See Cane Fields on Fire just 4 hours drive from Brisbane
I was mesmerised as bright yellow flames exploded upwards, creating amazing shapes. Spectacular is how I would describe the cane fire experience. Yet the speed at which those flames roared along a huge field of sugar cane shocked me. It was comforting to know that the people responsible for starting this almighty blaze, knew what they were doing.
Isis Central Sugar Mill has been operating since the late 1800s. It is located in Childers, around 310km North of Brisbane's city centre. A very popular tour is on offer only twice each year. In 2017, the dates are Thursday 27th and Friday 28th of July.
In 2016, my partner and I chose to hop on board the tour bus at Childers (3.30pm), but you also have the option of leaving from Bundaberg (2.45pm). At our first stop, we got out to watch a sugarcane harvester cutting green cane. Up close, this huge machine looked like it came straight out of a science fiction movie.
Back at the mill, we were educated about the different processes involved in sugar production. I found this rather interesting. Next, we got to see a cane field being set alight. It was exciting to be so close to the fire, but kind of scary too. In the 1930s, the Australian Workers' Union fought successfully in court, to have cane burned prior to harvesting. This was done to protect canecutters from Weil's Disease, and the practice continued for many years. However, environmentalists will be happy to know that nowadays, most cane grown commercially in Queensland is harvested green. The tour concluded with an informal barbecue dinner (bread, meat, and salad), plus dessert, which was a locally made Mammino ice cream. I chose marvellous macadamia and my partner chose ginger and macadamia. Both were delicious and creamy.
The Isis Central Sugar Mill in Childers was built in 1897
Some helpful tips: Firstly, book early (we missed out on tickets in 2015). Secondly, traffic congestion and roadworks on the Bruce Highway (M1/A1) can slow you down (our drive took four and a quarter hours from Brisbane). Thirdly, dinner was served after 7pm, so take snacks with you, if you are used to eating earlier.
The Isis Central Sugar Mill and Cane Fire Tour is run as part of the Childers Festival, which continues on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th July, with stalls and free entertainment. Due to the popularity of this festival in 2016, we were only able to secure one night's accommodation in Childers, so opted to do the tour, and head back to Brisbane the next day, via the Utopia Rock Pools in Mt Walsh National Park. However, many people opt to stay in Bundaberg (around 54km from Childers), and commute to and from the festival.
Utopia Rock Pools at Mt Walsh National Park near Biggenden in Queensland
If you miss out on tickets to the Isis tour, my research indicates that cane fields are still burned regularly in the Burdekin Shire (around 1,250km North of Brisbane) during harvesting season (May to December). In fact, the first cane fire of the season is at the Gudjuda Home Hill Showgrounds on Hurney Rd at Home Hill (Ayr), on Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, and will be celebrated with food and live entertainment from 6pm. Green cane harvesting is not viable in all regions, and an excellent fact sheet titled 'Green versus burnt cane harvesting', is available on-line through the Bundaberg Canegrowers Ltd website. This outlines the disadvantages of green cane harvesting.