 or 20 feet (5 – 6.5 metres) high.

GM And it would have been bloody cold water too, quite frankly.

GH Oh yes, the middle of July.

GM Oooh, what a way to start.

GH Anyway when the loco fell upside down it trapped the driver and what we learned afterwards was that he couldn’t swim! So when he fell in there, the plates that we had left laying on the floor of the cab fell down into the roof of the cab then, because it was upside down, he was able to breathe and get enough air just above the water to keep himself going. By the time fireman went and got help, because he wasn’t real sure on where to go and what to do. Then a few of the blokes were there and they grabbed him by the feet and said take one big breath and they dragged him out through the side of the cab door and out onto the side of the bank of the river.

GM It would be fairly disorienting wouldn’t it?

GH Oh really.

GM I mean you wouldn’t know which way was up.

GH That’s right.

GM You really wouldn’t, and in the middle of the night.

GH Yes, so he always said to me, and he said it a few times, ‘Thanks very much for saving my life’, because if those boards hadn’t have fallen out of the floor he would have been under the water and that was it you know. That was one of those things that you look back on later and say thank God for that.

GM What has been the best season you can remember?

GH Oh that’s a bit difficult. Really they have all been… There is no two crushing seasons the same. You have basically got to work here for quite a few years because they sort of all vary. One season can be good in something and the next season can be bad in that and something else and actually I have been pretty happy with them all. You get different things that happen all the time and hardly a minute goes by where something somewhere happens or doesn’t or occurs or what ever.

GM Has the cane been increasing since you have been here?

GH Oh yes, the crushing here, we used to do around about the 70–80 ton per hour at the time of the cane crushing (when I started at the Mill) and now we are doing anything up to 230 (tons per hour). The milling train itself is still in existence, as far as the steam engine and all that that used to drive it, was built and installed in 1926 and it was designed to do a maximum of 60 ton per hour and that milling train is still operating today being driven by steam turbines and gearboxes and up to 230 (tons per hour). We have seen more than that, 240; but 220 is a pretty standard sort of a load at the moment. So they sort of over-designed things a little bit in those days.

GM Over-engineered yes. The worst season you think where you had the most drama?

GH The boiler (collapse) season would have been a bad one and I just can’t think of the date now, but we had a fairly big flood season one year.

GM Was that the year of the cyclone? 1973 perhaps?

GH Somewhere around then yes. I know we had a big flood at the beginning of the crushing and everything got flooded out in the early part of the season. That was a pretty bad time; there have been three or four big floods (since).

GM What happens when the cane gets blown over?

GH If it doesn’t get wet. It gets blown over; there are not too many hassles because a lot of it will stand back up itself. Others it won’t and will just lay there – whether it gets broken or not is the biggest hassle, but you would like to harvest it not too long after it is blown over. If it hasn’t broken off, it will not have a great deal of effect on it, but if it is in the middle of a flood or something like that and it gets topsoil and all that sort of stuff lodged in the cane, that’s where you can have some real problems as far as harvesting and milling is concerned. All the dirt, sand and soil and everything. After the few big floods I have seen here everything in cane - tyres, drums of petrol and drums of diesel, and everything and anything you would like to name will float down the river and get lodged in the cane. It is just one of those things that happen and the Maroochy River is a pretty big sort of a river. It covers a lot of headwater.

GM When you first started here, was there any hand-cutting going on?

GH When I first started, it was all hand cutting. There might have been the odd wholestick machine, but there was still a lot of hand cutting done at that time.

GM It must have employed a lot of men?

GH Oh it did. Every second Saturday in town here it was one of the best days because all of the cane cutters used to come in for their pay and get paid at the Mill here and the two pubs on either side of the end of the street where it comes into the Mill, well they copped a pretty good hiding for the rest of the Saturday because all the boys had worked pretty hard for a fortnight and they all had a beer before they went back home again.

GM Saturday night millionaires.

GH Yes, that’s right.

GM When did (cane cutting) machines really come in?

