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.