Our sweet past finds new life
By LEIGH PRITCHARD
TONNES of steel, riddled with beer bottles and other junk, lie rusting on the riverbank, remnants of a bygone era.
They once powered one of the first major sugar mills in Australia, the Belmore Sugar Mill at Ulmarra and were a tribute to frosts that wiped out sugar cane in the early 1860s.
Two rolled, riveted steel boilers were recently pulled from the Clarence River, along with tonnes of mud and silt, during the Ulmarra Riverbank Erosion Protection Works.
JDS Group onsite manager of the works Bruce Jamieson said it was thought the mill folded after 18 months because frosts wiped out the cane and another mill opened at Harwood.
"It was amazing, these things were built when petrol engines had not even been thought of," Mr Jamieson said.
He said each boiler weighed about 12 tonnes when they were pulled from the riverbed near the bank by two machines.
"It was a dirty stinking mud-pile, with junk falling off it, beer bottles," he said.
"Bloody oath, it was extremely heavy. There was a lot of fiddling around ... they were full of mud and silt."
"They would have been hollow in the centre and would have had a fire in the centre," he said. "Great holes were rusted in them."
Clarence Valley Councillor and Floodplain Services chairman Kerry Lloyd said the Belmore Sugar Mill opened in 1859.
"When it finished they just rolled the boilers in the river," Cr Lloyd said.
He said the boilers, which were now sitting on the riverbank near his home, were of great significance.
Cr Lloyd said he hoped money in the council's budget would be used to display one of the boilers at a proposed museum at 11 River Street, Ulmarra.
"There is funding available for heritage work," he said.
"It would be a great thing for our little town, hopefully it will be a museum."
Mr Jamieson said the protection works on the river bank at Ulmarra would be finished next month then the temporary road along the bank to the boilers would be closed.