GH Well, basically they had been coming in over quite a number of years because of the various shapes and styles and sizes of them. There were wholestick machines, which used to cut it in wholesticks the way a cane cutter did. And then it gradually evolved into bins where the cane is chopped up into about foot-long (300 mm) pieces. Over the years it has been developed all the time, it is something that just hasn’t happened over night. And there still is experiments and that going on with the machines today to do with the cutter heights and the way it actually cuts the cane itself so it doesn’t break the cane off. When you cut cane, the ends are the first pieces that are first contaminated. So if you cut a wholestick of cane, you get two ends - one on each end - that will be contaminated from the atmosphere. When you are using chopped cane, well you might have eight or nine pieces with two ends on each one, so that is quite a lot more ends to be prone to contamination. That is the reason why nowadays that we have to crush the cane as quickly as possible and normally we like to do that within 24 hours. From the time it is cut until it is actually processed.

GM That puts a lot of pressure on.

GH Oh yes, it is go, go, go all the time during the crushing season

GM What have been the more memorable personal milestones for you at the Mill?

GH Getting a job here was the first one I think. You look at (the Mill) and you think, oh, I have got a job here – apprenticeship – five years! That seemed like an eternity before being able to start to work you know, that was one of the most memorable ones I think. But as you progress you get elevations in your positions and they all seem to be (good) and you think about them all. When I first started here and to think of the Mill going and one day I might be in charge of the place going and you think, ‘Oh that’s pretty good’, if you know what I mean. Another one of the milestones too was to have a wife and family that backs you and is behind you in your job and they sort of realise. I have brought up four children and they have realised what I had to do and what you have got to do and when you have got to work and that was a big help too to be able to do that.

GM They had Centenary celebrations here; were they a big deal?

GH Yes, well as far as, they had a big do out at the (Nambour) Showgrounds for all the employees and farmers. As far as the celebrations were concerned, that was a pretty big deal because they hired the whole Showgrounds to have it in; that’s how big it was. As far as the cane railway system was concerned, I was able to get one of the steam locos back from over at our museum at Woodford and run it here for the week prior to the Sugar Festival basically and that was all tied up with the Centenary celebrations and we were able to run that up and down the street. I think Kodak hasn’t come up with their commission yet because the number of photos and film and that was taken while it was here, I reckon Kodak would have to have made a substantial increase in their profit at that time. It sort of showed and we have run it a couple of times since and it shows the people how it used to be done and we had a steam engine on one end of the load and a diesel on the other, so most of the children and people were able to see the two opposites. When the steam engines used to run, it was pretty heavy work for the drivers and firemen; they really worked hard to earn their money in those days. If you shovel coal for eight hours, you know you have done it and if you weren’t fit enough, well they used to have a few hassles.

GM Jim Attewell said that when the Bli Bli went in the river and they brought the steam engine back to make up that loco, he said that in between shovelling coal, running out and hooking up trucks and changing points, he didn’t have much spare time. He said the only time he got a blow was when the shift finished!

GH That’s pretty right, yes that is spot on. Because today Workplace Health and Safety has changed a lot of those things that used to happen in those days. Today you wouldn’t do what they used to do years ago as far as changing points and all that sort of stuff. They never seemed to have too many accidents or anything like that, but today it is just not on. It has really changed the whole lifespan of the cane haulage system.

End Side A Tape One

GM This is Side B of Tape One of an interview with George Hadley for The Last Crush.

What has been the impact of the introduction of diesel engines into the haulage system?

GH Well, basically diesels have proved themselves to be pretty good workhorses really because there is not the time that is required for a steam engine. With steam engines, you have got to come and get steam up in the morning or while they were crushing during the year, well they were running three shifts. But you have got to light them up and then close them down correctly, and that involved a lot of hours labour-wise. And also they didn’t have the strength that the diesels have got. The loads that they used to pull with the steam trains here used to be approximately 50 cane trucks, carrying about one and half tons of cane (per truck) and that would be their load to come in with. Nowadays we have got diesels here at the Mill in the vicinity of 2-300 horsepower where they can hook onto 80-90 bins of four and quarter tons per bin and come in at exactly the same time as what the steam locos could do. In fact most probably they might have been quicker than what the steam locos used to do.

GM Were there other steam engines in the Mill besides the main boiler?

