This sugar business

After the lull and languishing of lockdown, November has been a busy month. I have an audio work in production (Mrs C Private Detective), a theatre show opening early 2022 (The End of Winter) and I’ve started research / creative development on a new piece (Flying Saucers Over Fairfield.) So this month’s post is a short one.

Sugar gets a heap of bad press, but I have a soft spot it it—well, for its history. Perhaps because it was an important crop in Australia. Perhaps because I live in an apartment on the (redeveloped) site of the old Pyrmont CSR refinery …

I picked up The Story of Sugar, published in 1932 by the Queensland Bureau of Economics and Statistics, in a Brisbane charity shop. The booklet starts with a Summary:

‘The Australian sugar problem is part of the world’s sugar problem and has much the same origin. It is a problem of over-production and of sales on the world’s market at much less than the sugar costs to produce.’

Now of course, if you talk about the ‘sugar problem’ you’re likely to be talking about consumption rather than production, about diet and public health, about sugar as the villain in the pantry.

I bought The Story of Sugar for the bits and pieces of historical information it contains. And when I flick through the booklet’s yellowed pages, I gloss over the tables and economic data, and picture instead the cane fields of north Queensland ablaze.

Fire runs through the history of sugar. ‘By a fire at Pyrmont this morning the refined sugar store of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was destroyed.’ That’s where I live, and that report is from an October 1918 Sydney newspaper. ‘The fire was remarkable for the velocity with which it spread and for the magnificently picturesque spectacle it provided. It was the biggest fire that Sydney has had for years.’ The account continues:

‘Immense geysers of flame shot into the air, and then after the fashion of a rocket, broke into myriads of sparks and spray. There was not a puff of wind. The flames leapt directly upward, illuminating the sky for miles, and casting brilliant reflections into the water. The walls burst with explosions which were heard a long distance off. From the effect of the breaking geysers, the moon was coloured a beautiful dark blue, and the stars above and around it were paled and surrounded with reddish and blue tints. The atmosphere was permeated with the odour of burnt sugar.’

I suspect I’ll be returning to this sugar business at some point, but that’s it for now.

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