Early Banana Growing in North Queensland

Early Banana Growing in North Queensland

Bananas are Australia’s largest horticultural industry and its bestselling supermarket item. Over ninety percent of Australia’s banana crop is produced in North Queensland. Banana plants were introduced to Australia in the early to mid-nineteenth century, with the first recorded cultivation taking place in Western Australia. At this point, Australia did not produce a commercial crop, with bananas intended for sale being imported from Fiji.

Banana plants were probably first introduced to North Queensland in the 1870s by Chinese immigrants and Polynesians employed in the sugar industry. During the 1880s, Chinese immigrants began to cultivate fruit crops (including bananas) in the areas around Port Douglas, Cooktown, Cairns, and Innisfail. They became not only a regional success but a national one, with the Chinese community remaining the dominant force in Australia’s banana trade (both cultivation and importation) until the 1930s.

‘Banana Junk’ – small boat laden with bananas, possibly in Johnstone River

The reasons for the Chinese community’s decline in influence after this point were multi-faceted, although discriminatory policies played a significant role. Shortly after federation, the Commonwealth Government passed the Immigration Restriction Act (1901), limiting ‘non-white’ immigration. Serving as the basis for the White Australia Policy, it particularly targeted Asian (especially Chinese) immigrants. Allowing immigration officers to administer a dictation test to prospective migrants in any European language (or, after 1905, any prescribed language), it facilitated indirect exclusion on racial grounds. The Queensland government also introduced legislation restricting the participation of non-European individuals in banana and sugarcane cultivation. In the tradition of the Immigration Restriction Act (1901), Queensland’s Banana Industry Preservation Act (1921) required ‘coloured’ labourers to pass a dictation test.

Innisfail and Tully and District – Boats with Loads of Produce

North Queensland’s banana industry was also impacted by the return of older banana growers to China, a shift towards sugarcane cultivation among younger growers, and the difficulties posed by a combination of fruit fly contamination, cyclones, competition from Fijian imports, and transportation difficulties. The First World War had an especially devastating impact, with wartime shipping restrictions coinciding with disease outbreaks. The twentieth century was also defined by constant efforts to control the spread of bunchy top disease, an incurable viral infection, which prevents banana plants from producing fruit. (Thankfully, bunchy top has been prevented from gaining a foothold in North Queensland.) Nevertheless, banana growing only came back into its own in North Queensland following the Second World War.




  1. Andrea Crothers. “We’re Facing a Future Without Our Favourite Banana.” SBS, 7th April 2016. https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/04/07/were-facing-future-without-our-favourite-banana.
  2. Australian Banana Grower’s Council. “History of Bananas.” 2019. https://abgc.org.au/our-industry/history-of-bananas/.
  3. Department of Health and Aging. “The Biology of Musa (banana): Version 1: January 2008.” 2008. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/banana-3/$FILE/biologybanana.pdf.
  4. National Archives of Australia. “Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Commonly Known as the White Australia Policy).” 2019. http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/a-z/immigration-restriction-act.aspx.
  5. Kevin Rains. “The Chinese Question.” Queensland Historical Atlas: Histories, Cultures, Landscapes, 29th September 2010. https://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/chinese-question.
  6. La Trobe University, “Asian Studies Program: Chinese Australia: Chinese and the Banana Industry.” 2004. https://arrow.latrobe.edu.au/store/3/4/5/5/1/public/FMPro8616.html?-db=background.fp5&-format=format/background_record.htm&-lay=web&id=8&-max=1&-find=.
  7. Anne Vézina. “Australia’s Hundred Years War on Bunchy Top.” ProMusa, 9th April 2013. http://www.promusa.org/blogpost263-Australia-s-Hundred-Years-War-on-bunchy-top.


The town of Boulia was founded in 1879 near a waterhole on the Burke River. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Boulia gradually acquired stores, hotels, blacksmiths, a sawmill, a cordial factory, a post office, and a telegraph link to Cloncurry. In 1887, the local government Division of Boulia was founded, with the Shire of Boulia following in 1902. After blocks from local pastoral stations were made available for selection in 1915, a significant number of settlers moved to the area, outlasting harsh weather and the predatory actions of large pastoral companies to establish an enduring presence. The former proved especially challenging. Boulia is prone to both droughts and floods, having only recently been affected by the widespread flooding across northern Queensland earlier this year. Today, Boulia is most famous for its annual camel races and for sightings of the Min Min light – a mysterious and controversial form of light phenomena reported in the Australian outback. It is described as a floating ball of light, which can take different colours, (generally blue, yellow, or white). According to witness accounts and local folklore, it hovers over the horizon and can stalk individuals, keep pace with cars, or cause travellers to become disorientated. There have been numerous explanations for the Min Min light. According to an Indigenous tradition from the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, they are the spirits of ancestors. Proposed scientific explanations include that they are a mirage caused by natural gases or the collision of hot and cold air or that they are bioluminescent birds or insects. They have a long-standing association with the town of Boulia, taking their name from a settlement between Boulia and Winton where a mysterious light was apparently observed by a stockman in 1918. Boulia has made the most of this association.  The first Min Min light festival was held in 1976, establishing tourism as providing a potential future for Boulia. In 2000, the town opened The Min Min Encounter Centre, which includes an audio-visual experience in which visitors can learn about both the Min Min light and outback Queensland.



  1. Howard Pearce, Kay Cohen, and Margaret Cook, Heritage Trails of the Queensland Outback: An Illustrated Heritage Guide to Western Queensland (Brisbane: State of Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).
  2. Molly Hunt, “Min Min Lights: Is There a Scientific Explanation for the Mysterious Phenomenon?” ABC News 30th, 2018 (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-30/min-min-lights-seen-in-outback/10317058).
Torres Strait Island Drummer

Torres Strait Island Drummer

Traditional Torres Strait Islander art and craftsmanship have been passed down from generation to generation, and remain a key part of today’s cultural practices. These skills continue to be taught, and processes and tools are adapting to suit the changing social  environment. The drum plays an important part in social, cultural and political events in Torres Strait Islander life.

There were two types of drums – one, like this, which could be played while being carried; the other which was placed and played on the ground. The wooden drum being carried and played by this Torres Strait Islander has an animal carving (of an eel or a barracuda) which is probably his totem. Each clan’s totem was protected and never hunted by its members – a way of ensuring survival of the species. Torres Strait Islander drums were decorated with shells which rattled when the drum was being beaten.