GH Yes, the engines in the Mill itself there were steam engines there that used to drive all the crushing plant; each particular crushing mill had a steam engine on it; they had cylinders on them that were 24 inches in diameter (60 cm) and 48 inches stroke (1.2 m), so they were pretty big engines, but they used to only run along at about 50–60 revs per minute so it wasn’t too bad. Plus there were a whole lot of other engines as well to drive knives for preparing the cane. They used to have two lots of knives and then also the pumps that were all steam-driven as well. All the different bits and pieces around the Mill, because they can’t work the Mill solely on high-pressure steam; they have got to bring it down to saturated steam around about 15–20 psi to boil the sugar (juice) in all the effets and the vacuum pans to boil the sugar juice to its crystalline state and this is where they have to use steam in the Sugar Mill. The Sugar Mill is solely self-contained; it uses the bagasse or the cane mulch. After it has been cut and crushed, it becomes what they call bagasse and that is then fed into the boilers for fuel and the only thing that we dispose of to a slight amount is water. We actually make water, which is extracted out of the cane juice to form the crystals and sugar eventually.

GM So they took a lot of the old steam engines out?

GH Yes, basically there is nothing in there, there are no steam engines at all now; they are all electric motors and that is what drives it.

GM Did that make the place a bit cleaner and quieter?

GH Oh…

GM Maybe?

GH Yeah, maybe a bit, but it was always a fairly noisy place. Yes, they had to put in bigger powerhouses to run the electric motors. (All electricity is generated in the powerhouse to run the Mill).

GM What have been the biggest changes and challenges when different companies have taken over the Mill?

GH Well, we were first owned by Moreton Central Sugar Mill that was first formed here in 1896 (first crush in 1897). It was then taken over by Howard Smith (1976). We noticed a few small differences in that because they were able to inject a bit more capital finance into it and we were able to get a few newer bits of machinery and that sort of a thing. Basically even with Tate and Lyle (1991) and now Finasucre Company (2000), it is like all new companies, I suppose, they give you a little bit to try and improve this and improve that and then they want to make sure they get their return on investment. They rely on the engineers in the Mill to lead them in the right direction. The varying companies didn’t really show a lot of difference - there were differences (between them) - but you never thought, ‘Oh well we have been taken over by a new company now and this will happen or that will happen’.

GM There were never any great wholesale sackings?

GH No. The place just kept going along. They would put something in and most probably a bloke may lose his job or something like that or he would be transferred to another section, I don’t know of anybody who was actually sacked through new technology, they sort of moved things around and changed things around.

GM Has the actual sugar processing cycle, has that changed much since you have been here?

GH Not really, no. All the different bits and pieces have been improved, but it has been basically the same system. There has been a bit of an alteration on the pan stage end where they boil the sugar for the different types of raw sugar that can be made and different ideas and that happens throughout the sugar industry right throughout Queensland. But basically the system is the same; there might be a few streamlining bits here and there, but basically it is the same. I know when I first started here, there used to be about 52 or 53 men on shift and now it is down to about 12 or something like that. That is the technology that has done that.

GM Computers and that sort of stuff?

GH Yes and automation that gradually evolves in a lot of industries as the years go by.

GM I noticed in the bagging plant, that there are about three (sic: six) blokes.

GH That’s right.

GM And they can bag 1250 kilos!

GH That’s right, and now they are putting all that in one bag, 1250 kilos, and they send that away in one bag full. When my father was here it was only 163 pound (76 kgs) bags and that was carried on your shoulder and stacked here at the Mill until the slack season came when they would get a boat come into Brisbane and they would send it away and they would have to break the stack down and by that time the sugar had become hard and it was like throwing a lump of rock on your shoulder and blokes used to get skinned shoulders and all this sort of thing from loading sugar in those days. Then they went to bulk (sugar) and Queensland Railways used to get it here; they used to back the wagons up underneath the sugar bins and fill up and QR used to take it down to the refineries in Brisbane. Now we are back to putting it in bags again and so the wheel has sort of gone right around basically. In those days, you never had anything like forklifts that could handle a ton of sugar in one hit. Well today it is no problems at all.

GM With things like hydraulics and things.

GH Yes, it has improved things out of sight, you can throw a ton of bags onto a truck now and it takes you two or three minutes; in those days it would you take an hour or so.

GM And a lot of sweat.

GH Yes, especially in the summertime that was really going.

GM What are the things that really provide the greatest number of challenges for you in operating this cane rail system? Weather?

