Seeing all this sugarcane in Queensland really made us want to find a factory tour to do. That proved hard with the various ages of our kids, many of the factories have age or size requirements which our younger kids don’t meet. So when I found out about the Sarina Sugar Shed I knew I’d found the right one for us. It’s a hands-on mini-sugarcane mill, perfect for families. We got there just as a tour was starting. The tour includes a short video, a look at some old machinery, viewing of the mini-sugar mill, and a tasting at the end. It was a hot day and when they took us outside to look at the machinery they gave us these lovely rainbow umbrellas for shade. They were so colourful, the kids loved them. They really should sell these in their shop. TurboBug had to hold one, though the thing was as big as he was, which meant one of us had to hold onto the top for him! They had several examples of old machinery that showed how sugarcane planting and harvesting has evolved over time. Each machine had improvements over the last. This one is a harvester. This one is a planter. They’d feed the sugarcane into the chute and it would chop them, spray them, and drop them. You know how the eye on a potato is where a new shoot comes from? That’s how sugarcane works too. Each section of cane has an eye (they alternate sides), they plant the mature cane directly in the ground for the new cane to grow from. See the eye in the picture below? This was a small patch of cane near the machinery to show it in different stages. See the cane they’ve laid along the front of the box? The cane is cut into pieces about 40cm long, called setts, for planting. Each sett can make up to twelve sugarcane plants. Sugarcane is harvested from June to November and they often work around the clock during those months. In Queensland the cane takes 9-16 months to grow. Further south it can take 18-24 months. There is a real sugar mill is next door. It had not been working that day but they were starting it back up that afternoon. That oddly shaped building had water pouring over the sides of it as part of the temperature regulation. Australia is the 3rd largest supplier of raw sugar in the world. There are 24 sugar mills, 6 bulk storage ports, and over 4000 sugarcane farmers. They have a mini sugar mill set up on site. It was fascinating. All the machines have cute names and they show short videos of each one in use. Look at the juice coming out of that crushed cane! He brought the cane over for us to chew on, too. Samples. Of freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. They told us that the sugarcane plant stores extra energy as juice so sugar content will vary from farm to farm. Farmers are paid on the sugar content in their crop. Mmmmmmmm. (Still recovering from that fall!) There were other things to try, including molasses. Most people tried the juice, not so many takers for the molasses. [Side note: when I first moved to Australia I needed molasses for a recipe and couldn’t find it at the supermarket. When I asked I was told I might need to go to a feed store! Not what I had in mind.] They had little jars of sugar in all its various stages of processing. Every single part of the sugarcane plant can be used. The cane that is left after juicing (bagasse) is used to power the mill. It’s the only crop in the world that can be used to power its own processing, so it doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. Other residue can be used as fertiliser. They talked us through the whole process: the cane is juiced, cleaned, boiled, seeded, boiled again, and dried. So with all that sugar information you may be wondering how sugarcane first came to Australia. Can you guess? Okay, you weren’t wondering but now you are, right? Are you ready? It came on the First Fleet, they brought it with them from South Africa. So sugarcane has been a part of Australia for as long as Europeans have. This mini-mill produces their rum and liqueurs. They don’t process their cane into raw sugar, that’s only done next door in the mill. Then they took us to the tasting room. Where they had a fairy floss machine that she actually turned on and made fairy floss for anyone who wanted some. I have never liked cotton candy (as I call it) but my kids did not inherit that trait. They also had tasting for the adults, various sauces and liqueurs that they sell in their gift shop. We hadn’t planned on getting TurboBug his own fairy floss, but he kept taking bites from everyone else’s so I asked her to make a small one for him. Small. Not one nearly as big as he is. Sigh. He ended up having more than anyone! In the back of the room were a couple of really well-done school projects that I just loved. Then my kids nearly got destroyed by fires from the cane fields. Which is funny, since they told us they rarely burn fields anymore in the Mackay area. She told us they usually let the fields rest before replanting. We’d seen some burning in Innisfail, though. Then they got to drive the sugar train. TurboBug ran over as fast as his feet would go, he could barely wait for his turn! One last pic of the pretty purple flowers outside! The funny thing about all of this is that a few months before our visit we had drastically reduced the amount of sugar we were eating. It’s snuck back in a bit, as sugar does, but we still consume less than we used to. Now we know more about it than ever! Our tour guide had such a pride and enthusiasm for their work, it was a delightful tour.