Sugar cane cycles

This is the third in a series of stories from my recent road trip in South East Queensland. With campervan packed and bikes loaded on the back, we went travelling old roads with new eyes.

It had been over a year since I cycled through the canefields while visiting Bargara. That was autumn. Now it was winter. The air was colder. The sun rose later. The roads were lined with tall sugar cane reaching to the sky with a flourish of flowers.

I was amazed to see so many flowers. They were prolific. It felt like years since I’d seen the cane flowers and wondered if perhaps our visits were rarely timed in July? But it seems the locals had noticed them too; so it wasn’t my absence but rather the sugarcane’s extra flourish that was the reason.

Flowering in sugar cane depends on the genetic variety. Some flower. Some don’t. And for those that do flower, how much daylight they receive and temperatures, rain and soil nutrition, all influence their flowering. So every year can be quite different.

I love the flowers with their soft feather-like strands, fanning out at the end of a long arrow. The flowers sway in the sea breezes against blue winter skies. They tell me the annual crushing is near.

And when I was young and living on a sugar cane farm, this meant there would be cane fires – at dusk, at night. The wind needed to be right, hoses needed to be ready, and buckets too. Neighbouring farmers would gather to manage the fire, knowing this help would be reciprocated when their crop was ready to burn. This was the sixties when farms were smaller and hadn’t yet become agri-businesses.

Burning sugar cane before harvesting was then commonplace. Now, harvesting the cane green is more typical. It’s better for the environment, removing all that smoke and soot from the air. But this leaves me conflicted because to see a cane fire – its magnificence, its power – is to see something quite beautiful. It is a sight that mesmerises. It carries a scent forever sweet. A sound that roars.

I saw remnants of the cane fires while riding my bicycle along the roads. I saw the train tracks for the locos – the locomotive engines – that haul wire ‘bins’ of sugar cane to the mills for crushing. I smelt the sweet sugars hanging in the air. I watched the arrows wave their soft tassels. I listened to the cane leaves rustling and began to wonder how this place, that once was home, settles in my bones.

20160711 cane IMG_2492


20160709 railway crossing IMG_2429

14 Comments on “Sugar cane cycles

    • Yes, it’s understandable Bun for sure. Some still burn their cane, not out of disregard for the environment but because their land isn’t suitable for harvesting green. With such fond memories of the cane fires and yet an understanding of the environmental benefits, I found myself wishing both were possible, which of course they’re not. As it is with many things as times and understandings change. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Gail

    I agree – such beautiful imagery, evoking warm feelings. And so well supported by your photos. Jen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful writing, Gail. I know what you mean about feeling conflicted. I’m glad the harvesting is done with less pollution, but I do remember the excitement as a child of seeing the skies lit up by cane fires. I lived in Yeppoon and Hervey Bay for a number of years. The crackling and the colour of the flames was fascinating to us. Now I would hate to live near such fires though. My lungs would suffer from the smoke. I also associate canefields with the coast, which I love. The sea feels like home to me. One thing I’ve yet to do though is chew on sugar cane. Thanks for taking me back in time to some very fond memories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes it feels indulgent writing stories with memories but in their sharing something quite rich can unfold within me and it seems within others too. And somehow between us as well. I like that. Thanks for reminding me of chewing on sugar cane. That opens up another very pleasant memory for me Jane. It was certainly a sweet delight to pick the stalk from the canefield and chew, chew, chew 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely memories Gail. Your word pictures conjured such images for me. We still experience the black ash and cane cinders floating in on the wind during harvest. Some farms must still burn?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s right Robyn, some farmers still burn the cane because the green cut is not an option. Doesn’t suit their land or cane…
      Glad you enjoyed the word pictures 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Gail. I have enjoyed reading your recent posts immensely. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is a wonderful recreational facility. Do people walk the trail as well?
    Good luck with the Great Victorian Bike Ride later in the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Margaret, thanks aplenty for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it.
      The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is terrific and I believe it will get even better over time as more people travel on it. The trail is open for walkers, bicycle riders and horse riders. So there’s plenty who will be able to enjoy it. Thanks for your well wishes for the Great Vic 🙂


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