GH That is one of them. Right at the moment we seem to have a lot of challenges with urban development. Whereas when somebody decides they want to put a road through here and the poor old cane farmer never seems to come out on top; they always say, ‘Oh it is just a cane paddock’, you know, but if I was to say to them, ‘From your wages or salary that you get every week, would you like me to take out say 20 dollars a week?’ I bet you will get an answer, ‘No’, straight off. Well a lot of people don’t realise that that cane growing out there is a farmer’s livelihood and we have a lot of problems with encroachment on the land changes and councils. Things are varying all the time. All these new green areas that they are talking about now and you can’t do this and you can’t do that. Well all those things are all adding up in my mind to the demise of the sugar industry especially in this area. We are starting to grow houses now - you don’t grow cane anymore - and there are a lot of challenges in that. The way things may happen towards the end of the year, if the place does close down, well it will be a big big hole in the local area and what people are used to in this area. They will most probably get over it in a few years, but there are still all the problems that go with it.

GM Is it viable moving sugar cane from Nambour to Maryborough?

GH Well at the moment the actual transport costs, I think, it is stretching the friendship a little bit. I don’t think that the amount it is going to cost to send cane to Maryborough would be a viable situation. I think they would go very close to the situation where they would be breaking even or I can’t see them making a lot of money out of it because of the haulage costs, you know, you have got to take it in big quantities.

GM I would have thought rail.

GH Yes, well rail is the system and I have heard over the years the rail section of line between Brisbane and Gympie or Maryborough is one of the highest populated lines around the country and to try and fit in more trains is apparently a bit of hassle. And you have got to build loading bays for loading the QR wagons and also make an unloading station at Maryborough too to get rid of it by rail so everything seems to have its problems. They have always said that a properly maintained and looked after rail system for the sugar industry is the cheapest way of getting the product to markets. It is one of the only industries that I know of where the farmer doesn’t have to pay to get his produce taken to market because it is the Mill’s responsibility once they put it in the bins on the farms. If you put a cow on a truck, then you have to pay to take it to market somewhere. So it is a situation that has evolved over the years.

GM Probably milk; milk might be the only other one. When you think about it, I don’t know if the dairy farmer pays for the trucks to come and pick up his milk.

GH I don’t know, somebody would have to pay someone.

GM The tracks that the cane system runs on, even during the wars we had wooden tracks?

GH That’s right.

GM Did you ever see any wooden tracks?

GH No, mainly wooden tracks were used in the logging industry where they would log through the mountains and they would shift it to somewhere else after they had cut down all those trees and a wooden system was used in that times.

GM According to the history book, they only used it for little by-lines.

GH Basically yes.

GM When people wanted a new farm opened up, because there was just no steel available during the war. I just found it amazing that you could run a train on a wooden line.

GH Basically a piece of steel is just the same sort of thing; it is only the shape of the line that makes it different.

GM And we have got a variety of rail, haven’t we?

GH Oh yes.

GM It is all two-foot gauge (610 mm), but we have got a variety of rail.

GH The rail itself varies in a lot of sizes. What they call 14 pound to the yard rail (approx 6 kgs to the metre); that was a piece of rail that weighed 14 pound for one yard long. That’s how it always been designated in that particular sequence. Fourteen pound rail was they used in the canefields as portable rail up the centres of the paddocks where they would be able to manually put it down on the tops - when they cut the tops off the wholestick cane - and they would lay the rail on those and they would push or the horses would pull the trucks up along the rails and then they would load them and the horses or they would manually push them (full trucks) back down again or in later years when they had tractors they would use that. Now that 14-pound rail is basically only for very light work. So over the years rail evolved from 14-pound rail; it goes to 20-pound rail, 25-pound, 30-pound, 35-pound, 40, 41 and a quarter, 42, 50, 58 and 60-pound rail. There are 70s and 80s and 100s and now some of the big railways are looking at around about the 120–130 kilograms per metre now, which if you trip on it you fall over it because it really throws you over. It is in the vicinity of about 12 inches or 300 millimetres high and its monstrous stuff.

GM Seriously heavy weights.

GH Oh yes, for hauling big loads of coal and all that sort of stuff.

GM Is the reason we have had so many different sizes of rail, is it because we have bought it from somewhere else?

GH No, basically it has evolved over the years with bigger loads and bigger locos and the increased requirement over the years to transport more freight. Once upon a time, if you pulled a ton along the line, that was a pretty big load, but nowadays even in the cane industry where you are pulling 6 and 700-ton loads, you have got to have something fairly substantial to run it. So most of the Queensland sugar industry is up around the 60-pound to the yard rail at the moment. Some are a bit lighter like sidings where cane bins just sits there; 40–42 pound is all that is required.

GM And I guess before the locos came along, it was all dragged along by horses?

GH All that happened before the steam locos. Steam locos sort of came into the industry as the industry started here in Queensland and it was basically all steam right from the start.

GM What do you think is the most common type of accident that we have on our cane rail system?

GH Oh, we try not to have any.

GM Would it be derailments?

GH Derailments, yes, that would be one of the biggest.

GM You would call that an accident, I guess?

GH Well, we call it an incident actually.

GM Sounds better than accident.

GH That’s right. But you get the odd human accident or incident and somebody will get their hand caught between something or what ever, or they might get a thumb or finger squashed when they put it in the wrong place at the right time to get it squashed.

GM What is the worst accident that you think we have had on the Moreton rail system? Would it be the Bli Bli loco going in the river?

GH I think that would be about one of the worst. We have had a few head-on smashes between locos. It used to happen with steam locos. I can remember three or four of the steam locos having head-ons. Because in those days they only had the smoke coming out of the chimney and ‘oh, there he is over there, you can see the smoke.’ If he didn’t have a good fire on, you couldn’t see any smoke, so you didn’t know where he was. Do you know what I mean?

GM Oh, so you couldn’t see him in the canefields?

GH Yes, so you are hanging out the side of a steam loco trying to look around a corner and hoping to hell that the other bloke wasn’t just around the other end of the corner.

GM And I guess it takes a little bit of time to pull up?

GH Oh yes, well see basically they run without brakes (only engine brakes, no train wagon brakes). All these locos that we use have all got brakes now, but in those earlier days steam locos didn’t have (power) brakes, but they mainly relied on the driver. With a steam engine you can throw it from forward to reverse and hit the throttle and you are going forward and then you are immediately going backwards. That’s how accurate they are. There are no gears to grate, no nothing like that; you can just throw it from forward to reverse and open the throttle and you are going the opposite way. This was the way a lot of things happened and when you have got a whole string (of trucks) - and you might have 40 or 50 or 60 empty trucks going behind it - and they are going forward and then all of a sudden they are going backwards. Well you end up with them all in one big pile sort of thing. So you run into those sorts of problems and derailments. Even today that does happen; there has been a head-on smash with one of the other mills up in North Queensland and it was a pretty bad state.

GM Jim Attewell told me about a couple of collisions where people had driven into his train and where a semi-trailer driver stopped in the middle of the road.

GH Yes, that happened a couple of years ago, but no that will happen. One of the biggest hassles we have here is visitors around the place. They are driving around and having a look at the countryside and all the nice green cane and they see a harvester working or something like that and they will pull up and want to have a look at it and all of a sudden ‘Oh, we are in the middle of a train line.’ They are sort of not really with it in my book, some of them, because they are out enjoying themselves and looking about and don’t really realise what’s under the four wheels of the car. And we have hit a few cars when people park too close to the line.

GM They don’t realise the bins hang out a fair way each side; it is three feet each side isn’t it?

GH That’s right.

GM What do you think has been the biggest difference or change to cane operations, and we are talking about the Mill and the cane rail system, since you started?

GH That’s a pretty difficult one to come up with, but as far as the cane railway is concerned, one of the biggest changes would have to be the diesel-isation of the cane system and the operation of bins in preference to wholestick trucks. That is fairly significant as far as the rail system is concerned.

GM And I guess, out in the fields, mechanical harvesting?

GH Mechanical harvesting, yes we have had a dozen different types of cane harvesters, but they all seem to end up with the same end product. The actual saving of manpower out there was astronomical. Every farm was only a few acres and they all seemed to have four or five cutters on every farm. It was pretty heavy work.

GM What do we produce at the Mill here today? Sugar and we have some direct consumable sugar too, don’t we?

GH That’s right.

GM Molasses?

GH Molasses.

GM Anything else?

GH No, that’s the only thing.

GM They used to have wax, didn’t they?

GH They had wax that came out of the mud that was taken off the cane. When they harvested the cane, there was mud and dirt all over it. Now when that came into the Mill to be processed, that mud is filtered off out of the juice to make the juice pure, to make sugar out of it. Now then all that mud basically is the topsoil of the farm and out of that - and this is going back and I cannot remember the exact dates now, but it would have been mid-‘50s to late ‘50s - I still remember the wax factory was down Howard Street, what should we say now, just past the old Ambulance Station that we had down there and they used to take the mud down there and treat it and the wax used to come out of the mud and out of the skin of the cane, like on the skin on the cane on the outside. That was put through filter presses at the Mill where they used to put the juice through canvas and calico at a fairly high pressure and that used to act as a filter. They used to let the clear juice go through and the mud was held in special frames in the filters and then about once or twice a shift they would open the filter up and take all the mud out of it and then either put it back on line again or put new calicos and cottons in and then close it all back up again and put the juice back onto it again. So, when they went to the present system that they have of rotary filters, they had to have a medium to hold the mud on the outside of the rotary filter. So they came up with the idea of the very, very fine bagasse that came out of the cane after it had been crushed and they add that to it and that helps it stick to the outside gauze of the rotary filter. Now as the rotary filter goes around at the bottom, it picks up and flows through the muddy juice, it picks up the mud and as it goes up the back of the filter - it is rotating very slowly – they spray it with water to help wash any juice out of it and then there is a vacuum that tries to pull the rest of the juice and the water out of it again until it gets down to the other side of the filter and it then cuts the mud off and that goes down into storage tanks and taken back to the farms or gardens. I am led to believe this (the use of Bagasillo) then destroyed that wax process.

GM Not to mention the petroleum industry.

GH That’s right. They used to produce quite a bit of wax here – quite a lot.

GM Now, when you have the annual Show display, what sort of involvement do you have?

GH Out here at Nambour at the Sunshine Coast Show, I don’t have too much involvement in it because most of it is cane farmers displaying their cane and doing their regular tests to see who gets the most sugar content in their cane. The tests are done by the laboratory here and the farmers put that in. The Mill always used to put a display in the Show just showing the different sorts of sugar and different processes. But as far as the annual Nambour Show, I haven’t had a lot of involvement in it.

GM You have had a lot of involvement in steam and model rail though, haven’t you?

GH Oh yes.

GM It has been a life-long hobby?

GH Basically yes. I remember when I was real young, Dad and Mum took me to the Brisbane Exhibition and in sideshow alley there was an old steam train there and it used to rattle and bang around the place and give all the kids a ride. Mum and dad would say, ‘Let’s have a couple of rides on that, and now you wait here until we come back’. I used to sit there and watch this steam train go round and round all day. I think that was the start of things; when I was a 7-year-old, Dad – we weren’t very financial people in those days – he bought me a wind-up Hornby train for me for my seventh birthday and today I have still got it. It still runs and it is still operational and as the time went on, I sort of got more interested in trains and when I first started here I liked the Fowler locomotives that we had here - the “Eudlo” and the “Coolum” - I thought well the only way I am ever going to get steam train is to build one. So as I pulled the real ones apart, I would measure them – for different reasons either to work on them or for my own benefit, and actually did enough drawings and made up a small workshop at home and eventually in 1969 I produced a model of the “Eudlo” steam loco like the one we had here for many years, and it is still running to this day. It caused a lot of interest around the countryside. I used to have it running around my yard with a line not very far from the Mill and I only had to blow the whistle once, and you would have about 15 bikes all sitting along the front fence and the kids would come for a ride. Over the years, I have progressed in steam because I realised that I was probably about one of the last age group to be able to enjoy steam and what went on. So I have sort of followed that on and built quite a number of model steam locomotives and traction engines and basically that has been our hobby and the whole of the family has run the same thing. Nowadays we still do it and also do quite a lot of electric trains, modelling the old steam engines and the old carriages of yesteryear.

GM What is going to happen to all of this stuff if the Mill closes?

GH Well, Sims Metal might have a pretty good contract, but they tell me that the diesel locos will most probably go to other mills or to other parts of the present company. The line is supposed to be removed and that is under legislation and it has to be pulled up within two years of the Mill ceasing operation, and whatever you want to do with railway track. A lot of the heavier rail that we have got at the moment that will go to our other mills in Bundaberg because they have got a lot of light line as well and they will want to upgrade; they will use the rail from here. But railway line is used for every conceivable thing that you can think of - fence posts, power poles, telephone posts, (cattle) grids for farms and all that sort of stuff. There is a quite a bit of it that is only fit for scrap metal.

End Side B Tape 1/Start Side A Tape 2

GM This is Side A of Tape 2 of a recording of an interview with George Hadley for The Last Crush.

You said you would like to work for a few more years before retiring and enjoying your hobby of steam and model rail. It is going to hit with a bit of a thump isn’t it?

GH Oh I think it will. I think every person who works here will. You have got plenty of time to think about it before something happens, but it’s still that… it is like everything else, it is that sudden stop at the end, you know what I mean? You are used to coming to work everyday and enjoying life and enjoying your workmates and being with them. It is a pretty good bond and friendship in this Mill in particular and everybody is going to feel a big shock for the whole system when the curtain does come down.

GM You have been here since 1959.

GH Yes, nearly 44 years.

GM I know when I got out of the Army after 30 years, I was lost. For about a year I was really lost. I wasn’t suicidal, but I really did miss… People would ask, ‘Oh do you miss the Army?’ and I would say, ‘No, but I miss the people I worked with’. And that brings me to my last question and that is what do you think will be the greatest loss if the Mill in Nambour closes?

GH Well basically I think it is going to be Nambour that has always been used to the Mill being here for the last 106 years, in all phases of development big or small over the last hundred-odd years. Naturally it is going to be a big problem for Nambour. It is like most other places I think; all of a sudden you will see a town going crook because they are going to put a by-pass road around it or something like that, but I think after a period of time and people have got used to it, it’s not too bad then. But it’s that sudden stop. You know you go to work everyday and you come home everyday. Retirement is something that is not real easy to take because family wise your wife is not used to you being at home all day everyday. And all of a sudden you’re at home all day, everyday, and it changes her position as well as yours and you don’t really know what to expect. You can do gardening or go fishing or something like that, but you can only do so much of that all the time. I think you have got to … They say that you are never too old to retire; you know you may hear of a job where you can do a few hours a week or something like this. We are tied up in quite a few things like the museum at Woodford and I go over and drive the steam locos over there. Just at the moment we are not working there because of the public liability (insurance) problems, but that sort of thing happens and I think you have got to have a few irons in the fire.

GM I think you have got to keep yourself busy.

GH Yes. As far as the model railway is concerned, we are fairly busy on that with our model kits and model steam locos that we produce on a kit basis and they are all on the Internet throughout the world and we have been copping enquiries from everywhere. Yes, well, righto, you have got to mow the grass every now and then, but you can’t do that more than once a week, or you can go fishing, but then again it’s cheaper to go and buy some fish most times.

GM The thing that also concerns me is what is going to happen to all the archival material that we have got here? Marion was saying before that they found some real old gear from the lab that somebody had given back and maybe some of the locos that need to be retained. Not just stuck in some kids’ playground.

GH No, they won’t be going into a kids’ playground. That has happened over the years and they find that they sit in a playground for a few years and they all go bloody rusty and kids start scratching and cutting themselves on them. With today’s situation, where you have got all this insurance business, they just don’t like kids playing on them anymore. So basically the locos here will either go to some of the groups that actually … museum type places and that sort of thing, where they show locomotives. The Shay locomotive is supposed to stop in Nambour, so whether they get that going – the cost of that is fairly astronomical to get it going again - and the diesels that can be used will be used at other mills. By the time that is all sorted out, there shouldn’t be too much left. The records and all that sort of stuff will be going to the John Oxley Library in Brisbane and they will be there for years to come. That is what they have informed us will happen at this stage. But it will not be lost really.

GM Well we have run out of questions George, and I would like to thank you very much.

GH I could keep talking for quite a while.

GM Is there anything else that you would like to mention on the history of the place as far as the cane rail system is concerned?

GH I could talk on different incidents for hours but I think basically it is… One of the things that seems to amaze a lot of people, is that the trains do not run to timetables. Most trains and rail situations run to a timetable and it has got to be spot on. With the cane lines, whether they are 10 minutes late or 5 minutes early or an hour late or whatever, it doesn’t appear to worry anybody. A lot of people seem to think, ‘Oh they never run to a timetable. How do they know when to pass one another?’ and all this sort of stuff. It is just one of these things that sort of happens because the boys have all got two-way communications nowadays and GPS positioning and they know where everybody is and you can run the system with very little problem. Who knows, in the next 20 years it could be all different again. But it has been a pleasure to talk to you and I hope that something will work out for the future.

GM Okay, thanks George.

GH Thanks Gary.

End of Interview